New Brunswick Redevelopment
Interview with Thomas Kelso
Kelso: I don't know if that's what you would prefer for me to do to give you some kind of a, just a general idea how – How am I involved or how. . .
Berkhout: Yeah, where did you grow up and how did you get involved in New Brunswick, what were your motivations, what do you think the city's motivations were or whatever?
Kelso: Sure. Are we ready to begin?
Berkhout: Yeah, we're all ready. I just want to make sure this is on.
Berkhout: Yeah, it's fine.
Kelso: Actually, I grew up in Phillipsburg, New Jersey.
Kelso: Due west right on the border with Easton.
Kelso: I actually came to New Brunswick as an undergraduate at Rutgers in 1968, graduated in 1972. I went to Brooklyn Law School; I actually lived in Woodbridge, in the Avenel section of Woodbridge, while I commuted to law school. When I graduated, I came back and I moved into . . . (Knock at door) Yes?
?: Excuse me. . .
Kelso: You can't interrupt me. We, I then came back and I lived in Edison and then moved in New Brunswick in Tov Manor. So I think, so I lived in New Brunswick '68 through '72 and then in '75 moved back into New Brunswick at Tov Manor.
Berkhout: Uh hum.
Kelso: I was admitted in New Jersey in '75 to practice and I practiced with a gentleman you may have heard of, Kenny Weiner, he was an attorney in East Brunswick. I worked there for a short period of time and then opened my own law practice in 1977 in New Brunswick with Bob Gluck. And that's how we ended up in New Brunswick, so at that point in time, in '77, I now had a law practice in New Brunswick and I lived in New Brunswick and that's kind of how I have been in New Brunswick ever since, both practicing and living.
Berkhout: So you still live in the city of New Brunswick?
Berkhout: Oh, okay.
Kelso: I lived in Tov Manor in an apartment from '77 to '79.
Berkhout: Uh hum.
Kelso: Then I bought a house on Sicard Street and lived in that house on Sicard Street until 1982 and then got married in 1982 and bought a home in Dewey Heights and I have been in the same house since 1982. So and married a lifelong New Brunswick resident, my wife is a lifelong New Brunswick resident.
And early on in my practice, I did – in the first few years – kind of did most anything, but I did a lot of real estate and land use work.
Berkhout: Uh hum.
Kelso: But I met John Lynch in the late part of 1977 when John at that time actually was screening with the 17th District Committee for the senate seat, which had been held by his father. Now ultimately that senate seat at that time actually went to Bill Hamilton, Bill Hamilton ended up being 17th District Senator.
Berkhout: Oh really?
Kelso: But that's actually how I first met John.
Kelso: John at that time was also the Democratic chairman in New Brunswick and you may recall that time. At that time, Dick Mulligan had been the mayor, but Dick had left during the course of his term and Gilbert Nelson was appointed as the interim mayor at that time. I point that out only because that's the time when I first got engaged really in the political side of the city of New Brunswick, being more than just I happened to live here and now I became more engaged in the city.
In the beginning of 1978, I got more involved in the Democratic organization and at that time John made a determination to run for mayor. And early on in 1978 when he made that decision, he and I met and he asked me to become actively involved in his campaign. And as it turns out, I became his campaign manager during that mayoral campaign, which is one of the things that I'll always remember. My first time really in a real political environment in a campaign and as you may recall that was the one where John ran against George Hendricks in a primary.
Berkhout: You may remember that more than I do.
Listokin: Actually it would good for the record if you could . . .
Kelso: Yeah, it was an interesting one because that was a very high-profile primary election which really in New Brunswick, of course the primary by-and-large determined the outcome of an election, although obviously we had a general election where John ran. But I became very much involved in the political side and I got to know John very well and got to know the running mates and all of the committee people and the Democratic Chair at that time after John stepped down to run, Jack Buckley became the Chairman of the organization.
Kelso: So my start in New Brunswick, my activity really centered around the political arena and obviously it was one of those things where I had time. I had a growing practice, but it was one of those things where I really had time to commit to this. I think John actually was looking for someone like that, someone who could devote the time to the campaign and be involved and learn in the process, but actually do a lot of he street work that needs to be done in a campaign like that. So I did learn a lot and I got to know a lot of people and I got to be involved in what ended up to be a very successful campaign.
And I learned a lot about the city in during that process, which I think was very important because I didn't know a lot about the wards and I didn't know a lot about the history of the different wards, whether it's the Hungarian ward, the Irish ward, and just knowing a little bit about the history really went a long way for giving me a sense of what the city of New Brunswick was all about. Not only where it stood at the current time, but the history of the city.
Berkhout: Uh hum.
Kelso: So that was really helpful for me to get that and it served me well because soon after John became mayor, his law firm had actually been general council to the New Brunswick Development Corporation.
Berkhout: I see.
Kelso: And since John had been elected Mayor, the firm no longer would play that type of role, would actually serve in that capacity.
Kelso: And I was contacted by the development corporation whether or if I would be interested as serving as their general council.
Berkhout: I see.
Kelso: So I said, "Yes, of course," and I became general council to Devco in January of 1979. And that was a key time, just really when I think the revitalization process really took off. Now as you know, a lot of the apparatus was put in place within the few years before that, the creation of NBT, the creation of Devco, really like kind of creating the framework, it was all done in 1976 and 1977 through the efforts of a number of people, including John, before he was mayor.
But it was really in that 1979 into 1980 where it really took off, in my view, largely because John now became mayor and was very much attuned to, "Let's get going and make things happen." And so I kind of really was in the ground floor, if you will, of where you know the role of Devco and NBT played. I was right there in the beginning and playing a significant role, which was kind of – when I look back, it was – but when you are young, you are naive, but I was very young when you consider the fact that I was acting as general council to Devco and I was not even 29 years old yet. So I was still pretty young when I got involved in it.
Berkhout: Uh hum.
Kelso: And so my first primary role and one that I played and still play a role with Devco was acting as general council at Devco. So because of that, I was involved in almost every redevelopment project that has. . .
Berkhout: I didn't actually realize that, that you were involved in all of those.
Kelso: Every, almost every redevelopment project since the beginning.
Berkhout: Wow, okay.
Kelso: And now there had been obviously projects and initiatives that have taken place that Devco was not directly involved in, in many cases indirectly. But, for example, the J&J headquarters and things of that nature, I didn't represent J&J in that.
Kelso: But very much aware of what was going on because it fit into the overall scheme of what was happening in the downtown. But I can recall and some of the things kind of stick in your mind. I remember in 1979, I did the first real estate closing for the first land acquisitions for the development of the Hyatt Hotel and ultimately then expanded into the Hiram area and what now is River Watch. But much of the controversy and the dialogue surrounding the Hiram Market and how the Hiram Market was going to be either maintained as an historic district or whether it was going to be redeveloped, how it was going to be redeveloped. So I have vivid memories of things like those property acquisitions.
Kelso: The dialogue over the King Block building and whether the King Block building was going to remain or whether it was going to be preserved historically on the record but not maintained physically. And I kind of look back at those time and I think, "Gee, as a young man I really was involved in something very significant." And that project, of course, the Hyatt Hotel and the development of that, I did do all of the legal work for that, including all of the construction documents and all of the closing documents, the financing and some of those things stick in your mind because I recall that during the construction period of the Hyatt Hotel, the interest rates were over sixteen percent.
Its one of those things we look at today and we look at interest rates being so low and they were so high then. Yet because I think we – in a lot of ways I think there was a lot of luck in involved in it, I think. But you had the staying power and the willpower of the people that were in leadership roles to make it happen.
Listokin: Were properties acquired via eminent domain or was this easily done?
