SOMERVILLE, NJ – The borough was honored as a “Great Place in New Jersey” Tuesday night by the American Planning Association, New Jersey Chapter.
Launched in 2012, the Great Places in New Jersey program recognizes unique and exemplary downtowns, streets, neighborhoods and public spaces , four essential components of exceptional communities, according to Charles Latini, Jr.,chapter president.
“These places thrive as testaments to forward-thinking planning that promotes community involvement, showcases unique natural features and diverse architectural styles, fosters economic opportunity and a vision for tomorrow,” he said.
Somerville is one of six entities receiving the 2016 award - 3 downtowns and 3 public spaces.
“I marvel at what’s happened here,” Latini said.
Latini presented the award to Mayor Brian Gallagher, who was effusive in his praise of the work and dedication of the Downtown Somerville Alliance, a board comprised of professionals, downtown merchants and business owners appointed by the borough to promulgate policies and oversee the continuing resurgence of the downtown shopping district.
Several members of the DSA board, and Beth Anne MacDonald, executive director of the DSA, looked on as the mayor received the plaque.
“We always knew what we had,” Gallagher said. “Now, the outside world is discovering Somerville.”
Downtown Somerville has long been referred to as “Somerset County’s Downtown” and although only 6 blocks in length, it is a hub of economic and community activity, largely driven by the downtown core.
Iit is the sixth oldest Special Improvement District in New Jersey, a designated and nationally-certified Main Street New Jersey Community and a designated Transit Village. As the county seat for Somerset County, Downtown Somerville benefits from a significant and stable daytime population that swells with over 30,000 workers.
The downtown is a successful blend of historic architecture dating to the late 1800’s and new construction ranging from modest in-fill development to large scale redevelopment projects. In total, Downtown Somerville boasts one million square feet of commercial and residential space.
The DSA received a $600,000 Downtown Business Improvement Zone loan from the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs to reconstruct 2 major municipal parking lots, and engineered the reconstruction of Division Street which was once plagued with high vacancy rates.
In 2012, Somerville celebrated the long anticipated ground-breaking of a $70 million mixed-use Somerville Town Center. And currently under construction is The Colbalt, a residential project on the outer edge of the downtown that will bring an additional 117 housing units and 96,000 square feet of mixed-use development.
But Somerville is not just about the big development, according to Latini. Investment by individual property owners and ‘mom and pop’ owners has earned Somerville the reputation of being friendly to small business. Over 60 new businesses have opened in the Downtown since 2012 with a vacancy rate of less than three percent.