As an architect, John Hatch is used to building things. For the New York native and current Trentonian, a plan for a project should account for more than how something will look: it should also be a wide-angle view of both the structure and the community around it. Take, for example, Princeton’s relationship to nearby Trenton.
“One could say that Princeton University lives in kind of a safe, suburban bubble with easy access to a thriving, gritty, artsy, and diverse community — Trenton,” he says. Hatch, who has developed several projects in Trenton, is on an ongoing mission to bring economic life back to the capital city.
Hatch will be a speaker and panelist at the Princeton Mercer Regional Chamber of Commerce on Friday, November 8, from 7:30 to 10 a.m. at the Trenton Country Club, 201 Sullivan Way, West Trenton.
The event is part of the Trenton Economic Development series and Trenton mayor Reed Gusciora will give opening remarks. The cost is $35. For more information, visit www.princetonmercerchamber.org or call 609-924-1776. The keynote speaker is Peter Kasabach, executive director of New Jersey Future. Other panelists include George Sowa, CEO of Greater Trenton; Roland Pott, president of Trenton Makes, Inc.; and Albin Garcia of Garcia Realty.
According to data released earlier this year by the BEX Network, an informal Princeton-based group of current and former senior executives, public officials, technologists, and investment bankers, among others, tax incentives are only a part of what creates an effective economic development in any community. For example, in cities similar to Trenton, much of the property in the city is owned by government entities and nonprofits; the property tax base is small and the tax rate high.
As a pivotal player in the development and implementation of current and future initiatives to foster the future economic growth of Trenton and neighboring communities, Hatch has been at the forefront of economic development for decades. He is a native of Brooklyn but has lived and worked in New Jersey for most of his life.
His persistent desire to change the world — or at least the community in which he lives — by building things was cemented at a young age. “I attribute my [long term]commitment to urban revitalization and social justice to my parents’ values,” he says. “I’ve experienced firsthand the negative impacts of urban blight and suburban sprawl. I was determined to do something about it.”
He is a partner with Clarke Caton Hinz — a Trenton-based architecture and design firm. Hatch has been with the firm for more than 30 years. He holds a master’s degree in architecture from the University of Virginia and an undergraduate degree from Princeton University, Class of 1984. He earned a certificate in historic preservation from the University of Pennsylvania.
For Hatch the design, construction, and rehabilitation of architecturally sound and visually appealing structures exemplify and epitomize the core of a community. A towering edifice or a cadre of modest residences can historically preserve and invigorate a neighborhood, he says.
The notion is especially true in cities like Trenton. “Like most American cities, Trenton faces serious challenges,” he says. “We have lost much of our industry; many of our residents are relatively poor and under-educated.” However, he is quick to note that Trenton is “central New Jersey’s downtown.”
Hatch says he will highlight a number of projects he is directly involved in under the current “Residential Revolution” mantra in Trenton. This includes following up on an executive order signed last year by Governor Phil Murphy to recommit and increase state resources to restore the capital city to its pre-World War II days as a booming industrial hub.
Some recent and current projects include the rehabilitation of the former Adam Exton and Sons Cracker Factory on Centre Street, and the Roebling Lofts/Roebling Center Complex project. The multimillion-dollar housing project with about 138 apartments is fully leased, with financing for the next phase of development under way.
As with most things related urban revitalization, the dreaded G-word — Gentrification — is a concern. Gentrification, the dislocation of long term and usually lower income residents from a community due to major construction projects and developments that drive up the cost of living, has been a lingering concern for Trentonians during the current residential boom in the city.
However, Hatch dismisses the issue and says none of his projects has resulted in the displacement of residents or businesses. “Gentrification has not yet been an issue in Trenton because there is so much capacity yet to be tapped,” he says. “There are many available sites, vacant and sometimes historically significant properties still to be developed.”
Hatch says the ultimate goal of urban renewal is to bring new businesses and residents into Trenton while keeping the wide range of residents and businesses already there solidly in place. “For example, Roebling Lofts was built in an extraordinary vacant and historically significant factory space that was unused prior to our redevelopment,” he says.
However, critics of large-scale urban development projects contend such projects obliquely promote gentrification. This is in part because some entrepreneurs create startups in the disadvantaged neighborhoods because of tax breaks and other incentives. Once established, business owners encourage their preferred type or mainstream employee and future customers to relocate into the once marginalized communities that have now become “upgraded.” In the end, the new businesses and more affluent residents drive up the rent, costs of living increase, and original residents are gradually forced to move.
Hatch says it is the responsibility of legislators to prevent the trend. “For people that may be impacted by future gentrification, the city, county, and state should begin working now on programs to train and assist residents in purchasing and keeping their homes,” he says. “There must be a wide range of housing opportunities available in the city as new development occurs.”