HUNTERDON COUNTY, NJ - The Hunterdon County Board of Chosen Freeholders recently turned their attention to the project most Flemington area residents and commercial enterprises have paid close attention to over the past four and a half years – the Courthouse Square redevelopment project.
A long-term legal situation in Flemington Borough provided hurdles for developer Jack Cust’s team.
The new iteration of this project in the county seat and historic downtown is headed to a vote for final approval at Flemington Borough Council’s meeting Oct. 13, and the county’s governing body made its stance clear a week ahead of that, supporting the plans aired in September.
The board unanimously approved a resolution “expressing the support of the Hunterdon County Board for revisions to the Main Street Flemington Redevelopment known as Courthouse Square.”
The Freeholder Board initially endorsed the Main Street downtown Flemington redevelopment project when it was originally proposed, with the freeholders’ first resolution of support in February 2017. Since then, the plans have substantially evolved, as has a debate over major aspects of the project with roadblocks of the past nearly cleared this fall.
The new resolution approved on Oct. 6 notes the county board, “continues to encourage responsible redevelopment and investment in our downtown centers while retaining its rural character. The Borough of Flemington originally approved this redevelopment plan in December 2017; and whereas, since that time, the original approved plan has been substantially revised to take into account public concern about the preservation of historic structures and ongoing concerns about the projects’ scale.”
Freeholder Director Shaun Van Doren commented on the resolution of support.
“It is exciting to finally see the Courthouse Square project, which will have such a positive economic impact on Flemington and Hunterdon County, moving forward,” he said. Mr. Jack Cust and the Flemington Council are to be congratulated on finding a compromise that works for both economic growth and historic preservation in the borough. I am enthusiastically in support of this resolution.”
Van Doren directed the clerk of the freeholder board to submit the approved resolution to the Flemington Borough Council ahead of their upcoming Oct. 13 meeting.
The County noted that in September, Flemington Borough Council approved a revision to the redevelopment plan that reduces the project’s height by two stories; hundreds less apartments will be constructed than first proposed; and the total square footage of retail space is cut down by 10,000 square feet.
While previous versions of Cust’s redevelopment plans included a satellite campus of Georgian Court University or Raritan Valley Community College, the project has been scaled back and downsized, and the facade of the Union Hotel can remain a looming historic, nostalgic presence lining Main Street.
Per the new plans, a redeveloped Union Hotel will have 100 rooms and maintain its historic façade, while the existing Flemington Police Headquarters will remain in place until a suitable alternative is developed.
County officials further explained that the downtown project’s Economic Impact Study estimates that “when completed, the redevelopment would achieve $6 to $7 million in local and state tax revenues annually, and add tens of millions in economic output from construction, hotel and retail operations.”
Such economic impacts proposed for Flemington are widely recognized for the inventive mixed-use, 24/7 activity and downtown center proposed and the potential these components have to reestablish Flemington’s prominence in western New Jersey, despite the location not offering transit-oriented development like Somerville or Morristown.
The freeholders’ resolution addressed the vibrancy envisioned for Flemington’s historic downtown and the famed Union Hotel, where in 1935 the jury was sequestered during the famous Lindbergh baby Kidnapping trial of Bruno Hauptmann, who was held at the county courthouse’s jail.
Freeholder J. Matthew Holt explained that Cust’s project will be the cornerstone of future success for Flemington.
“The plan has a high level of importance in the overall Hunterdon County economic development strategy,” he said.
Marc Saluk, Hunterdon County Economic Development director, explained just prior to the resolution passing that the revised plans presented for Courthouse Square “take into account public concerns over historic preservation (of the Union Hotel site) and about project scale. When the Union Hotel was named to the ’10 Most Endangered Historic Places in NJ’ list by Preservation New Jersey in 2016, it was noted that the Historic Hunterdon County Courthouse, the Union Hotel and the adjacent Victorian buildings on Main Street all reflect the history of Flemington as an important civic and commercial center of the 19th and 20th centuries.”
Saluk noted that with a resolution at this time, the freeholders can express support for the new redevelopment proposal.
“I do not have to tell anyone on this freeholder board of this project’s value to Flemington Borough and to the county,” he said. “This significant investment in the county seat will reutilize valued assets and is likely to spur additional investments in Flemington. The project will create jobs, attract residents and visitors alike, appeal to younger residents, which is of particular importance to Hunterdon County, and will help continue to reestablish Flemington as a destination. In addition, it will create a positive ripple economic effect on the local economy that can impact many more businesses and individuals. This represents a significant economic development project and one that does fully embody the goals and objectives of Hunterdon County’s Comprehensive Economic Development Plan.”
Freeholder Zach Rich thanked Saluk, and said the Courthouse Square project offers a glimpse into Hunterdon’s potential for investment.
“I truly believe this will be the spark to lead to more revitalization of the county seat,” he said. “Hunterdon County can and does attract businesses and they are investing their time, their sweat in this area, and I really believe that our best days are ahead of us. I want to thank all the parties involved for not losing hope, not backing down and for finishing strong.”
Also discussed by the freeholders was the county Economic Development Office’s newest initiative, HunterdonMainStreets.com, aimed at attracting new business through tourism and local “repeat” patronage in Hunterdon. Saluk noted the promotions of the county’s beautiful business districts in seven Hunterdon towns, which compliments newsletter, e-blast and social media channels for advancing economic activities and local business news.
A page on this website is dedicated to amenities, shopping, dining and attributes of Flemington Borough’s historic downtown and Main Street corridor, which includes Hunterdon County governmental offices, the county clerk’s office, the board of elections and more.
Holt said that especially in this final quarter of the year and with the holiday season approaching, both residents and newcomers in Hunterdon County can make use of the website, which includes links to local businesses and a restaurant directory in each town, plus a storefront locator tool.
“While most Hunterdon Main Streets do have exceptional occupancy rates, some storefronts are available for new businesses and merchants to move in to,” Saluk said. “This property location online tool helps promote the locations, hopefully filling them as soon as possible with new shopping, services and dining options in our towns. We thought while we’re building the website to promote vibrancy in our towns, we can take advantage of a new tech option to potentially draw in new investment.”
He added that this initiative is in its infancy, and, in time, county economic development, along with local chambers of commerce, merchants associations and strategic community partners will look to expand HunterdonMainStreets.com.