Kelso: Most of the, in the Hyatt Hotel area, I would say most of the properties were acquired privately. But all of them as a result of being in a redevelopment area, so some of them were a little bit more difficult to negotiate than others. And some were ultimately taken through eminent domain. In eminent domain you can really look at two ways, the contested taking or not necessarily the contesting of the taking but the contesting of the amount. But for the most part, I think in most of the eminent domain actions that you see even today, the issue is more about how much, not about whether its going to be taken or not.
So I was in a lot of the redevelopment and eminent domain processes representing the developer, meaning New Brunswick Development Corporation. And I worked very closely with John Hoffman and the Wilentz firm who, even at that time in the late '70's was representing the Redevelopment Authority as the attorney for the Redevelopment Authority and they still play that role today. So ever since I first got involved in redevelopment, I was dealing with John Hoffman with redevelopment agreements and, you know, the property acquisitions and so forth. So he is one individual if you haven't spoken to, he could probably give you a lot of insight as well because he's been involved in the process as the attorney for the Redevelopment Authority from the very beginning. And we, again with that project, can recall even the first constructed building that. . .
Listokin: This is the Hyatt you are referring to?
Kelso: Well it was in, as the New Brunswick Development Corporation, the Plaza II building.
Berkhout: The I.M. Pei building.
Kelso: No, no the Plaza II which is – the Plaza II building is the red building.
Kelso: Plaza I is the white building.
Kelso: And that was one of the first buildings that was actually completed as a result of the redevelopment process through the efforts of New Brunswick Development Corporation.
Berkhout: Yeah. That's why I recall that one vividly because I remember doing the permanent loan closing and at that time you didn't wire the monies, you had a check. I remember having this very large check in a trust account, as a young lawyer, those things kind of stick in your mind.
Kelso: But I think I had really, I would say, the privilege of being involved at Devco so early because I was the attorney and general council, I was secretary of the board, so that I was at all of the board meetings and was able to interact and really from my perspective, listen and absorb the things that were happening at those board meetings by the people early on who were very much involved in the decision-making and the redevelopment process. That includes John Heldrich, it includes Len Hill, Bill Tremain and probably most importantly Dick Sellars.
When I first came on board as General Council, Dick Sellars was chairman of the board at Devco and he was still the chairman over at J&J. So, that was significant and for me, it was quite a privilege to be sitting there and being part of those discussions, mostly taking minutes, but being there and listening.
Berkhout: Was anyone from Rutgers on the board at that time, was Ed Bloustein?
Kelso: Ed Bloustein was not on the board. The answer to that is yes, but I can't recall exactly who was representing Rutgers on the board, but there was a Rutgers representative.
Listokin: Also there may have been a Rutgers representative at New Brunswick Tomorrow.
Berkhout: Uh hum.
Kelso: Well, there definitely was a New Brunswick Tomorrow, but I also believe there also was a Rutgers representative on Devco, I just can't recall.
Kelso: And there was changeover, there were people that were on and off. People like Hi Center, he was on the board. Oh, Alvin Rockoff.
Berkhout: Oh, okay.
Kelso: Alvin Rockoff, and I think probably Alvin probably and for a long period of time was probably the most profiled Rutgers person on the Devco board.
Berkhout: He was on the Board of Governors or Board of Trustees.
Kelso: Board of Directors.
Berkhout: No, no but on Rutgers board.
Kelso: Yes. And so it was a cross-section on that board. You know the business community at that time; Bill Tremain was an Executive at Prudential. And of course Dick Sellars and John Heldrich from J&J, you had Len Hill from, at that time National Bank of New Jersey. Roy Epps from the Civic League, Hi Center and again, there were others that were in and out. But early on, those were the people that stick in my mind.
Berkhout: Uh hum.
Kelso: And I think that I always felt that Dick Sellars was such a critical, early leader in the revitalization, certainly because I'm sure that he probably was the single most important decision maker with respect to Johnson & Johnson deciding to stay in New Brunswick. But also I think that he had the persona to be able to interact with, in the political arena, with people like John Lynch and even county representatives. You know, it always seemed to me to be a very strong, positive working relationship that he had. And he also had that charisma; and he was a very charismatic guy.
Berkhout: Uh hum.
Kelso: And I think that gave everybody significant comfort level of J&J's commitment to the city. But I continued to . . .
Listokin: And how do you describe the role of Devco, I mean I generally know . . ?
Kelso: Well I, in looking back as to conceptually how the revitalization structure was set up, and again it was set-up immediately before my time, but understanding what the intent was through the efforts of the American Cities Corporation and Leo Molinaro. And Leo was a great guy, he came in periodically. And even years later came back on request from the city to just kind of do a snap-shot view of where we are and things that we could be doing differently.
But structurally it was set up such that, as I understood it, NBT was intended to be the ideas entity and to create the strategic planning and that Devco was the implementation arm. That, in theory, was how I believe it was set up. I think it is a practical matter; it didn't evolve that way, although they worked very closely together. I think as the years and the process evolved, I think it took on more of a different view. Devco really. . .
Listokin: Development versus the more social side?
Kelso: Right, yeah NBT ended up more the human side of things, you know social services and the people and neighborhoods and the community structure that was necessary to develop along with the city, and that Devco really was its own strategic implementing entity. Now they worked, obvious, very close together, you got cross-board participation. John Heldrich played a very significant role in that being so much involved in both. But I think, I always thought that the theory of the set-up never operated that way, but it operated very well.
Berkhout: Uh hum.
Kelso: And I think that, I think it allowed for a lot of continuity, even when there was change in the leadership of Devco, and when I say leadership, the professional leadership through the different presidents, that there was always a strong, strong working relationship with the city. And that I think it worked very well to have the strategic planning side and the implementation side together. I always thought it worked pretty well that way; always never losing site of the important role that NBT was playing in making sure that the community at-large was being serviced as best it could through the redevelopment process.
I think that there are a couple of generic questions that I know are kind of out there that I have had a lot of time to think about and actually over the years have thought about, you know why were we so successful in New Brunswick, and I believe we have been very successful—it doesn't mean everything is perfect, but I think we have been successful. And to a great degree, it's because of, I think, political stability. Stability meaning through all of these years, you essentially had two mayors, which is fascinating when you think about it. And I think also that there was a stability within the council, you know and the council working hand-in-hand in understanding the process. And I think it was important to have that kind of political stability. You know, you can argue whether one-party or two-party is a good thing or a bad thing. But I think I'm just looking at it practically. It served a purpose here because there was a lot of political stability, there was the ability to know that if people were going to invest in the city, if people were going to invest money, resources, time or whatever it is, they knew that if leadership told you it could produce something, it could do it by-and-large. And I think that was important to be able to give people the confidence to invest in the city.
I think that the private side—and private side meaning J&J, but other corporate entities or non-corporate – but people, whether it's the merchants, anyone who is going to commit themselves to the city, I think, had that feeling that it was going to be a stable place and I think that was very important. And I think that one can argue, and I think it's been argued a lot, J&J's commitment to the city was critical.
Berkhout: Uh hum.
Kelso: The question always you've got to ask yourself, have they really done as much as they could, because you always could think they could have done more. And what was the net effect of J&J staying here in the long run, to the extent, are the people who are there physically in the building, are they really participating on a day-to-day basis in downtown?
Berkhout: Uh hum.
Kelso: I still think that's a debate that people can disagree on. I personally have always felt that there was more that they could have and should have done within the city. But no one would argue that they haven't done a lot. I would never say that.
Kelso: But sometimes I've thought as a resident and being here so long that you'd like to see more interaction, see people not being necessarily discouraged from coming into the downtown but encouraged to come in, you know the retailers. I think more so today because we've become such a destination for restaurants and the theaters and so forth. But I think – the the point that I started out was – I think that the stability of leadership and the political stability was very important.
