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This article by Barbara Fox was prepared for the July 2, 2003 issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Trenton Takes a Law Firm Maybe
The politicos in Trenton can practically taste it —
the possibility that a prestigious 55-attorney law firm, Hill Wallack,
would forsake its bucolic Carnegie Center offices and move to a new
building downtown. News about the potential move has leaked out.
"We’re thrilled to have Hill Wallack consider moving to Trenton,"
says Tom McGough, the city official who is in charge of the Urban
Enterprise Zone. "The new Marriott had claimed a very large parking
lot, so we need more parking. We’d been looking at doing a parking
deck on the Trenton Commons parking lot at Front and Broad streets,
so we are expanding the project into an office building."
But even though a prospective site has been picked, even though the
law firm’s workers are being taken on field trips to allay their anxieties
about the urban environment, even though the firm’s managing partner
has Trenton roots — it’s not a done deal.
"We have not signed a letter of intent," says Robert W. Bacso,
managing partner, explaining why Hill Wallack hasn’t held a press
conference or issued a news release: "The city has not finalized
the details of its financing, and we have not financed the details
of the lease."
Hill Wallack would take 45,000 square feet (up from 41,000 feet at
the Carnegie Center). Other potential tenants are the investment bank
owned by Eagles player Troy Vincent and a restaurant and wine bar
on the ground floor. Hill Wallach would secure almost half of the
400 spaces in a garage to be built next door.
The question is, why move? One altruistic motivation is rooted in
Bacso’s childhood. An alumnus of Middlebury College, Class of 1976,
and Washington and Lee law school, Bacso (pronounced ba-sho) was born
in Trenton and lived there in the shadow of the state prison on Second
Street. His mother was a nurse, and his father worked at the post
office and the Princeton Junction train station, so later the family
moved to Princeton Junction.
Bacso says he and his partners have long had an interest in the firm
being headquartered in the city. "We think it is important for
the area, important for the law firm, and part of our future."
It’s also good for business. "When you practice law in a business
park setting it is very pretty, very sedate, and very comfortable,
but there is nothing outside of your door that opens up immediate
additional avenues for the strength and growth of the firm," says
Bacso. "Whereas we believe a move to the state capitol will do
that. Many of the state’s business leaders are there. If you are with
them on a daily basis, you are at the forefront of their consciousness."
He acknowledges that the Trenton Economic Development
Commission and its board members — representing prominent area
corporations — are working hard on the deal. "But it has been
a tough row to hoe. Last week I was saying next week. Now I am saying,
hopefully, in the next couple of weeks we’ll have everything done,
but we are not done yet."
Hill Wallach is one of the few moderately sized New Jersey-based law
firms that has not merged with a regional or national firm. Bacso
is proud of that. "Many firms are referred to in the legal community
as a Philadelphia based, or New York based, or Pittsburgh based law
firm," he says, "but when you say that to an attorney practicing
in New Jersey they get very offended."
His firm does have individual clients but for the most part it is
oriented to corporate clients, including Toll Brothers, K. Hovnanian,
Parsons Technology, and Chubb. "We think one of the burgeoning
areas of practice is the area in which businesses and individuals
interface with government," he says. For example, Hill Wallach
has had a strong practice in permitting and land use but is developing
in such areas as community associations and government procurement.
Regarding the closing of Conduit and its sidekick cafe Urban Word,
establishments once heralded as a bellwether of Trenton’s renaissance,
Bacso has no comment. But he is skeptical of all the attention being
paid to Trenton as an entertainment center. "What we have to do
is get businesses back into the urban area. Businesses have jobs.
Get people them to spend dollars on entertainment? The only way you
are going to do that is by first having is a core of businesses."
That’s because when businesses move downtown, the workers will feel
more comfortable there. Bacso says he hasn’t had anyone say they are
hesitant or fearful about the move, but he senses that some are insecure.
"Part of everything I am doing is bending over backwards to be
sure we are in a very safe environment. My partners and I go down
there all the time. I am perfectly comfortable walking around. So
we are going to a lot of trouble to make sure they are very comfortable
and are going to take people down on field trips."
"Trenton will turn around," says Bacso. "It needs other
people to do things like this, and they will, if we can pull this
— Barbara Fox
08543-5226. Robert W. Bacso Esq., managing partner. 609-924-0808;
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