MONTCLAIR, NJ - Governor Phil Murphy visited Montclair Thursday to roll-out plans to restore funding for two of the Department of Community Affairs’(DCA) neighborhood improvement programs.
The two programs, Main Street New Jersey (MSNJ) and the Neighborhood Preservation Program (NPP), were designed to strengthen the economic vigor of New Jersey’s downtown areas and to encourage private investment in some of the state’s hard-pressed communities. Murphy’s proposed budget provides $3 million for these programs – $500,000 for MSNJ and $2.5 million for NPP.
Murphy invited several panelists of elected and local leaders to the Montclair Fire Headquarters for a roundtable discussion.
Panelists for the afternoon discussion included Governor Phil Murphy, Lt. Governor Sheila Oliver, Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr., Essex County Freeholder Brendan Gill, Montclair Mayor Robert Jackson, Bloomfield Mayor Michael Venezia, Orange Mayor Dwayne Warren, Montclair Center Business Improvement District President Phil Cantor, BID Director Israel Cronk, BID Secretary Lisa Johnson and Executive Director of Bloomfield Center Alliance Ollyn Lettman.
In welcoming the attendees, Jackson acknowledged the presence of members of the Township Council, including Councilor Renee Baskerville, Deputy Mayor Robin Schlager, Councilor Robert Russo, Township Manager Tim Stafford and Councilor Rich McMahon.
Jackson said, "We're here today to take the opportunity to discuss and listen and share with other townships about economic growth and development and to hear what the Governor has to say."
Murphy opened the discussion saying, "Today we are here to talk about two things Main Street NJ and Neighborhood Preservation. For whatever reason, these two programs have been set aside for decades and not funded by prior administrations. We're here to talk about reinstating these two line items back, considering that when they were in place they were of major importance and made a difference to communities." He added, "If we are going to grow as a state, we need to grow together as communities like Montclair, Orange and Bloomfield."
The proposed $500,000 to the Main Street NJ program, would provide technical assistance and historic preservation funding while seeking more money to assist small businesses with beautification grants. The funding will also provide opportunities for developing affordable housing, supporting new businesses and preservation.
“For many years, New Jersey proudly had two programs that fostered economic growth partnerships – Main Street New Jersey and the Neighborhood Preservation Program. After decades of success helping communities throughout the state, both programs unfortunately were neglected during the previous administration,” said Governor Murphy.
The governor anticipates that the funding for MSNJ, will enable the State to once again support the renewal of historic downtowns, village centers, and neighborhood commercial districts by utilizing a comprehensive stakeholder-driven approach based on public-private partnerships.
MSNJ, which is part of the National Main Street Program, was established in 1989 and operated until 2017.
“By re-instating funding for these critical initiatives, we are demonstrating our responsibility as government officials to empower and strengthen our communities with the economic tools they need to ensure we are building an economy that lifts all families and residents.”
According to published reports, the infusion of $2.5 million for NPP will be the first time the program is funded since 2009. The program had operated for 34 years.
Several years ago, Montclair officials stated that Montclair had a below 55% vacancy rate for businesses and has since worked to strategically decrease that number to 6% in 2017. In 2015, Montclair won the coveted national Great American Main Street Award for their outstanding downtown revitalization work. In 2015, the MSNJ program itself won the national Innovation on Main Street Award.
Murphy added, "If we are going to grow as a state, we need to grow together as communities."
In the past, $56 million dollars had been invested in the Neighborhood Preservation Program. However, the program was de-funded in 2010.
Murphy 's budget proposes to put $ 2 5 million back in an effort to encourage new development such as affordable housing, aiding small businesses and supporting community programs spreading monies over a three to five year period.
From 1990 to 2017, State-supported MSNJ efforts have leveraged more than $1.2 billion of private reinvestment in Main Street districts. For the last two decades, MSNJ districts created a net gain of 10,301 full-time jobs in 2,560 new and expanded businesses. Additionally, MSNJ local districts have supported more than 6,000 building preservation, improvement and construction projects, resulting in more than 1,700 downtown residential units at all affordability levels.
Lt . Governor Oliver, who chairs the Department of Community Affairs, stated, "The Governor wants this administration to be a positive one where it can say 'yes' to these two programs."
She added, "The communities here today are becoming major hubs so it's important that NJ transit be involved. Monies in the amount of $293 million has been appropriated to invest into the transit system, tying in Main Street NJ and Neighborhood Preservation."
Oliver continued to discuss the goal of getting the trains to run on time in New Jersey, working with small businesses along the corridor, and making it inviting for others who use the transit system to foster growth.
She added, “The resurgence of Main Street NJ and the Neighborhood Preservation Program brings visibility to communities, encourages small business job creation, improves residents access to decent and affordable housing, and invites greater business and community involvement in economic development.”
The discussion continued with each mayor and panelists thanking Murphy for recognizing their towns and pledging their support of the plan to restore funds that would assist In maintaining neighborhood preservation goals and investing in small businesses.
Murphy continued, “By re-instating funding for these critical initiatives, we are demonstrating our responsibility as government officials to empower and strengthen our communities with the economic tools they need to ensure we are building an economy that lifts all families and residents.”
In closing the discussion, Murphy thanked all that attended and opened the floor for a few questions. Among topics discussed, were the possibility of bringing Amazon to Newark and he and Lt. Governor Oliver's commitment to education.
New Jersey Future Executive Director Peter Kasabach applauded Governor Murphy's call to reinstate Main Street New Jersey and the Neighborhood Preservation Program.
He stated, "Vibrant downtowns are key to strong, healthy neighborhoods that attract residents, and the Main Street Program has a long track record of success revitalizing downtowns," said Kasabach.
"Now is the time to engage the many stakeholders involved in downtown and neighborhood redevelopment to expand both programs' reach, build new public-private partnerships, and attract new resources to these efforts."