Ferrara remains as UEZ Director, not as Wildwood employee

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WILDWOOD - Lou Ferrara remains the Urban Enterprise Zone director but his role as redevelopment director in Wildwood has ended. 

“I’ve been back at my job since August,” Ferrara told the Leader. “I’m still a dedicated employee of the UEZ Board.”

In May, Ferrara said he was told he was laid off from his position as director of the Urban Enterprise Zone and Wildwood’s redevelopment director. A tort claims notice was filed against the city for $2 million in damages and alleged that he was removed from his position because he couldn’t keep secrets about the feasibility of a synthetic ice rink on Pacific Avenue.

Ferrara, who has been UEZ director for 10 years, said he was never fired from his job as director of the UEZ despite his issues with the current Wildwood administration.

Fired, he said, was the word his lawyer used.

“I never missed a paycheck,” he added.

“The reality was that no one there had the authority to fire me,” Frerrara said. “I work for the UEZ and the only entity that could relieve me of that job is the UEZ board.”

As UEZ director he was also under contract with all of the island’s municipalities and one commissioner did not have the authority to fire him.

According to a tort claims notice filed on June 13, Ferrara said he was called into Commissioner Pete Byron’s office in February and shown “elaborate plans” to build an ice rink on Pacific Avenue and specifically told not to tell Mayor Ernie Troiano.

Byron also went to various boards for approval of the ice rink and commissioned a feasibility study from Triad Associates in Vineland, the claim alleges.
An initial study on the ice rink project was not favorable, Ferrara claims, and Byron allegedly told Triad to alter the report, according to the notice filed.
Ferrara said the complaint notice he sent to the city wasn’t a lawsuit.

“It was a complaint, a demand letter. I’m not embroiled in some big thing with the city,” he said.

Ferrara said “that once the situation calmed down” the UEZ board reconfirmed that he was and would continue to be the zone’s director.

When asked if there would be any pending litigation with Wildwood, Ferrara said that there was “nothing moving forward at this point.”

Instead, Ferrara said he wanted to focus on his work with the UEZ.

The UEZ was started by the state in 1983 and offers participating businesses incentives that encourage growth and stimulate local economies, according to the Department of Community Affairs. Approximately 6,800 certified UEZ businesses participate. The benefits include a number of tax and other financial incentives.   

However, Ferrara said he doesn’t know if Gov. Chris Christie will change how the program operates or do away with Urban Enterprise Zones entirely.

Last year the governor argued that the program was out of control and officials spent millions on projects not related to economic development.

But supporters of the program said that the UEZ is one of the only programs that help mom and pop shops, something the Wildwoods have a lot of.

“At this point we don’t know exactly what is going to happen,” Ferrara said. “We don’t want to scare the businesses and tell them that the program is going away because we haven’t heard that.”

Ferrara said the program has supporters like Sen. Jeff Van Drew, who believe like he does that UEZs act as a vital economic engine, and deserve to be preserved.

Ferrara said that Van Drew and other legislators were working on a bill that would add an extra layer of accountability and keep the program running. Ferrara said it would require UEZs to submit economic-growth plans to the state if they wish to continue. 

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