By Joshua Burd
Property owners in Camden have tapped into a state program meant to spur street-level retail and service businesses, adding to the resurgence of one of the city’s main thoroughfares.
The Economic Development Authority said landlords are slated to make improvements to several properties on Market Street, thanks to the agency’s Business Improvement Incentive program. The properties will be home to several businesses, including two restaurants, a café and office space, with the help of grants that will fund façade and streetscape improvements.
One landlord, Ashton Alexander Properties LLC, has been approved for three separate grants of up to $20,000 for each of its Market Street properties, the EDA said in a news release. A fast-casual restaurant will occupy the first floor of 309 Market St. with office space on the remaining two floors, with renovation plans that include new high-strength glass for its windows, new signage and a repainted brick façade.
At 423 Market St., a nearby three-story building, the owner will repurpose the property as office space for several small businesses and a small takeout bakery/café on the first floor, the EDA said. Renovations to the first floor will include façade improvements, signage and an updated entrance that will be inviting to the public and allow access to second- and third-floor businesses.
The EDA also cited activity at 517-519 Market St., which sits directly across from Camden City Hall and will house a technical services company and a nonprofit organization. Improvements to the building façade will include pressure washing and repainting, along with installation of a new awning, windows and doors.
The EDA unveiled the BII grant and a companion program, the Business Lease Incentive, early last year to support the growth of street-level businesses. They programs are reserved for downtown businesses in Camden, Trenton, Paterson, Passaic and Atlantic City, all of which are designated Garden State Growth Zones under the 2013 Economic Opportunity Act.
The BII program offers grants of up to 50 percent of total project costs for small businesses that are planning to make improvements to their properties, the EDA said. The grant amount cannot exceed $20,000, with a minimum project cost of $5,000.
“With Subaru’s new headquarters taking shape at one end, and the new Waterfront Development rising at the other, Market Street businesses are seeing increased foot traffic and investors are recognizing new opportunities on Market Street and other downtown locations,” said Christina Fuentes, the EDA’s senior Garden State Growth Zone development officer, who manages the BII and BLI programs. “The BII and BLI programs are helping landlords and entrepreneurs establish and improve their businesses, supporting the revitalization of downtown areas in communities around the state.”
The authority also touted the work of another Camden property owner, Market West 1 LLC, which owns 223 and 225 Market St. With up to $19,000 in BII funding, the properties will receive improvements such as new windows, doors and awnings.
A third property owner, Damon Pennington, will soon open a restaurant nearby at 315 Market St. The business received support from the EDA when the BII and BLI programs were originally offered only in Camden through the Economic Recovery Board.
Pennington is also developing the Camden Arts Yard in an adjacent vacant lot, the EDA said. The pop-up venue, opening this summer, will feature art, appetizers and beverages, with the goal of attracting young professionals to the downtown area after business hours, adding to the restaurant renewal taking shape in downtown Camden.
“The influx of professionals in downtown Camden has created a need for places to go after work for good food, cocktails and entertainment,” Pennington said. “The investment happening on Market Street has created a ripple effect that spurred the idea for the Camden Arts Yard, and we are optimistic that this will contribute to the emergence of this area as a vibrant lifestyle hub.”
In addition to the BII grant, the BLI program offers reimbursement of 15 percent of annual lease payments for two years to for-profit businesses and nonprofit organizations in eligible areas that plan to lease between 500 and 5,000 square feet of new or additional market-rate, first-floor office, industrial or retail space for at least five years. An applicant leasing more than 5,000 square feet can be eligible, but the BLI grant will only incentivize the first 5,000 square feet.