Alcatel-Lucent says it has signed a purchase agreement with Elsie Sterling Oversight LLC for a mixed-use plan at its huge property on Crawfords Corner Road in Holmdel -- welcome news for a township hurting for revenue.
Mayor Patrick Impreveduto broke the news to more than 200 residents who had turned out to a public meeting on Thursday at the Senior/Community Center, many of whom came prepared to spar over unpopular legislation authorizing the sale of treasured open space to close a $2.5 million budget gap.
"This is the first time Lucent has hard money down," said Mayor Patrick Impreveduto. "They are very serious buyers. This deal is done. I'm very pleased it is done. And it is going to be done before the end of the year.
He added, "Lucent is going to go back on our tax rolls by the end of the year." The news was applauded.
But he quickly noted its contribution would not come soon enough to fix the 2012 fiscal crisis. Despite an eleventh hour discovery of $700,000 in additional surplus found as a result of doing the full accounting analysis of last year's operation, and a $400,000 payment owed to the municipality by the Holmdel Board of Education for bonding of Roggy Field -- residents could still expect a tax increase within the two percent cap.
The mayor said Holmdel officials have not met Elsie Sterling Howard, who he said was a philanthropist based in Miami, Fl. Through a quick Internet search, he said he learned she is the executive director of the The Miami Beach Visitor and Convention Authority, and she is married to a real estate attorney. She has also been connected to the University of Pennsylvania as an alumni trustee.
Alcatel-Lucent spokesperson Mary Ward, reached on email, confirmed the news moments later.
"Yes, I am pleased to be able to confirm that we have signed a purchase agreement with Elsie Sterling Oversight LLC," said Ward. "The buyer is in the early stages of their due diligence, but my understanding is that they are looking at a mixed use plan."
According to the mayor, the buyers have examined Holmdel's redevelopment plan and REVA recommendation report and can work within its framework.
In its best years, the 472 acre property, known locally as "Bell Labs" provided high-paying, prestigious technical jobs to the local workforce. Its historic role in telecom invention and discovery, the serene landscaped property and architecturally distinguished building and water tower are appreciated in Holmdel.
But years after the plant's closure, the township is still smarting over its dwindling contribution to the tax rolls. At the height of its assessed value in 1997, the property contributed $4.5 million in property taxes -- $600,000 of that amount went towards the municipal budget. Today, the vacated Alcatel-Lucent's property generates just $525,000 in property taxes -- with $78,300 of that going towards the municipal budget, an 83% reduction.
Legislation to sell a 12-acre portion of the 103-acre Cross Farm to an athletic facility was dropped from the agenda to the relief of many who came to oppose it.
But an ordinance authorizing the potential sale of the township's three wooded lots on Plum Lane was approved by a vote of 4 to 1. Committeeman Larry Fink voted no, calling the Plum Lane property a much needed park in the most densely populated section of Holmdel.
Also, the mayor said there would be no referendum in the spring on a tax levy increase exceeding the two percent cap. "Your taxes will be within the two percent we have to go by, to abide by the law," he said.
Correction Feb. 24: Township officials identified $700,000 in surplus to reduce the $2.5 million deficit down to $1.8 million. An earlier version of this story said they had identified $1.8 million in savings.