I also think another reason why the city was successful is that we weren't too big that you couldn't see results. You know, I look at cities like Camden and I look at Newark and you know for all of the efforts that you may have in those places, you sometimes think, "Can you ever really do enough to make a difference?" The city is 5-1/2 square miles; it's got a defined downtown. It's got natural resources and the university and J&J and the cultural district and the county seat.
Berkhout: Uh hum.
Kelso: You have all of these things that are there and yet you could do a project and make a difference because it's meaningful within a 5-1/2 square mile radius, physically. And I always thought that that was very significant. We weren't so big that you couldn't see positive results.
I think another aspect that is critical, and I don't think I would say we were lucky, but we were certainly fortunate and that is that we had a definable theater district and the ability to do something about it. The State Theater and, Thea, I guess this is – we are, as much as anyone, very sensitive to this.
Kelso: The State Theater was a jewel that the city had that early on was recognized by strategic planners, but also in the political arena and the J&J arena that it was critical that we maintain it, preserve it and get it up and operational. And to create a live theater presence within the city, it was critical.
And I, one of the things that I always will remember and, I think, points out the person I mentioned already and that's Dick Sellars. How critical a role that he played in that, because I don't know that most people realize that when the State Theater was in private ownership and it was a porno house, that the property was acquired through the use of Dick Sellars' personal asserts.
Berkhout: Yes, we've heard that.
Kelso: And he preserved it so that it didn't fall into the wrong hands. And as it turns out, we ultimately refinanced through the use of EDA refinancing bonds which were the first refinancing bonds issued by the state of New Jersey through the EDA.
Berkhout: Is that right, wow.
Kelso: The very first ones by the EDA of New Jersey.
Listokin: And the refinancing bonds are what, in you can . . ?
Kelso: So in other words, the EDA will issue financing for new acquisitions or new projects. In this case, the cultural center already owned the facility through the pledge of Dick Sellar's assets. So the EDA wouldn't normally say, "Well you already own it. . ."
Listokin: It allowed you to take fund out?
Kelso: Right, it allowed his to get his personal assets out and restructured our debt through the use of those EDA refinancing bonds, and that was critical for us.
Kelso: And, you know, it's one of those, again, these assets that we have in the city that made us unique and, I think, capable of being successful and to be able to develop around the State Theater the way that we did. And it's one of the things also that I was privileged to be able to be an early participant in. The New Brunswick Cultural Center . . .
Listokin: Can you talk more about that, I think it's given the importance?
Kelso: The New Brunswick Cultural Center Board was formed in 1982. I know that because I was one of the original five board members – again, really there in my capacity as an attorney, but I was charged with the responsibility to create the original documents where we formed the Cultural Center Board, the original five members of that board were Dick Sellars, myself, Jane Tublin, Sam Landis from Highland Park and – I'll think of the fifth one.
Berkhout: Was Bill Wright on it then?
Kelso: No, Bill Wright came in as the President. It was Sam Landis; oh Ralph Voorhees was the fifth member.
Kelso: And you know we did all of the legal work that was necessary to create the entity, to form an initial board and immediately go into the study, which Bill Wright was very much involved with, the study of the Cultural Center leading up to the creation of the boards and then Bill came on board as President of the organization. But it was critical to be able to get a structure in place, which not only would just simply own the facility but would be able to operate it and operate it successfully. And one of the things that I have learned over the years, and I think Thea sat there is the same capacity is that buildings are great and you can put a ton of money into these places, but if you can't operate them . . .
Kelso: Professionally, successfully and financially viably, it doesn't mean anything. I think that we were able to put a structure in place that had credibility, that had a board that had credibility. Once again, I'd like to give Dick Sellars a lot of early credit for that. Again early on though with John Heldrich and Ralph Voorhees playing such key roles, that they have continued to play. You know, the structure was put into place early on to be successful. The Cultural Center and the State Theater specifically is another example of how when we say we had these assets already here and we had the political stability to make it happen that paid actual, tangible results.
An example, yes, Dick Sellars put his assets up to allow the New Brunswick Cultural Center to buy that building. But it could have never opened without some other source of funds to go into that building to get it opened initially in the '80's. Where did that come from? It came from Middlesex County. How did Middlesex County do it? Middlesex County acquired the building from the Cultural Center for $3 million and leased it back to the Cultural Center for $1 a year for 99 years.
What did that do? It was a simple mechanism to put $3 million into the building to get it to a point where you could open it up. And if you didn't have the cooperation of the Middlesex County government, the city government and the Cultural Center Board to look at that and say, that's a good way to get this facility up and operational, it would have never happened.
So, again, we had these assets here already. The county government has been here for a long time, the city government has been here for a long time. But it was far-thinking leadership, it was the willingness to cooperate and the stability of knowing that you could get that done and it would be successful, and it has been successful.
And as it turns out, and I think the year that that actually happened was '84 or '85, because we ultimately ended up, opening up, I think, and correct me if I am wrong, in April of 1988.
Berkhout: Okay, I would have said '87 or '88.
Kelso: I think it was April of 1988 because it took a while to do all of the refurbishment that went on that first go-around. And now, years later, when we fast forward, once again we went back to the County of Middlesex, we were able to get an additional $3 million dollars from the county. This time through a wholly different financing source, which was open-space funds. Which between 1988 and 2003, a new law was created and a new source of funds. And we were able to take that $3 million and put that into the building to make it what it is today.
Listokin: Was that one of the first uses of open-sauce monies for that purpose?
Kelso: It was the first use by Middlesex County of open space funds for use in historic restoration. The principle under which the law will allow those monies will go into the theater was because it met the definition of an historic structure and it was based on that that we . . .
Berkhout: So who initiated this, these loans from the county?
Kelso: They are not loans, they were grants?
Berkhout: Well, grants.
Kelso: Well, technically, remember what I said. . .
Berkhout: Who initiated the relationship?
Kelso: The county owns the building.
Kelso: So it was an easy lift for the county to be able to say "We can put $3 million into that building because we technically own it.
Berkhout: Okay, but Sellars first owned it?
Kelso: Well, Sellars first provided the security to acquire it, buy the Cultural center.
Berkhout: Right, but then it was sold to the county . . .
Berkhout: So how did that happen? Did Sellars approach the county, did John Lynch?
Kelso: My recollection of that at that point, that was a John Lynch brainstorm.
Kelso: At that time, you may recall Leigh Faggione?
Berkhout: It sounds familiar.
Kelso: Leigh Faggione a J&J executive at that time who was, I think, she had been a J&J executive who had retired and she was the Executive Director of NBT.
Berkhout: Ted Hardgrove mentioned her.
Kelso: He mentioned Leigh?
Kelso: She was an example of what J&J, aside from a lot of things, contributed to the city. A lot of executives who had been involved with the city while they were J&J executives, once they retired they remained involved and she acted as the Executive Director for NBT. I know she was a mover and shaker with that, so was John Heldrich. I would credit John Lynch for the brainstorm, because that's the kind of thing he would figure out, and also be able to convince the county to do it.
Kelso: Which is what I – that's why John was so important in the process and I'm prejudiced because he did so much for me. But his leadership, his vision, his strength of character and his ability to impose his will, if you will, on people because he was a man with tremendous ability, insight and instincts – he's the smartest guy I have ever dealt with.
Kelso: So he had the ability to pull the things together that were needed, including the ability to move the county in the direction that it needed to go and that's an example of that.
Kelso: And I think that obviously for us who are in the city, what's happened with the Cultural Center is, you know, it is the – maybe the single most important thing that is in place today that will allow the city to remain what it is. Because if you don't have it, you don't.
