Tim Sullivan, the CEO of the state Economic Development Authority — Photo by Edwin Torres/Governor’s Office
By Joshua Burd
The state Economic Development Authority is expanding a program aimed at helping municipalities tackle vacant or underused commercial and retail properties in their towns.
Launched last fall, the 21st Century Redevelopment Program allows communities to apply for planning grants of up to $50,000 each, providing a funding source to help strategize for so-called stranded assets or white elephants. The EDA announced several changes this week, seeking to both open the program to more projects and streamline the application process.
To that end, the authority has loosened the eligibility requirements in the original program after determining that it had limited accessibility for many potential applicants. The new program expands eligibility by removing square footage and vacancy rate from eligibility requirements and instead incorporating them into the scoring criteria used to evaluate projects.
The change will broaden the program while ensuring that properties of significant scope and scale are prioritized, the EDA said.
“The 21st Century Redevelopment Program is an important component of Governor Murphy’s plan to invest in communities that provides an opportunity for municipalities to focus on creative ideas for repurposing dormant properties in ways that contribute to the economy rather than draining valuable resources,” said Tim Sullivan, the authority’s CEO. “Expanding the eligibility criteria for projects that can receive funding through the program and adding a competitive application structure are important changes that will allow more communities to benefit and ensure that the best ideas receive support.”
The revamped 21st Century Redevelopment Program also expands potential uses for the grant funding to include support for communities seeking “area in need of redevelopment” designation under Assembly bill 1700, which Gov. Phil Murphy signed into law last week. The measure allows municipalities to designate vacant and underused malls and office parks that have had less than 50 percent occupancy for at least a year as “areas in need of redevelopment,” which gives them greater flexibility surrounding future land-use decisions related to the property.
With the change, potential uses of the grant funding now include, but are not limited to:
- Legal analysis to explore the appropriateness of 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.
- The identification of appropriate funding sources to support community-led re-use 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 re-use scenarios.
The EDA also said that, instead of the rolling application process built into the original program, it will now establish a competitive application window of 90 days. Once all applications are received, its staff will evaluate and score them competitively, with the five highest scoring applications to be recommended to the board for grants.