ROBBINSVILLE: Banks back out of deal

by James McEvoy, Managing Editor
   ROBBINSVILLE — Township officials announced Roma Bank is pulling out of an agreement to construct a building that would have housed municipal offices.
   Township officials said they were told during a meeting with bank representatives Monday.
   Dave Fried said he was stunned and disappointed by the decision, which he said was first presented to officials as a possibility in early February, after which officials asked back representatives to reconsider.
   Mr. Fried said they were told new ownership is not in the business of development. Roma Bank was merged with Investors Bank in December.
   ”We’re basically back to square one,” Mr. Fried said. “We we’re very frustrated that they didn’t honor their commitment. It’s not a great way for a new bank to introduce itself to Mercer County.”
   Mr. Fried said there are “significant recourses” for the township to pursue and referred to Township Attorney Mark Roselli for further elaboration.
   Mr. Roselli, who was also at the March 18 meeting, said he has advised Mr. Fried and bank representatives that he considers all legal actions to be on the table.
   ”You can’t simply say this isn’t good enough for us, we’re just going to walk away,” Mr. Roselli said, adding the township had expended engineering costs and expected to get out of their current lease. “They’re not getting off the hook that easily and we’re not going to go away and let that occur. That’s not the way you do business.”
   Mr. Roselli said further that he believes Robbinsville Township was the only party negotiating in good faith.
   It’s no secret that the town took very specific steps and had some proceedings … in connection the acquisition of a portion of that building for town offices,” he said. “We were proceeding certainly on good faith, recognizing that we were almost finished with respect to signing the deal.”
   Despite the merger with Investors, which Mr. Roselli said would not be official until in May, officials were led to believe the deal was not in jeopardy.
   He also said he was bemused when Investors officials said during the meeting that they wanted to be good neighbors.”
   After their actions if that’s what it means to be a good neighbor all I have to say is there goes the neighborhood,” he said.
   Ground broke in October on a three-story building on Route 33 whose top floor would have served as the new home for the township’s municipal offices.
   The building, which was initially expected to be done in January 2014, was going to be constructed next to Roma Bank’s headquarters at 2330 Route 33 in Town Center.
   Under the deal reached between township officials and Roma, the bank would sell the third floor of the new building – 10,000 square feet – to the township as commercial condominium space.
   Roma would then have retained ownership of the first and second floors, which it would have leased as either office or retail space, Roma CEO Peter Inverso previously said.
   Months earlier, the township authorized spending $3 million, including a $150,000 cash down payment and $2.85 million in bonds to finance the purchase of the top floor of the building.
   Mr. Fried said while an ordinance for bonds was approved, bonds were not issued.
   Robbinsville now leases 8,000 square feet of municipal office space in the Sharbell building at 1 Washington Blvd. where it has township offices in the basement and on the second floor.
   The 2012 annual rent for Sharbell building offices is $160,512 and will increase to $163,279 in 2013, the final year of the lease.
   township has been renting space in the Sharbell building since 2005 when a mold infestation caused the closure of the former municipal building on Route 130. The old municipal building, which was constructed in 1923, sat empty for seven years until it was bulldozed in March 2012.
   All of the township’s municipal offices inside the Sharbell building would have been moved to the new office space in 2014, including the mayor’s office, administration, taxes and finance, the municipal clerk, planning and zoning, and other offices.
   Council meetings currently held in a portable trailer next to the police station that also houses the municipal courtroom would have been held in the new building.
   Representatives for Roma Banks did not respond to requests for comment at press time while Investors Bank declined comment.