Plainfield’s Mapp hopes Opportunity Zone program takes city’s recent success to next level

With more than $500 million in projects under construction or in predevelopment, Plainfield is not hurting for investment. But it could always use more. So said Mayor Adrian Mapp, who served on the city council for 16 years before becoming mayor on Jan. 1, 2014.

Mapp has made investments key to growing the city. But those investments, he said, have to come the right way. That is, they have to be something that benefits both the city and its residents, the developers and local businesses.

ROI-NJ caught up with Mapp at the recent Opportunity Zone Summit sponsored by Choose New Jersey to discuss investment in Plainfield — and the impact the Opportunity Zone incentive program could have on it.

ROI-NJ: Some communities view the Opportunity Zone incentive program as not only a game-changer, but a lifesaver. Plainfield was doing well before the program was introduced this summer. Do you think it will give the city a big boost — or just be a little bit more than the city already has?

Adrian Mapp

Adrian Mapp: It’s more than just a little bit more. But, although we have been doing very well and we continue to do well with the businesses and investment dollars that we’ve been able to attract, I think every bit helps. If there are additional tax incentives that will defer capital gains and that didn’t exist previously, I think it certainly helps. If some of tax incentives allow investors and developers to come together to bridge some gaps in the financing, that’s great.

It’s certainly not a panacea, but it is an opportunity for cities like Plainfield. I think we are good fit. We have two train stations and other areas that can benefit from being in Opportunity Zones.

ROI: The rules and regulations are still being sorted out, but many cities already have begun making plans to attract this type of investment. How are you approaching it in Plainfield?

AM: I think it is extremely important that, as these opportunities come about, cities like Plainfield need to assemble their professionals — whether we are talking about our internal staff, whether we are talking about lawyers and engineers. We need to assemble them and provide them with training that will make us ready, willing and able to take advantage of these opportunities.

I think we need to be mindful of the timing of the approval process so, as developers and investors approach us, we are ready. Just last week, we had 20 of our residents, staff members and professionals at the New Jersey Future conference, where they received training so that they can work with the investors as they come into these zones.

ROI: Underserved communities have learned to be skeptical whenever big government programs are presented. Too often in the past, such programs have benefited everyone but members of those communities. How do you ensure everyone in Plainfield benefits from the Opportunity Zone opportunities?

AM: In taking advantage of these type of opportunities, the word gentrification always comes to mind. We have to be very careful that the people who need to benefit from these opportunities are not left out of the process. We need to make sure the rising tide lifts all boats.

It is critically important, and I am very laser-focused on ensuring that our residents, whether we are talking job opportunities for our residents in new businesses or small business opportunities for existing ones — such as making sure our local appliance dealer is able to provide his appliances to the apartments and mixed-use facilities as they are constructed — we have to make sure we do the right thing.

We vet all of the projects as they are brought forward, and we aren’t necessarily going to jump at every opportunity. It has got to be the right fit for the city of Plainfield, and it’s got to fit into the vision that my administration has for the city: a vision of transformation, a vision of making sure that we bring just services to the people where they are and that we have projects that will complement the type of residents that we want to have in our city, the types of businesses we want to have in our city.

ROI: How can you tell if a potential investment is not a good fit?

AM: If the numbers don’t pan out as you put pen to paper, then, it’s a bad project. It’s not going to be successful no matter whether you get Opportunity Zone investment or not. So, we’re not just going to jump at every opportunity when big dollars are thrown at us. We’ve got to be selective. So far, we have been very intentional. All that we do in the city is to make sure we spur economic development.

ROI: OK, last question: Give us one area where the Opportunity Zone program could really help the city?

AM: Right in the heart of our downtown, we are in conversations with a developer who will be investing $140 million. It is going to transform an entire city block. There will be 800 market-rate residential units, 46,000 square feet of retail space, a restaurant and a 700-seat banquet facility. This is the project I’m proud to bring to the table and will do all that I can. But there is a gap in the financing. So, we’re trying to bring together the right investment partners. The Opportunity Zone incentives could definitely help.