Hamilton Mayor Kelly Yaede delivers her State of Hamilton address March 20, 2019 at the Stone Terrace. (Staff photo by Samantha Sciarrotta.)

Four years ago, Hamilton Mayor Kelly Yaede “had a vision” for the township’s future. Now it could become a reality, Yaede said in her final State of Hamilton address before she faces re-election.

Yaede introduced her plan to bring an “entertainment district” to the township during her 2015 State of Hamilton speech, an announcement that was kicked into a higher gear thanks to an appearance by former Mayor Jack Rafferty in a go-kart. This year, Yaede said the township has entered the final lap before that promise becomes a reality.

She discussed those plans, plus development, taxes and her administration’s controversies at this year’s speech, held March 20 at the Stone Terrace. A portion of the profits from the address, she said, will benefit City of Angels, Recovery Advocates of America, and The Overdose Prevention Agency Corporation.

Rafferty wanted to get back behind the wheel, Yaede said, because three family entertainment centers—yes, including a go kart track—will come to Hamilton “at the end of this year.” She hopes they will keep township families in Hamilton instead of patronizing Chuck E. Cheese in West Windsor or iPlay America in Freehold.

One of the three facilities will be All Play USA, Yaede said, though it is unclear what the other two will be. According to its website, All Play manages a digital driving range, bowling lanes, a turf field, a climbing area and a trampoline park. All Play and the township have yet to announce an official location. An October 2018 press release from the company stated it had narrowed its site preference down to two tracts of land in Hamilton, though neither location was named, and it’s unclear if one has been chosen since then.

One of the sites Yaede initially eyed for an entertainment district was the land near the municipal complex and golf center, but that will instead be purchased by Project Freedom, a barrier-free independent living facility for individuals with disabilities.

“Although my vision for that tract of land did not become an entertainment district, I feel it’s done something equally, if not more important, providing housing for those with special needs,” she said.

In other development news, Yaede said Bai Brands will open up an alcoholic beverages arm at the Mill One space. The site’s Rothschild building was recently dedicated as a historic landmark. She hopes that will attract more businesses to the development, which is set to featuring housing, dining, retail, and corporate space.

She also touched on two chronically vacant spaces: the old Cost Cutters and Congoleum sites. She called Cost Cutters “the bane of my existence when it comes to economic development,” and said that Snapbox, a self-storage facility, will fill the space. What will become of the rest of the strip is unclear. The Congoleum land has yet to be filled, though Yaede said the township is hoping to court a corporate headquarters.

What Yaede called her “crowning achievement,” though, is the redevelopment of the former PSE&G coal plant on Duck Island. It will become a distribution center with a potential recreational area nearby. The center will focus on sustainability, she said, with initiatives like solar power.

Tax-wise, Yaede said she has a plan to keep taxes flat this year. She made no further promises, though she added that and her staff will “sharpen their pencils” and look for ways to decrease property taxes.

She also looked to the much-debated fire district consolidation issue as a money-saving initiative. Condensing fire services from nine districts to one municipal service “will be more affordable for everyone,” she said.

Yaede acknowledged some of the administration’s recent controversies, like euthanization violations at the animal shelter, the neighborhood improvement program and government employee “sick time abuse.” She said she wouldn’t point fingers or place blame on anyone, so her strategy has been to identify, address and implement.

“When we addressed and identified where we can do more with what we are doing, we’ve done it,” she said.

Yaede also praised the efforts of township employees, saying they have been “tested” with challenges both preventable and unavoidable. She said government staff is “on the front line” providing services to residents and businesses—even in the midst of when she referred to as “an effort to grind Hamilton Township’s government to a halt.” She claimed workers have dealt with politically motivated public records requests by individuals under aliases, equating to 52,253 pages of documents.

“They’ve had to endure harassment, vicious attacks, called names on despicable websites, but one thing I do have to say: our Hamilton workers have never faltered,” Yaede said. “They delivered their services.”