Listokin: Can you speak some on George Street and Crossroads as well?
Kelso: It's interesting because one of the things that in my mind that I remember that told me that I was getting old was that I negotiated on Devco's behalf the original lease agreement with Eric Krebs for the George Street Playhouse to move from George Street into the Y building.
Kelso: And the reason that I knew I was getting old is because I was also still there when the lease expired, and it was a twenty-year lease.
Berkhout: (Laughter) Oh.
Kelso: I said, "I am getting old because my signature is on that lease as a witness when it was signed and now it's expired. It's twenty years old."
Berkhout: So were you involved when he was in the building across the street from J&J?
Listokin: They bought it from the Acme or something?
Kelso: Yeah, it was the Acme. And was I involved? I was involved only in that I had been there.
Kelso: And I had met Eric and I knew Eric. But I didn't have any legal role in that until we were now as me as the attorney for Devco negotiated the agreement to get him to move over the Y building.
Kelso: And Devco was very much involved in that process. At that time, the Devco President was Paul Abdalla, he was still President then.
Kelso: And I recall a lot of the negotiation because Devco at that point in time had taken over the management of the Y building because we were now in the process of converting the Y building into the theater.
Berkhout: I see.
Kelso: And that was one of the roles that Devco played in – they didn't just build buildings, sometimes they were just the facilitator to get projects like that done. And Devco did really manage that whole process of getting that converted into . . .
Listokin: And bringing Crossroads?
Kelso: And bringing, well the Crossroads saga is a long and winding one. I mean Crossroads, to their credit, because of the genius of the originators of Crossroads, they created a theater out of their own genious. But that's only part of the battle, you've got to be able to operate, you have to be able to have a facility, you have to be able to manage it and you have to be able to maintain it. And those are always the struggles for any arts organizations. And they initially were, of course, in the Kingblock building, they were in the upper part of the Kingblock building. And the question was, "We need to preserve them as an entity, but they need to have a place to live." The Kingblock was not going to remain there, plus it couldn't be a long-term solution for them because it wasn't suitable for it, it wasn't accessible, it wasn't big enough. It didn't have the different kind of support areas you needed.
So I think everyone felt, in good faith, we needed to be able to assist Crossroads in getting itself a new home. And I think the Crossroads building is probably an example of how you could be almost too successful. Because through some various ways of trying to finance the new building, we were able to get monies from UDAG repayment funds, I don't know if you are aware of that. But a part of how they were financed was through the repayment of UDAG monies the Hyatt Hotel. Because originally there was $6 million in UDAG monies in the Hyatt were ultimately repaid by J&J. The city got those funds back and the city then put a million-and-a-half, I think it was a million-and-a-half of UDAG funds into the new building.
And so everyone agreed that Crossroads needed to be in a home, they needed to be in the district.
Listokin: And John Lynch was involved with that decision?
Kelso: I'm sorry?
Listokin: John Lynch was involved with that decision?
Kelso: Yes and I think that, unfortunately, what we learned and at least that I think most of us have learned, you will look to see the long-term operational plan. Who is going to operate it, who is going to be minding the store? I've learned, Thea, we've heard this sitting on boards, is that your artistic director shouldn't be your managing director. You know a managing director has to be there to be able to watch the bottom line.
The problem is the building itself that was built for Crossroads was probably too expensive to manage and maintain. So it was inevitable that there would be financial crisis, irrespective of how good the art is. And I think that we've learned that when we look at the Crossroads building today, although it was very much a success story that everyone could be proud of and still could be proud of, its just not feasibly operationally successful for a theater like Crossroads, which is – it was hard enough just to raise monies just for the art. But to raise it to manage buildings makes it very difficult.
And it's a lesson that I think we have learned as part of our arts education and our arts maturity, in that as we today look at building new theater space for George Street and new theater space for Crossroads and to look to this new performing arts center. We're looking at how we're going to manage the bottom line, which is just as important, if not more important than how we're going to raise the money to build it. And that's every arts organization needs to look at that first. And I think we've really been successful here as the Cultural Center board and the State Theater Board and ultimately I think again we we'll be one board again managing all of these facilities.
You have to have a plan in place to be able to have operational money that you know you can count on year-in and year-out. And one of the things that we're looking at today as part of that new performing arts center plan is a dedicated revenue source for operations.
Listokin: And what might that be?
Kelso: Well through – and again, the efforts of, I think, some of the real good thinkers in this town, which I would include Chris Paladino at Devco to be one of those. To me, I think he's a genius. He can be fun to deal with sometimes, but I think he's a genius. The idea of creating – a combination of things, first of all, the dedicated airspace to do the office and residential component probably has a dedicated revenue source for this. Also looking at some ways with the city to dedicate . . .
Listokin: So was there, in fact some sale of development?
Kelso: Well not yet.
Listokin: But it's . . .
Kelso: Structurally the plan would be to do that, yes. It would be able to well air rights to a residential developer of just Devco itself or in conjunction with a developer could to it on its own. And then the revenue from the sale of units would be dedicated to the theaters.
Listokin: Which is how some of the Broadway theaters have been preserved.
Kelso: Right, correct. And also office commercial space in the same location. It would be nice to have a major corporation or office user there, because it's the same concept to be able to have those funding sources available to us.
But also I think the city is looking at the possibility of being able to dedicate certain revenue sources from the city to operations for this, whether it's the, you know whether it's through the special improvement district or whether it's through what I refer to as "tax increment financing," I think there is another term for it today, but I always still refer to it as tax increment financing.
Listokin: Only New Jersey would call it what, a "revenue enhancement distribution," because no one knows what you're talking about.
Kelso: Right, but those are the kind of tings that I think we, and I saw "we" collectively as the City of New Brunswick have learned through thirty years of experience that these are the things when we move forward with these initiatives, we've learned from mistakes in the past. And you'd like to think that we can pass those on to other towns. I don't know whether or not you can, I know it's one of the references there.
Kelso: Can you take this model . . ?
Kelso: And stick it somewhere else?
Berkhout: Right, is it transferable?
Kelso: I don't know that it is.
Listokin: So I guess you have spoken about the political stability.
Listokin: The, I don't know if it's absolutely unique, but bringing together of a major university, a major corporation, and ultimately a major hospital.
Listokin: I'm just trying to think of the unique . . .
Kelso: Absolutely, and they're all here. You know, for better or for worse, the hospitals, the university, the county government, the major corporations, particularly J&J, they're here. They have as much of an interest, if not more than most to make certain that the city is successful. I think the most difficult part of that is to have the community at-large equally share in that in the neighborhoods, in the social services that are provided, and it's the most difficult thing to achieve.
Listokin: How do you think that has worked out?
Kelso: I think there has been success. Has it been as successful? Very difficult to judge because I think it's a long-term test. And you also, you know, it's easy to say, "We built this building, doesn't it look great? It looks great, it must be successful." But we've learned that that's not necessarily true. You look at Crossroads and it looks successful, but was it really successful? As a building, probably not. It's intended use, probably not, because it created issues for Crossroads.
Have we been successful on the social side of this? I think to a great degree we really have. But there is a lot more that needs to be done and it's difficult to do.
Listokin: Can you speak about some of those accomplishments?
Kelso: Yeah, if you look at NBT, for example. You know, when we look at all of the social programs that have taken place through NBT; they have by-and-large been very successful. I think a lot of people have benefitted from those services, that in many cases go unnoticed, unrewarded, uncredited if you will, not that they need to be.
Berkhout: Uh hum.
Kelso: But what do we do – what do you do in terms of neighborhood stability? You know, I can go around from neighborhood to neighborhood and see the difference from when I first moved here thirty years ago, and I say there has been tremendous success. But if you go down a street on a particular day and there is a lot of garbage and debris around, you say "Well gee, we haven't done anything in the neighborhoods." That's not necessarily the case, some of that really is, you know, the people who live in the areas who have to be invested in it and feel they are invested in it as well.
