FLEMINGTON, NJ - There have been many redevelopment agreements in the works in Flemington over the past few years and the majority of them are poised to move forward.
However, there is one large tract of land without any plan in place, and that is the former Liberty Village property.
At the recent council meeting, a resolution was passed authorizing the land use board to begin investigating whether the Liberty Village tract qualifies as an area in need of redevelopment.
In New Jersey, a property or building can be deemed to be in need of redevelopment for a variety of reasons, including conditions that are substandard, unsafe, unsanitary, dilapidated or obsolescent.
To address these issues, the state enacted a series of laws that enables municipalities and redevelopment entities to be a catalyst for redeveloping or rehabilitating properties.
Designating a property to be an area in need of redevelopment is a multi-step process that often includes incentivizing developers with short or long-term tax abatements.
In the summer of 2019, Namdar Realty Group purchased the Liberty Village Outlet Marketplace for $2.7 million from its former owner, the Simon Property Group.
When it opened in 1981, the 162,000 square feet comprising Liberty Village became the nation’s first retail outlet shopping center. However, over the past decade, like many other retail centers, tenant occupancy in the marketplace has declined sharply.
According to the website, in its heyday, there were 40 stores in the center. Currently 13 stores are identified as being open and another seven are “temporarily” closed.
The Flemington governing body had high hopes for redevelopment when Namdar purchased the property. Then, after more than a year with no contact, Mayor Betsy Driver received an email from Mason Asset Management, which oversees Namdar properties, saying they are working on creating a redevelopment plan for the property.
In February, the mayor proposed creating the Liberty Village Redevelopment Plan Ad Hoc Committee to consult with Mason on a project that would meet the borough’s needs and work for Namdar. It was this committee that suggested considering the redevelopment designation.
So now the town may use the area in need of redevelopment option to make revitalizing the property more attractive.
“What’s become quite obvious over the past few months with COVID is the world has changed,” Driver said. “I think that what we need whether it’s retail, restaurants, offices, residential or mixed use, the world will be adapting very differently coming out of COVID. I want the borough to be up and ready to meet recovery head on.”
What Driver wants to see, she said, is having more incentive for a developer to invest in the area as well as the borough having more control over the final plan. She said she doesn’t ever see Liberty Village coming back as a retail outlet, adding a center similar to Peddlers Village would be ideal.
“But after COVID, I don’t know that that kind of layout would give the developer a return on investment,” said Driver.
She added, “it’s going to be a challenge. There’s a reason that all of the parking is west of Stangl Road, and that’s because that is pretty much all wetlands and even an area in need of redevelopment won’t supersede wetland restrictions.”
One idea she suggested was clean manufacturing, such as circuit boards.
“We have a perfect setup for that,” said Driver. “They have a ready and willing workforce here in a walkable community,”