UNION, NJ – Union Mayor Michele Delisfort addressed members of the township’s Chamber of Commerce via a Zoom call on Thursday at the organization’s annual ‘Meet the Mayor’ event.

“This is one of our most popular events,” said Chamber Executive Director James Masterson.  “We welcome everyone.”

In her prerecorded speech, Delisfort began by listing some of Union’s infrastructure accomplishments including the reconstruction of  over 60 roads in 2020,  completion of the plaza at the Springfield/Millburn Avenue gateway in Vauxhall which includes staged lighting, stoned pavers and landscaped paths, decorations in  Union with holiday banners and decorations, and collaboration with Kean University adding street banners along Morris Avenue "to celebrate Union’s academic community".

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Delisfort also said the township completed renovations at Rabkin, Friberger and Bayhanian Parks, including renovated basketball courts, new playgrounds, new rubber playground surfacing, a sensory-friendly roller table, and improvements to the Hickory Manor little league fields.

Delisfort spoke to Chamber members about recent redevelopment activities in the township, saying there are over 25 projects at different stages of completion, ranging from mixed-use, commercial and retail projects.  “Upon completion of all the active projects,” said Delisfort, “we will have over $300 million in new investment in high quality developments.  These projects will create over 2,000 construction jobs and several hundred permanent jobs.”

Listing some of the redevelopment projects, Delisfot said the Vermella property, across from Kean University on Morris Avenue,  includes open spaces, prime retail space and modern amenities.  Delisfort said one hundred and eighteen new market rate townhouses are also slated to begin construction later this year. “When complete 1200 new units will be built, which means lots of new potential clients and shoppers for your businesses,” added Delisfort.

On Route 22 east and west at the northeastern end of town, lies the Route 22 Gateway Project, Delisfort said.  On the eastbound side, the Garden State Motel and Chuck E. Cheese was demolished to make room for a new Wawa, Fairfield Suites by Marriot and retail space.  “Not only was the motel demolished last year,” said Delisfort, “but the criminal element and nefarious history was also eliminated.”

The old Hi Way Bowl site, on Route 22 west, which has been vacant for four years, said Delisfort, will become the new home of the Ray Catena luxury automobile location.  She said demolition and construction will being this year.

Delisfort also spoke about the American Landmark project in Union Center.  “This transformative and modern project solidifies the renaissance of the Center,” said the Mayor.  She said Phase 1 has a 100 percent occupancy rate with “less than five school-aged children living in the development.”  Phase 2 is 70 percent leased for retail, said Delisfort, and will be completed in the fall. Phase 3 and 4 includes 81 residential units, 11 retail spaces and will commence in the 2nd quarter of 2021. “Collectively,” said Delisfort, “ this project will increase the population and will in turn increase the buying power within the community thereby benefitting the businesses within the Center and throughout the town.”

The Titan mixed-use project in Union Center will include studio and one-bedroom apartments, 20,000 square feet of commercial space, and event hall area and rooftop space overlooking the Center, said Delisfort.  She said the project is slated to be complete this winter.

Delisfort spoke about the plans for Children’s Specialized Hospital to move into the site of the former and long-vacant Money Store on Morris Avenue near Springfield.  “We are beyond thrilled to welcome this esteemed institution to our town and all of the families that will be visiting Union.”

About business improvement in Union, Delisfort said, “as you are aware, in 2020, small businesses endured unprecedented economic challenges.  In response to the hardships, the Townships Special Improvement District focused on improving and supporting our Center.”  She said the Special Improvement District staff conducted several promotional events at the Center “to help sustain our restaurants during the pandemic.”

Delisfort said despite challenges new business openings and/or expansions took place in town including new businesses PhoWay and Sensory Kids & Social Minds in Union Center, El Gordo Restaurant and Phenomenal Handz Hair Salon on Morris Ave., Hematology & Oncology Care and the Intrinsic Skin Fitness Studio on Chestnut Street, Hook & Reel, Fast Signs Printing, and Kids City on Route 22, and The Experience Baber Shop on Springfield Rd.

Delisfort said  since the summer, “we’ve been consistent in our efforts to push a Shop local, Eat local campaign in which restaurants and their promotions have been advertised on various websites, tv channels and social media vehicles on a weekly basis.”

Planning for the new year, Delisfort said she, the Township Committee and administration “have been working tirelessly to ensure that 2021 brings assistance, security, and prosperity to businesses, entrepreneurs, residents, and families in Union.”  Delisfort listed some of the initiatives for the coming year, including a town-wide bike share network with seven stations around town, continued road reconstruction, and implementing multiple park improvements.

She said Union’s Economic Development Department and Special Improvement District will pursue programs to support the business community including the 2021 Community Map, potential portable tents with heater/lights for businesses to continue outdoor dining, ongoing partnerships with UCEDC and NJEDA to promote and encourage businesses to take advantage of various loan and grant programs, and façade/sign grants.

“I am hopeful for an exciting new year ahead filled with optimism, an end to the coronavirus, a return to normal activities in our community, and a strong economic recovery for our businesses,” said Delisfort. 

“Finally,” Delisfort said, “my fervent pledge to you is that the Committee and I will build upon the lessons learned during the pandemic of 2020 to guide you through the post-pandemic challenges of 2021. We will be responsive to the evolving demands of the business community and proactive in our planning for future needs.”