Berkhout: Uh hum.
Kelso: And I think that's a harder thing to sell. I think that—I would like to think that there was some more that we could do to promote home ownership and home occupancy, because I think people who are invested in their homes feel more attuned to the city and more attuned to their neighborhoods because they have a real investment here. But I think it's – there have been programs over the years that the city has been able to initiate through funding that's available and they have been largely successful. But it's not as easy to do, I guess I don't know how else to say that. But I think it's harder to figure out a way that we can make that happen.
Berkhout: Uh hum.
Kelso: I like the idea that the university, at least at this point, intends to be more proactive in cooperation with the city in going in to the neighborhoods for the first time, really ever in my view, and trying to do some kind of coordinated, cooperative housing initiative, which maybe will finally allow students to live within the neighborhoods and not be adversarial to the residents and feel part of those neighborhoods rather than being a problem in the neighborhoods.
Listokin: How do you go about that?
Kelso: I don't know, it will be a work in progress.
Kelso: I think the fact that the university wants to do it rather than just build a dorm here or a dorm there or a dorm over there. I think we can see from the limited things that have already happened that it can be successful. For example, I think building Rockoff Hall, which was done through cooperation with the university and the city and New Brunswick Development Corporation, has been a great success. I think it's been a great success because I think the residents in Rockoff feel part of that neighborhood there. And actually I was thinking about it yesterday because I'm driving down George Street and obviously students are just starting to move in again.
Berkhout: Uh hum.
Kelso: And I'm watching them walk around or walking downtown, they are going in to the stores that are right there. They are sitting outside, they are chatting with each other. We need that in the downtown community; we need that more in the neighborhoods. But it can only – it can't be done on a, really just as a piecemeal kind of thing where a student finds an apartment on their own because some homeowner now has moved somewhere else and the building that used to be someone's home is now, you know, a multi-family dwelling. And I think that, although some landlords keep multi-family dwellings very nice, others don't.
You'd like to think with a more coordinated effort, where there can be more of a marriage between renters, whether they are students or non-students, with the homeowners who are still within the neighborhoods, I think is a very difficult thing to achieve. I'd like to think that we could do more to make that happen. I know that one of the things that people can be critical of – and I think we see that today in the initiative that may be on our – or will be on the ballot this year is a ward system – is the feeling that the focus of the city has been only on the downtown and not in the neighborhoods. I think in some ways that's unfair, but I can understand why that's a criticism. Because you look at the physical manifestation and sure, that's true. But it also ignores the fact that through the efforts and because the city has a reputation now of having been successful in its efforts, we have been able to attract a significant amount of money in redeveloping our schools. We are about to open a brand-new high school, who else can say that?
We've opened up a brand new school in Lord Sterling School. We've had significant expansion on the McKinley Neighborhood School. We saw the development of the Paul Robison School fifteen years ago to become a community school. So there has been a lot of work that's happened within the town that's geared to the people and to the neighborhoods. But I think that sometimes that goes unnoticed because of the high profile of what we term to as the "downtown revitalization."
Listokin: Before we leave the subject, the schools, New Jersey is grappling with . ?
Kelso: Sure are.
Listokin: How do we . .
Kelso: I know, excuse me, I'm just. . .
Listokin: You mentioned some of those efforts, those school projects. Are there take-away lessons from New Brunswick experience of delivering these schools that others can learn from?
Kelso: One thing that, well I'd like to think – one of the things that I'd like to say that I'm kid of proud of as part of the city is, again, we've attracted some pretty special, talented people. And my view, and maybe it's a little bit tainted, I look at Chris Paladino and Devco and again, the interconnection that someone like Chris has had in state government and the ability to be on the cutting edge of saying, "You know what? We're going to show you that you should make New Brunswick the city where you do your demonstration schools." Think of what happened. Lord Sterling was a demonstration school. The high school was a demonstration school, so that we were in the front of the line.
So what's the lesson to be learned? Well, some of it is you've got to understand and be positioned to be there in the initial wave of things. Just like when I talked to Chris Paladino and we talked about stimulus money, you know, right away you know you think to yourself, "Let's look at all the things that we can look at in the city and really in the county also where we can attract more than our fare share of stimulus money." Again, a lot of it is about identifying resources, being able to manage those resources and put them to the best use possible. Again it doesn't mean that every project has been successful, but I think, for the most part, they have been, and a lot of it because of that kind of thinking.
I think of examples of projects, for example, and again with every project there is always back and forth and there is always the underlying things that happen where there is disagreement and tension and you get a lot of that. It's not everything just is, you know roses everyday. But a lot of times you have to look at it and say, "Look, maybe it's not perfect, but let's get it going because it's really a good idea." It could be better, sure it could be better. But if we wait to make it perfect it's not going to happen.
Berkhout: Uh hum.
Kelso: In a lot of ways, doing things on an ad hoc basis like that, I think has served us well. I think that you know you look from – if you look at the city and say "Okay, we're going to do this and this is going to be our plan and this is where you're going to put this and this is where you're going to put that." It's great in concept, but it may never happen. You have to take advantage of what's available to you and just do it. And then you adjust.
You know if your plan called for cultural district to be here, well it's still going to be there, but maybe this theater gets built here and it doesn't get built there because this site is available and this one isn't. You know don't be so myopic to think that it can't adjust because you've got to strike when you can. And I think the city has always been able to do that.
And again, I say to you, and I said it in the beginning, that has to do with political stability. Now I use the term political, it's really governmental stability. It's not the politics, it's the government stability.
Berkhout: Well the county also had stability.
Kelso: Absolutely. The county and the city, if you knew, "Look, this is a great idea, this is a good project but we need the county to do this and we need the city to do this." You could get it done like that. There are not a lot of places where you can say that.
Berkhout: Uh hum.
Kelso: We've had the good fortune of being able to have that as an asset for us. And, you know, at the same time, you know, knowing that you had these other core assets and people working together, the hospitals.
Berkhout: Uh hum.
Kelso: And we think a lot of the people at the top in the leadership positions saw for the most part that the vision worked. And so again, there is pulling and tugging. You know, how far can a hospital extend into the neighborhoods before its detrimental? You know, how high can you build a building without really impinging on the neighborhood? You know, the traffic that's generated because you're building too large of a parking garage. Those are things you fight about every day all day; you know what makes my job so much fun as a lawyer. And there isn't always agreement on those things.
But I think in the end you looked at it and you trusted the leadership, you trusted the people that were in decision-making positions; whether they were elected people, appointed people or hired professionals, and you trusted it – you debated it, but you trusted at the end that the people that were brought on board were making right decisions.
Berkhout: Uh hum.
Kelso: Now again, I think that I'd like to see us be able to do more in the neighborhoods. I'd like to see us really be able to push initiatives. It's difficult now because the economy the way it is, you just don't have those extra resources. But I'm confident that the people that are here will find a way
Listokin: So what do you want to see done in the neighborhoods, you know, let's say times get a little better?
Kelso: Yeah I think, I mean from time to time there has been initiatives that have been discussed generally about going in and doing infill housing and going in and trying to take certain sections of the city and doing it on kind of a demonstration type of thing through different developers, developers who have expertise in doing tax credit financing or doing – you know, going to the HMFA and finding special types of funding.
You know, some of the people who are the best at that because from experience, like to migrate to New Brunswick because they knew if they had an idea, they weren't going to be battling everyday because you don't have the leadership or the stability. So we did attract, I think, a certain number of those developers. And I think we probably, you know, a lot of times those projects are more marginal in terms of success or not. So, I think in times like this where the economy is what it is, those kinds of things just . . .
