Will the new Ursino on Kean’s campus have to pay property tax to Union?

Photo by Rebecca Panico
Ursino Steakhouse & Tavern, located at 33 Elizabethtown Plaza in Union, is slated to open before the end of this year, according to its website.

UNION, NJ — Union’s tax assessor plans to evaluate whether a new incarnation of a fine-dining restaurant on Kean University’s campus will continue to pay property taxes to the township.

According to the Ursino Steakhouse & Tavern website, the restaurant is slated to open before the end of this year. Gourmet Dining, the parent company of the first iteration of the restaurant, is still appealing a nearly $54,000 tax assessment in court, Paul Parsons the Union tax assessor, said.

State property is exempt from paying taxes to municipalities. Gourmet Dining, in its appeal, asserts that since it was operating on the campus of Kean, a state university, the restaurant should not pay taxes.

“The reason I feel Ursino should be taxed … is that the primary use for Ursino is not for the students of Kean University,” Parsons said in a phone interview on Oct. 4. “Ursino is clearly not intended for the use of students. It’s a high-end, very expensive restaurant with a liquor license.”

Margaret McCorry, a Kean University spokeswoman, declined to comment about the pending litigation in an Oct. 5.
The current litigation between Gourmet Dining and the township regarding Ursino could have a large “ripple effect” on all state properties, like hospitals, Parsons said.

“It’s a very important issue that has ramifications on a lot of other properties around the state.”
Gourmet Dining does not currently own the newest incarnation of Ursino, according to the company’s resident district manager Susan Rubin.

The Kean University Foundation, which generally collects private donations and dispersers scholarships to students, entered into a subcontracted management agreement with Gourmet Dining in 2011.

A copy of this contract was obtained by LocalSource through a public records request.
The Kean Foundation made improvements to the restaurant before entering into the contract with Gourmet Dining, which handled the operations of the first Ursino.

Terra Momo Restaurant Group managed the second version of the restaurant, Enoteca Ursino, under an agreement with the Kean University Foundation, according to a May 5, 2016 press release from the university.
All the iterations of Ursino restaurants have been paying taxes despite the current dispute.

“It remains on the tax rolls,” Parsons said. “So as of today, it’s a taxable property. We’re waiting on the tax court (to see) if it will remain a taxable property or not.”
It is not immediately clear who will operate the newest iteration of Ursino. McCorry, the university spokeswoman declined to comment Oct. 5, when asked for details about the restaurant, including when it would open.

Ursino, which first opened in 2012 and closed in 2015, boasted a menu featuring entrees such as Long Island crescent duck for $30 and appetizers priced at about $15. Enoteca Ursino opened in 2016, with a similarly high-end menu, but closed after completing a one year contract agreement with the Kean University Foundation on Dec. 31, a university spokeswoman told The Tower, Kean’s student newspaper, in a March 4 article.

Both restaurants served alcohol. Although Kean bans alcohol in most areas on campus, it makes exceptions for certain locations or events.

Parsons said he has not seen the lease for the newest restaurant yet and that he will make a decision about whether to tax Ursino in the next few weeks.

The Kean University Foundation was approved in 2016 by Kean’s Board of Trustees to manage an Au Bon Pain franchise in the North Academic Building on the corner of North and Morris avenues. According to foundation’s bylaws, the nonprofit organization can lease or own property and make expenditures for the benefit of the university.

Parsons said he will also determine whether the campus Au Bon Pain should have to pay property taxes to the township. He said an assessment of the establishment on campus is a bit of a “gray area.” That restaurant, he said, is both used by students and accessible to the public. If the primary use of the bakery is for students, he wouldn’t be able to tax it, he said.