One of the most recognizable aspects of the Jersey Shore is the iconic boardwalks that the resplendent beach towns boast. The leisurely jaunts along the car-free walkway provide great views and ocean breezes, almost making the price of admission to gain access to most of these beaches not sting so much. While the boardwalk and beach at Long Branch will attract plenty of visitors this summer, only a few may know about, or even recognize, a significant real estate project that happens to be under development by a company run by the family of the president’s son-in-law.
Jared Kushner’s family company began construction earlier this year on a development called Pier Village, but despite local and financial backing, the problem was that officials in Long Branch didn’t know the Trump Organization wanted to get in on the project.
While the Kushners held private discussions meant to set up the president’s company to manage at least one hotel at the center of the development known as Pier Village, even going so far as signing a letter of intent, the New York Times now reports that President Donald Trump’s organization will drop out of the project, following concerns by ethics watchdogs detailed in a published report. Kushner and his father-in-law still have some interests in their family businesses despite working in the White House.
Kushner Companies must find a new company that can manage a 72-room beachfront hotel that the company wants to include as a part of a new phase of Pier Village. Kushner Cos. started construction in January, one block south from the Bungalow Hotel, which the company purchased last month.
The hotel was much larger than just a part of the original phases of Pier Village construction because the city included the designs into its redevelopment plan. The village is a mix of retail and residences at the city’s beachfront, the Asbury Park Press reports.
Last October, Kushner Cos. also purchased the Ocean Court by the Sea motel at the city’s beachfront next to Pier Village for a reported $6 million.
Kushner Cos. and its partner, Extell Development Co., also started construction on a $283 million addition. In addition to luxury condos, some of the money will help with public infrastructure improvements. New Jersey Transit’s North Jersey Coast Line’s electric terminus is in Long Branch, with trains running to New York Penn Station and diesel shuttle trains for service south to Bay Head. New ferry service from Long Branch has also been considered.
New York-based Kushner Cos. is no stranger to shore locals. Its founder and father of Jared, Charles Kushner, lives in Long Branch. The company is also eyeing a new development a little more inland in Eatontown, where it’s trying to redevelop the Monmouth Mall. Similar to the Long Branch plans, the company would turn the regional shopping mall in Eatontown into a mix of retail, offices and apartments.
Pier Village is the main attraction in Long Branch, in its own way like Asbury Park’s Stone Pony or Jenkinson’s Boardwalk at Point Pleasant. The city has approved $20 million in taxpayer-backed bonds to improve the infrastructure around the oceanfront property, the New York Times reports.
In January of 2018, it was reported that the two companies had been in serious discussions about the Trump Organization managing a hotel in Long Branch, New Jersey near the Kushner-owned Pier Village. Another deal concerning the joint management of the Westminster Hotel in Livingston, New Jersey is also off the table.
According to a report in the Asbury Park Press, the Westminster Hotel was built on the site of an old Travelodge, which was partially torn down and underwent major renovations in 2002. According to the Times, the Trumps made $20,000 off of managing the Westminster in the first half of last year.
Ethic watchdog groups have shined a spotlight on Kushner for maintain monetary interest in the company while being employed by the White House as a senior advisor to the president. Pushing back on heightened criticism of the media was Charlie Kushner (Jared’s father) and founder of the Kushner Companies. He recently called the watchdogs “jerks.”
Jared Kushner resigned as CEO of his family’s company in January 2017, but financial disclosure reports show he still owns part of Kushner Companies.
The Times had reported in March that the Trump Organization and Kushner Companies had signed a letter of intent for the Trump Organization to manage at least one hotel in Pier Village, the Pier Village Hotel. The Bungalow Hotel, which is open and operating, was never part of the deal, sources say.
In 2007, Kushner Companies sold off much of its New Jersey holdings, however, the company has recently made a comeback here, expanding its portfolio last month by adding another property — the Bungalow Hotel, a boutique property along the Shore in Long Branch, according to the Asbury Park Press.
The Bungalow Hotel in Pier Village is both a retail and residential complex. The village also will be home to another hotel, which is under construction by Kushner Companies and originally was going to be jointly managed with the Trump Organization, according the report.
Officials representing the city had also addressed the issue with federal officials of building a pier and to have a ferry which would transport vacationers from New York City to the Jersey shore town in an effort to increase travel revenue.
Before being voted out of office last month, it was reported by Patch.com that longtime Long Branch mayor Adam Schneider had vocalized his position of being in favor of the potentially lucrative project. Several months ago, he had said that he did not perceive any conflict of interest in utilizing federal funds in the construction of a pier for ferry service.
NJ.com reported that in the past several months, the Kushner Companies and their partner, Extell Development Co. sent Mayor Schneider their own proposal for a pier and ferry terminal that would be cheaper than the city’s current plan, said Robert Goodman, Long Branch’s liaison to the federal government. Schneider confirmed that he and Charles Kushner had “exchanged ideas” about Kushner’s proposal. Goodman said he mentioned the proposal to the FTA in a recent phone call.
“They gave us that grant before Kushner Cos. was involved,” Schneider told the AP. “If the federal government thinks it is a conflict, let them do something about it. I’m just advocating for my city.”
The Patch.com reported that the Federal Transit Administration gave the city $3.34 million in 2008 to revamp the pier, but more funds are needed to finish the project. City officials reportedly said the FTA had “highlighted” the ferry as a way to help commuters last year.
Once the project is complete, a former city official said it would raise property values at the Kushner resort, which is currently selling 269 condos for as much as $1.9 million each, according to published reports.
Long Branch also gets FTA technical assistance and guidance on its current grant.
Kushner Companies spokeswoman Christine Taylor said the pier would benefit Long Branch and had “no specific benefit to us versus anyone else” in town, according to an NJ.com report. “Of course, we, like other high-class developers, discuss projects that help the communities that we serve,” she said in a statement. “To suggest that we have done anything unethical is patently false and appears to be drummed up again for political gain.”
According to a report on the Real Deal, independent parties such as attorney Marilyn Glynn, formerly general counsel in the Office of Government Ethics, are also raising ethical concerns, however she noted that a deal between the Kushners and Trumps’ businesses does not intrinsically violate any ethical rules. To Glynn, the concern is more to do with the financial arrangements of both Trump and Kushner with their respective companies.
“I think the financial concerns trump the familial ones, so to speak,” she told the Times.
The FTA, which has not had a confirmed administrator since January 2014, declined to respond to questions from The Associated Press about the potential for conflicts of interest with Kushner in the White House.
Emails obtained through the Open Public Records Act and interviews indicate the Kushner family and local leaders sometimes coordinated, according to the NJ.com report.
A Kushner official in July 2016 wanted to set up a meeting to discuss “future pier/ferry/helicopter.” A 2017 email from a Kushner partner in the project proposed a concept that could offer more parking for ferry passengers.
By: Michael Eric Rosenthal