Tim Sullivan, CEO of the state Economic Development Authority
By Joshua Burd
The state Economic Development Authority has relaunched a funding program aimed at helping suburban communities repurpose underutilized retail or office park properties.
The agency, under what’s known as the 21st Century Redevelopment Program, will make grants of up to $50,000 is support of local governments seeking to revitalize commercial properties that have become outdated or outmoded due to changing demographics. The EDA had put the program on hold last April due to the COVID-19 crisis, but its board on Wednesday approved its reopening, paving the way for it to resume administering the awards in accordance with updated parameters.
“The 21st Century Redevelopment Program will play an important role in Governor (Phil) Murphy’s plan for a stronger, fairer recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic by providing resources to help municipalities repurpose dormant office spaces and industrial parks into valuable community assets,” said Tim Sullivan, the authority’s CEO. “This has always been necessary, but it is an even better opportunity now as communities adjust to the post-pandemic future of work and the changes in demand for office and retail space that will come with it.”
Created in October 2018, the program figures to help properties including suburban office parks and shopping malls that had become a drain on their host communities, as professional and residential populations shifted to downtowns and urban settings. Those towns were left to maintain the infrastructure and roads around the buildings without the resources to do so.
In response to stakeholder feedback, the EDA adjusted the eligibility criteria for the program in 2019 to make more properties eligible while ensuring that assets of significant scope and scale remain prioritized, according to a news release. To accommodate the significant business disruptions resulting from the pandemic and work-from-home directives, the agency put the program on hold in April 2020.
The EDA will ultimately make grants of up to $50,000 available to help municipalities, counties and redevelopment agencies develop plans to repurpose vacant properties into productive economic assets. Potential uses of the grant funding include, but are not limited to:
- Legal analysis to explore designating one or more relevant properties in the community as an “area in need of redevelopment”
- Stakeholder engagement and facilitation to identify community desires and needs
- Identification of appropriate funding sources to support community led reuse of one or more properties
- Cataloging relevant retail and office properties in a community and identifying priority sites when considering community needs
- Economic analysis relating to the feasibility of various redevelopment and/or reuse scenarios
- Land use planning identifying the most suitable reuse scenarios.
The authority will use a competitive application process to award 21st Century Redevelopment Program grants, giving applicants 45 days from the date the application launches to submit proposals, the news release said. Once all applications are received, staff will evaluate and score them competitively, with the 15 highest-scoring applications recommended to the board for grants.
Grant recipients will also be required to participate in at least two events hosted by the EDA to foster a dynamic discussion about repurposing stranded assets and provide guidance to communities facing similar challenges, according to the authority. More information about the program, including detailed eligibility and application scoring criteria, is available at https://www.njeda.com/21stcentury/.