Berkhout: Uh hum.
Kelso: Those types of developers pull their wings in and it's difficult to get that initiative going, but I think it will. I mean, I just think it's a cyclical thing that will happen. And again, we have had a lot of residential and neighborhood initiatives that have worked, and I point to the schools as an example.
But there has also been housing initiatives, whether its senior housing initiatives or I look at the Providence Square, which was the cigar factory and now it's a senior building and now it's going to be an expanded senior building, they are going to do more units there. So there has been a lot that's happened to service seniors. And, you know, we've been able to in the city attract dollars to do park improvements, to do recreational improvements, and so a lot of that has happened in what we would call an urban area, which you may not see in places, other urban areas. But we have been able to do it, some of which is because of credibility with the city and knowing that if we're going to commit a million dollars to the city, it's not going to get wasted, it's going to go to good use.
And, you know, I think we've – again it's we have good people engaged in that process. And again, the leadership. It's interesting to note that there's not been a lot of change in the people. You can count you know the people, you know, on two hands, perhaps, who have been involved for such a long period of time that have a historical perspective of it, but also still stay very much involved in it. It makes me laugh; I think Chris Paladino has actually been Devco President for almost fifteen years.
Kelso: I find that really surprising that he's been here that long.
Kelso: He has been.
Berkhout: We did talk to Chris Foglio as well and we're seeing Chris tomorrow, Chris Paladino tomorrow.
Kelso: Well he's an interesting character. Chris Foglio was interesting because Chris – Chris is an example of someone who actually cut her teeth in New Brunswick and yet went on to play a major role in the state and yet since she knew New Brunswick was able to help get resources into New Brunswick in her role at the HMFA.
Berkhout: Uh hum.
Kelso: But I have kind of pleasant memories of Chris when she was still working in the planning department and we, I was doing land use applications and again involved with Devco and then ultimately she came and, you know, she was the President of Devco for a period of time and she and I worked closely together.
Listokin: She is a former student of mine.
Kelso: Oh, is that right.
Kelso: And Chris is one of those people, very talented and very bright.
Berkhout: Uh hum.
Kelso: And fortunate that you know she is someone who ended up early in her career in New Brunswick and played a very major role in New Brunswick, a good person.
Berkhout: Are there other people . . .
Kelso: By the way, she's now in a place that's much more difficult, you know, trying to turn Trenton around is not the same as trying to turn New Brunswick around.
Berkhout: I know. Are there other people, I mean you have mentioned some other people who were on the Devco board initially; I don't know what their status is, if they are available. We know that Dick Sellars is no longer apparently – John said he didn't think we could . . .
Kelso: If anybody could get Dick Sellars, it's John. But probably not, I think Dick Sellars is now 92.
Kelso: I think he's 92, I think.
Berkhout: But you mentioned some of the first, Bill Tremain . . .
Kelso: Well Bill Tremain is around. I know . . .
Berkhout: Are there people you think we should talk with?
Kelso: I don't, well Lent Hill probably has not. He has not been involved in New Brunswick process for a long time.
Berkhout: But he was one of those initial members?
Kelso: He was on, yes.
Kelso: Which was, I think it was – what was the name? The National Bank of New Jersey, that's the very beginning.
Berkhout: Oh New Jersey, okay.
Kelso: But that's what ultimately, that's the ultimately where the Church and George Street . . .
Kelso: Which is Wachovia, now Wells Fargo, whatever it is.
Listokin: When they were a local bank.
Kelso: I think that you know Roy Epps has been – I don't know if you have spoken to Roy Epps.
Berkhout: We have talked with Roy, yeah.
Kelso: Roy is one of those individuals who's been around longer than myself, you know, as part of the Urban League, now Civic League.
Listokin: Some neighborhood people that we should speak to?
Kelso: Gee, that's an interesting thought. You know neighborhood people, people that have been involved and who have been in this city for a long time. I'd have to think that through a little bit. Interesting if you look at the NBT board members going back maybe twenty years or so, you know, there are a lot of people on the NBT board that were more involved in the social service aspect of the city.
Kelso: You know, but just talking about the neighborhood people, someone like Angie Puleio, even though she was the political chair, Angie is a lifelong New Brunswick resident. She has been around, you know, forever – don't tell her I said that – but knows the city from the time that it was . . .
Berkhout: How do you spell her last name?
Kelso: Puleio, P-u-l-e-i-o.
Berkhout: Oh, okay.
Kelso: But there were others, I can actually give you some thoughts on people that have been kind of on . . .
Berkhout: Okay. 61 18
Kelso: Have been in the city, have worshipped in this city, have lived here and have seen things that have happened and give you some names of those people.
Berkhout: Actually it was that interesting connection of people who moved from New Brunswick who basically kept ties, they moved to Highland Park.
Listokin: They worshipped in New Brunswick, so you weren't – you still had a tie to the city.
Kelso: That's right. You know I hope that you actually talk to some of the restaurateurs because I find it fascinating.
Kelso: You know, we have become such a destination city and it's kind of ironic that you know we're in the midst of a charter change question on the ballot wherein people are challenging whether or not there should be a ward system and being critical of the city because all they focused on was the downtown, I mean that's the theory of it. Yet the city has become a destination.
Kelso: Many of the very people who are taking opposition have moved here because they like New Brunswick. In my mind, it's always kind of ironic. You move here because you like it and now when you are here, you want to change the way the city functions. But it's a fair question, but, you know, I look at the restaurateurs and I look a – I am even interested myself to know their view, what did they see that made them say, "I'd like to invest myself into this city, my business into this city." I'd like to think a lot of it has to do with things that we were so involved in, which was the theaters and, you know, we've become such a destination city.
Berkhout: Well who, now the owner of what was J. August Cafe passed away. He had been a student, right.
Listokin: Another student.
Kelso: I didn't even know that.
Berkhout: Yeah, he died, right. But the owner . . .
Kelso: Jim Black.
Berkhout: Jim Black?
Kelso: Speak to Jim Black. Jim Black would be a classic person to interview and I'll tell you why. Jim Black originally – it's interesting how this whole thing came about. Jim Black was against a lot of the revitalization efforts early on, but, for a simple, fair reason. He wanted to put his restaurant in the middle of the Hiram Market, what we'll call the Hiram Market, okay.
Berkhout: Uh hum.
Kelso: The Development Corporation and the city viewed the Hiram Market that needed to be developed for residential purposes and there really was probably, you couldn't envision putting a restaurant in the middle of that. Jim Black persevered, he and his wife persevered. They bought the property, they didn't give it up. It wasn't taken in eminent domain. They established their restaurant and they literally caused the redevelopment process and the development of River Watch to develop around them.
Berkhout: Uh hum.
Kelso: Yet today if you look at it, it was the best thing that happened, because it's a tremendous restaurant. They have done a fantastic job. It's an asset to the city; it's a credit to him . . .
Listokin: Which restaurant?
Berkhout: The Frog and the Peach.
Kelso: And it actually from a development standpoint, it's great.
Kelso: I mean if you look at it, it's just – today if you were going to develop this town center concept, that's what you would do.
Kelso: But twenty-five years ago . . .
Listokin: It was a different planet.
Kelso: We didn't look at that way.
Kelso: So he persevered, he's been through the redevelopment wars as against them and as a part of it. I have tremendous respect for him, he's a friend. You know he's someone when you go in there, he's a friend, but we were on opposite sides for many years. And so it shows you how things do change, how your perspective can change. It shows you that sometimes what you think is right isn't always right and you have to be open-minded about it. I think that we are fortunate that he fought the fight that he fought because it's been – the city is much better because of it.
