Burlington City officials gathered in a gravel lot on the Delaware on Tuesday to cheer ambitious plans for a community rebirth they hoped would mirror that of Bethlehem, Pa., after the steel plant there closed - though without a casino.
John Callahan - who was mayor of Bethlehem for the last 10 years, when the Sands Casino was built around the abandoned steel plant there as part of an entertainment, retail, and housing complex - is now affiliated with a politically connected law firm whose principals want to invest in Burlington's desolate waterfront.
"We're awfully excited about the future of this community," Callahan, who left as Bethlehem mayor in January, said at a briefing attended by the Burlington City mayor, city council members, and various other city officials and business owners.
Callahan, director of business development for Florio, Perrucci, Steinhardt & Fader, unveiled plans for Pearl Pointe, an apartment complex with 183 luxury and market-rate units that would be built on the vacant 3.8-acre lot.
Burlington officials have also announced plans to have the grassy waterfront redesigned to turn it into a concert and entertainment venue, to create a restaurant and arts district, and to attract new commercial development to closed industrial sites, including a former PSE&G plant.
Callahan said the group was attracted by the history of the colonial town, the views from the riverfront, and access to light rail.
Pearl Pointe's two four-story apartment buildings would be built by Peron Development, a Phillipsburg-based company led by former New Jersey Gov. James Florio and his law partner, Michael Perrucci.
Peron is the redeveloper of apartment and retail projects in Bethlehem, South Amboy, and Phillipsburg and has a portfolio valued at more than $200 million, according to its literature.
Michael Perrucci was a partner in the Sands Casino project in Bethlehem and participated in cleaning up the brownfields site there and creating the commercial and housing development on and around it, Callahan said.
He said they worked closely together when he was Bethlehem's mayor.
Last month, the Burlington City Council voted unanimously to name Peron the redeveloper of the waterfront lot, which is prime property at the foot of High Street, the main street downtown.
Peron has agreed to purchase the land from the city for an estimated $1.83 million, according to Jim Kennedy, a redevelopment consultant the city hired more than a year ago. He said Peron also would contribute $100,000 toward the cost of a landscape architect's plan for the waterfront.
Peron is negotiating with the city to make annual fixed payments for 30 years, as part of a PILOT program, instead of paying taxes. Kennedy said the amount has not yet been finalized.
"This housing development is the catalyst for the redevelopment," Kennedy said, explaining that the anticipated influx of new residents, who are expected to be young professionals or millennials with discretionary income, will spur new restaurants and businesses to open and will help create a vibrant waterfront.
Callahan said that the apartment buildings may be built within the next 15 months and could rent for at least $900 for a one-bedroom and $1,200 for a two-bedroom unit.
He said that some units will have rooftop balconies overlooking the Delaware and one of the buildings may house a restaurant, or 8,000 square feet of retail space.
Florio, Perrucci, Steinhardt & Fader, a law firm with an office in Cherry Hill, includes prominent Democrats and Republicans, and also advisers to former Govs. Jim McGreevey and Richard Codey.