The intersection of Main Street and Bloomfield Avenue in downtown Flemington — Courtesy: Flemington Community Partnership
By Joshua Burd
Armed with a $100,000 state grant, the borough of Flemington is taking new steps to draw private development and community-focused investment to its historic downtown.
The municipality recently hired Stantec, the global design and professional services firm, to help revitalize its central business district and improve overall walkability and livability. To that end, the firm is now seeking to gather community input as part of a plan that will focus on new mixed-use development, local businesses and cultural programming.
Flemington is funding the project with a November 2019 Opportunity Zone grant of $100,000 from the state Economic Development Authority. The borough was one of just five recipients of the grant and New Jersey’s only rural community to earn the award.
“The generous NJEDA grant and ongoing planning efforts allow Flemington to kick-start a wave of beneficial economic activity as an Opportunity Zone,” Mayor Betsy Driver said. “We are excited to be paired with a renowned firm, spearheading projects that the community wants to see. Our small community is certainly planning on living large — as we aim to bring this work to fruition in the near-term, modernizing our borough and bringing new equitable and diverse business investment.”
Driver is leading the effort alongside the borough council, the Flemington Community Partnership, the Hunterdon County Chamber of Commerce and the Hunterdon County Office of Economic Development. Local leaders noted that, in collaboration with residents and stakeholders, Stantec’s Urban Places division will craft a vision of a vibrant downtown environment, with a focus on multiple corridors that include Main Street, Stangl Road, Liberty Village and the Turntable Junction area.
Stanec’s work includes a sweeping analysis of Flemington’s zoning ordinances, design recommendations that consider the future of mobility and housing and the promotion of several shovel-ready development sites, according to a news release. The borough’s designation under the federal Opportunity Zone program also makes it eligible for previously unavailable capital funds, largely through tax benefits for long-term investments in the community.
“This is a market that, when well-managed and well-planned, has a ton of potential — particularly for a downtown which preserves its historic appeal,” said David Dixon, vice president and urban places fellow at Stantec. “We envision a modern, mixed-use center that serves as a gateway to the entire region.
“Transformative communities like Flemington can accommodate housing needs, at scale, for today’s changing demographics. We’re thrilled to be working with the borough to help foster this long-term growth through quantitative and qualitative research, and deliverables consisting of detailed, visual recommendations.”
The municipality also noted that local developer Jack Cust will repurpose and expand the borough’s famed Union Hotel, which has been run largely as a boutique operation since 1814. Renovations are underway on the existing 15-room hotel, while new construction to add another 85 rooms is slated to begin in 2021.
Over the next two years, Cust will also oversee the redevelopment of Courthouse Square Flemington, which includes 206 residential units and 20,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space, a project that will maintain the community’s historic streetscape, the news release said. Completion is slated for 2022.
“The current lack of amenities and hotels in the immediate area forces most overnight visitors to stay in hotels located in adjacent Somerset County,” Cust said. “The redirection of these customers to downtown Flemington will help attract other new development and should be a catalyst to jumpstart the borough’s economic engine.”
Flemington also anticipates the redevelopment of Liberty Village, its 162,000-square-foot retail outlet mall, which was once a bustling piece of Central Jersey’s economy.
“We expect this impressive partnership and community engagement process to generate a lot of excitement around the long-term future of our community,” said Robin Lapidus, executive director of the Flemington Community Partnership. “Between Stantec’s unmatched planning foresight and the potential of our shovel-ready sites, we’re poised for swift success — with an opportunity to add exciting new chapters to our rich and storied history.
In announcing the plan, Flemington touted Stantec’s work in major metros including Boston, Washington D.C., Chicago and Atlanta, among others. The firm is beginning work on data-gathering, community outreach and preliminary strategy development.
Residents, business owners and interested parties can offer input at www.loveflemington.com/community-action-plan.