Berkhout: Uh hum.
Kelso: And New Jersey Monthly – it's kind of interesting: the top twenty-five restaurants in New Jersey, three of them are in New Brunswick. One is the Frog and the Peach, which has been in that magazine for the last twenty years.
Kelso: And the other two are less than two years old, kind of weird. Daryl's is only less than two years old.
Berkhout: Oh is it?
Kelso: And Due Mari is less than a year old.
Berkhout: Stage Left.
Kelso: It didn't make it this year, but . . .
Berkhout: Oh Due Mari.
Kelso: It used to be Nova Terra.
Berkhout: Right, wow.
Kelso: And I think it's fascinating when you look that the city has become such a restaurant destination. You know, due to no small reason as a result of the Cultural Center and the efforts that all of us have put into that. But they are a destination in and of themselves and I give Jim Black a tremendous amount of credit for that, because he was the first. I mean J. August was also there.
Kelso: But if you look at what Jim did and created a restaurant from scratch and consistently over the last fifteen or more years has been one of the top restaurants in New Jersey and really makes, in my view, makes that River Watch area.
Berkhout: What was in that building before?
Kelso: I don't recall.
Berkhout: It wasn't – was it residential?
Kelso: For the longest time it was vacant. I think it was a commercial building and for a long time it was vacant. And I always recall that painted on the side of the building, as an act of defiance, he painted, "Gone fishing." I don't know if you remember this, he painted on the side of the building "Gone fishing".
Kelso: And I always wonder what he meant by that. Well eventually somebody said, "He's going to do a restaurant, he's going to serve fish. He's gone fishing."
Kelso: But if you interview Jim Black, you should ask him what that meant. It was an act of defiance, but it was – to me, it was an example of how you really do have to be open-minded and the process can change and you are not always right about it.
Berkhout: And was J. August Café, was that building previously a restaurant?
Kelso: Jay August – originally, I don't recall where he was first. But he did move onto Church Street in one of the buildings that still remains as part of the Kilmer Square.
Berkhout: Oh, okay.
Kelso: It's the next-to-last building, I think, at that time. It might be where the tobacco store is.
Berkhout: Where the tobacco store is?
Kelso: And . . .
Listokin: I mean, I think he started . . . it was a plant store.
Listokin: And then it was almost like we'll have a little lunch stop.
Berkhout: Oh okay, right.
Kelso: And he, but he did a great job, he really did. Well he ultimately – in fact, I think he was down in River Watch and he moved over to Church Street, so he did reach an agreement where he moved there.
Berkhout: I see.
Kelso: That's how he ended up there.
Kelso: And you know a lot of people don't realize that in that Kilmer Square Mall, there are about almost half of that block is still buildings that were original buildings.
Berkhout: Kenneth Wheeler told us about his role in trying to preserve parts of that building.
Berkhout: I don't know how true that is.
Kelso: I spent a ton of money.
Kelso: No, it's true. There were issues with that building and the several buildings with it. You know, should they be preserved or should they not be preserved? You know, are they structurally sound and capable of being preserved?
Listokin: Actually another unique factor was the availability of the UDAG's.
Listokin: There was that window of . . .
Kelso: To use for commercial development, a block grant, of substantial size and I think New Brunswick was on a per capita basis, the second largest. . .
Kelso: We were the second, yeah, I remember that statistic. We were the second largest per capita in the country and I do remember the $6 million in the State Theater, I mean in the Hyatt Hotel.
Listokin: That was a $6 million Hyatt grant what, thirty years ago? I mean . . .
Kelso: Yes, it ultimately got repaid and reused which is why that's such a success, because it got used more than once.
Berkhout: Right. We also have contacted Leo Molinaro who we were supposed to meet and then his wife got ill, but we hope to see him and Bill Wright is going to come up sometime.
Kelso: Oh that's great.
Berkhout: He's now working for a consulting firm that it turns out is Ginny Record's.
Kelso: Is that right?
Berkhout: Right. And Henry Cobb who is the partner of I,M. Pei.
Kelso: Oh really?
Berkhout: So we hope to see him, he's delayed it a few times.
Listokin: Maybe we can talk to Frank Nero over the phone, he's down in Florida.
Kelso: Frank Nero?
Listokin: Frank Nero, yeah.
Kelso: Yeah, Frank, I worked with Frank for a long time you know side-by-side at Devco. I guess he's – is he still in Jacksonville?
Berkhout: In, is he the Wyoming person?
Listokin: I thought he was in Florida?
Berkhout: Somebody, oh a former mayor moved out to Jackson Hole.
Kelso: Dick Mulligan.
Berkhout: Oh, okay.
Kelso: Dick Mulligan was the Mayor from 1974 to I think 1976 and then he went out to Jackson Hole and that's when Gilbert Nelson was appointed.
Berkhout: And then when was Pat Sheehan?
Kelso: She was before that.
Berkhout: Oh, she was before that?
Kelso: Pat was the mayor from . . .
Berkhout: Okay, right, right, right.
Kelso: Maybe '68 to '74?
Berkhout: And then she went to Community Affairs.
Berkhout: And then there was an acting person for a while?
Berkhout: And then Mulligan came in.
Listokin: I had a class interview the people attending the State Theater, you know, just we did this simple zip code distribution and you saw what a large area it was drawing from. In contrast, we interviewed shoppers on George Street, which of course was all local.
Listokin: The idea was, how can you capitalize on that big draw, which is hard? I mean it took a while. And as people would come to New Brunswick to dine only when there was theater . . .
Listokin: It took a while to say, "I'm coming to New Brunswick to dine."
Kelso: It's interesting to try to – when you look at it – what did New Brunswick make itself in terms of the downtown and its persona? Because I think one of the hardest things and I don't think we have been completely successful at it is to create true downtown retail.
Kelso: And . . .
Berkhout: That's always been one of – because I was on City Market for a while, too.
Kelso: But if you talk to any developers, if you talk to any city planners, Leo Molinaro if you talk to him will tell you it's the most difficult thing to do.
Kelso: Because the major retailers have their own set of rules.
Kelso: And they don't care what you say.
Berkhout: That's right.
Kelso: They don't care what your statistics tell them.
Kelso: They need certain numbers and if they don't have the numbers they will not be there.
Listokin: There were some national chains, it took a long time. But between Radio Shack and . . .
Kelso: Yeah. But you know you've been – you wanted to be able to get the major men's store, women's store, the Gap, the know. . .
Berkhout: Banana Republic.
Kelso: You know, all of the – and get the major stores and you just couldn't do it.
Listokin: Given the problems they're having, maybe it's best.
Kelso: You might be right. Well I know . . .
Berkhout: I do think a Jamba Juice would good, a Chipotle, but those are eating and drinking places.
Kelso: Well Chipotle is opening up, Omar Boriae, the building he owns, at Church and George.
Berkhout: In that retail space?
Kelso: It used to be the drugstore right on the corner, Church and George; it was the drugstore, Mandell's.
Berkhout: Oh, okay.
Kelso: The Chipotle Grill is going in there.
Berkhout: Great. That will draw people.
Kelso: Kilmer Square . . .
Berkhout: But again, it's a food place.
Kelso: It's a food place. Kilmer Square would have been, you know obviously it was viewed as where you would put the major retailers. But it was just, it never happened. I mean you would get some – I mean I think Boriae as able to bring the Gap in for a little while for a small store, but it was just difficult because . . .
Listokin: It was almost too early.
Kelso: Yeah, it was. It was. And what do you do? You can't leave space vacant, so you go and you hope you get good, solid individual retailers to come in.
Kelso: And they have been there, but it's – you know it's piecemeal, it's ad hoc, you don't know what you're going to get and sometimes you don't get the best retail uses.
Listokin: We should talk to the Old Man Rafferty people, who might be a person?
Berkhout: Yeah, who was. . ?
Kelso: Oh Mark Jackabotzki.
Berkhout: Mark what?
Kelso: That's who, he's Old Man Rafferty's and he's also Soho.
Kelso: He's one of those "touch it and it will work." He's very good at what he does.
Listokin: I think he opened something in Asbury.
Kelso: Yeah, he actually – had talked about doing a steak house, but he ended up not doing that here. But everything he touches . . .
Berkhout: Matty's, well you know Matty . . ?
Kelso: Matty Terranova
Berkhout: Yeah, I mean he seems to be doing pretty well.
Kelso: Matty Terranova I knew and actually represented when he did the East Brunswick Fish Market.
Berkhout: Oh really?
Kelso: Yeah. He actually and a former client of mine opened that East Brunswick Fish Market.
Berkhout: Well we know Jack Morrison in Princeton who was sort of his partner and I am assuming they had a falling out with his leaving there and coming here.
Kelso: Yeah. I see Matty in there occasionally. I mean his whole life is going to the Fish Market at 4 or 5 in the morning. I don't know how he did that all those years.
Berkhout: Yeah. Well he and Jack Morrison did that – Jack opened Nassau Seafood in Seafood and Matty had the East Brunswick Place.
Berkhout: And they have both built now restaurants based on that.
Kelso: And it's good to have Steakhouse 85, it's a very good place, I like it a lot. I mean we needed that, one thing we didn't have was the steak house. I think the Raritan River Club was originally intended to be that, but it really never turned out to be that, turned out very well that way. But I think we have, I mean, you look at it and we've become the restaurant capital.
Kelso: Which is a good thing.
Listokin: We're just changing function of what, you know, what the city is, it's healthcare, it's arts, it's unique restaurants and not chains.
Kelso: But I think what happens is there are so many people who converge on the city during the day, because of the hospitals, because of the county seat and because of the university that it's inevitable they feel comfortable here in the day, they come back at night and eat at restaurants and they go to the shows. And that's what we've become and I think that's a fine thing. I would like to see us be able to do more retail, you know, to complement it. I'd like to be able to. . .
Listokin: Unless more housing comes.
Kelso: Yeah, and I think you see with some of the downtown housing, you know the Heldrich Center housing is critical. I think the housing that I'd like to think that we're going to be able to do over the Cultural Center, the Gateway Project which is really almost literally ready to get started.
Berkhout: Uh hum.
Kelso: Now tying the university and the bookstore and the train station together with mid-range housing, you're going to see more and more of that in the downtown. And then I think once you have that, then you'll start seeing the retail come. But you're right; the retail is the last thing you get.
Berkhout: Right. We're mindful of the fact that you have to go someplace.
Kelso: I know, that's – I appreciate, I don't know. Is there anything specific you'd like ask me that. . ?
Listokin: I guess if there were records or you know print that we can look at, you know we're speaking to people.
Berkhout: Do you keep documents?
Kelso: I have documents. I mean I have a lot of land use stuff, but I have things that – when we formed the Cultural Center and when we did the State Theater stuff, I have those kinds of things.
Berkhout: I mean we got some initial funding. I actually felt compelled that we should get down on record the oral explanations of the major leaders before they're too old to do so.
Berkhout: So we got John Heldrich, it was unfortunately too late for Dick Sellars. So it just, one thing led to another, so we're now trying to be more comprehensive. But part of the project is supposed to also involve, you know, collecting documents or at least putting together a bibliography of where you can find things.
Kelso: That's great.
Berkhout: Other people want to do research.
Listokin: So we started doing that, but that's such a massive effort.
Berkhout: It is.
Listokin: So we're going to focus on . . .
Berkhout: The public library, New Brunswick Library, Rutgers libraries, John Heldrich has boxes which he says he wants to finish going through, but maybe we can help him organize them, I don't know.
Kelso: Well, you know, when you think about the major leaders though, with the exception of Dick Sellars, you're really getting – most of the people are still available to you.
Berkhout: Uh hum. Andy Baglivo we also talked to.
Kelso: And Andy has been around from day one. But most of those people are still available to you; I think that that's a fair statement. I mean there are some that aren't here, but for the most part, most of them. Even going back to like to the Frank Nero or Paul Abdalla, I mean, I don't know if you reached them, but they are available.
Berkhout: Right, okay.
Kelso: I'm sure if you needed to get in contact with them, you could.
Kelso: And, you know, I'll be curious someday to hear the different perspective on what other people think. But you know my view from where I was sitting and watching things as they were happening and being involved, I mean I can recall things that were happening on a day-to-day basis and some of the tension of things. I mean the argument, "Can J&J do more? Are they not doing enough? Are they committed or are they not?" And the tug of war over those types of things and but it all was to get us in the right direction. I think that, you know, John Heldrich will give you a great perspective and Ralph, the same thing.
Kelso: But John, of course John has been around and involved in so many different things. I did just want to say I was very fortunate because you know I can – and I did this with my children when they were younger. You could drive around town and I could say to them, "You see this project here? I was involved in that. I did the land use approvals, I could tell you stories." And I always say to them, "I could tell you stories," because with any project, with anything, there are stories.
Kelso: Some of them amusing.
Listokin: The stories are the most . . .
Kelso: Some of them you tell and some of them you can't tell. You know, the dynamic of what was going on, you know the thought process of someone. You know, the tension between a developer or the city or whatever.
Berkhout: So then you will come back and they you can take us on a tour and tell us the stories.
Kelso: Only the stories that I can tell, right. But for the most part, knowing and watching how things evolved over a period of time and in some cases and I think it's a fair statement that some projects just got done because, you know what, we can do it, so let's just do it.
Kelso: You know, maybe not much more thought than that. But there wasn't, you know knowing that it would fit into the big picture, but not necessarily because you are following this rigid plan.
Kelso: You had to be flexible.
Kelso: And I think one of the great advantages this city had was not being afraid to just go ahead and take that risk and do it.
Kelso: And that was what I meant by governmental stability.
Listokin: In an earlier conversation with Devco they said, I guess the building where the Dunkin Donuts is, they recently wanted to go into Newark. Newark was going nowhere, they said, "You know we can package this deal for you."
Listokin: And you have a plum of a tenant.
Kelso: Yeah and that's really a lot of time it's just being able to be a salesperson and being – and now the city does have that reputation, so we want to be here now.
Kelso: You know, there was a time – liquor licenses, you know, the city has always been known to have so many liquor licenses, I think its eighty-four liquor licenses; it sounds like a lot. You know the store in New Brunswick, you had the corner tavern. Now, they are so difficult to come by because you have so many restaurants and so many, you know, up-scale establishments, the liquor licenses are hard to find.
Kelso: And that's the change over that happens.
Berkhout: Yeah, that's interesting.
Kelso: And hard-to-find means more expensive.
Kelso: Typically, which I don't think is a bad thing. You know people are heavily invested in this city.
Listokin: Okay, well thank you for your time.
Kelso: You know, I'm sure I'll think of something else that I've . . .
Berkhout: Well that's fine. Eventually this will get transcribed and slightly edited for corrections and we'll send it to you to take a look at.
Kelso: Okay, sure.
Berkhout: And make sure it reflects what. . .
Listokin: So there will be written record, there will be the video record.
Listokin: And then we want to take some of this, because no one is going to listen verbatim for these like roughly hour-and-a-half interviews.
Kelso: Yeah, I would imagine.
Listokin: We want to excerpt it into something that hopefully can be in the New Brunswick Library and other places.
Kelso: That would be great, fantastic.
Listokin: Actually we are looking for photographs . . .
[end of recording]