The Millville restaurant Isabelle’s, taken during a 3rd Friday event, shows the downtown architecture and a festive time in Millville
Looking at Millville in Cumberland County today, one would have to say the glass is definitely half full. We’ve succeeded in revitalizing the downtown over the last seven years. I’m happy to report that the potential for filling the glass to the brim in the future looks very good.
Why are we so optimistic concerning our city’s future? There are
Union Lake Crossing
For starters, Union Lake Crossing, the $90 million project with 530,000 sq. ft. of retail space opened in May and has brought much-needed employment and tax ratables to our community. It also has produced an impressive looking gateway into the city from the north.
Anchor stores include Target, Kohls, Dicks Sporting Goods and Circuit City, to name a few. Located at the interchange of Routes 55 and 47, Union Lake Crossing along with Cumberland Mall, the Millville Town Center and Cumberland Crossing makes up one of the largest retail centers in the tri-state area.
New Jersey Motorsports Park
Another major project currently under development is the $150 million New Jersey Motorsports Park (NJMP) located adjacent to Millville Airport. Construction started in June, and Phase I of three planned phases is slated to open in the summer of 2008. When completed, NJMP will be the only Motorsports Park in the United States with such diverse venues as two road courses, karting and skid pad facility, ¾-mile tri-oval and an off road vehicle course for extreme sports. NJMP will also feature a conference center, several hotels, and restaurants, a research and development office campus, retail stores, clubhouse, VIP suites, event garages and trackside resort villas.
It is estimated there will be nearly 1,000 construction jobs generated by the project, followed by 1,500 full and part-time jobs upon final completion of all three phases.
Millville Vice Mayor Joe Derella commented, “The New Jersey Motorsports Park project will bring a positive social economic impact on the city and the entire region.” He also reported, “A recent economic impact study produced by Rowan University predicted NJMP will generate more than 6,000 jobs and also have a $200 + million economic impact throughout Cumberland County within five years.”
This is particularly important in light of the city having lost nearly 10,000 jobs in a 10-year stretch, starting in the late 1980s with the loss of industry, manufacturing and retail businesses.
It is expected NJMP will impact the entire South Jersey region, and also have a very strong impact on the Industrial Park at the Millville Airport. With over 350 acres of developable land with water, sewer and utilities, the city stands ready to accommodate new business.
After a great deal of research, surveys and target group interviews, it was determined that the “arts” would be the catalyst for Millville’s redevelopment.
Yet another reason for optimism; the city has just released a Request for Proposal for the redevelopment of a 12-acre section in the city’s downtown. It is the city’s intention to select a private development partner to work with the city to redevelop the site known as “Overlook.” The area is located near Millville’s Glasstown Arts District and includes several hundred feet of riverfront. This project received strong support from the community and City Commission in 2006 and is now the centerpiece of the city’s riverfront revitalization vision.
To date, nearly a dozen developers have voiced interest in participating in this redevelopment project.
Neighborhood Renaissance Initiative
This year, Millville developed the comprehensive redevelopment strategy funded by the State of New Jersey’s first Revenue Allocation District (RAD).
Millville is implementing a comprehensive, multi-faceted program of physical, economic and social revitalization fueled by collaboration, public-private partnerships, community engagement and leveraged financial commitments.
Millville’s RAD is providing the final components for large-scale revitalization: a long-term source of resources, as well as a long-term commitment of support by the city government. The RAD sets aside property tax revenue generated by the new businesses in Union Lake Crossing. These funds, known as the tax increment, will pay for improvements associated with specific projects in the designated downtown areas. The RAD is generally used as a financing tool in redevelopment areas where private investment has been lagging, where there is physical blight or other impediments to economic development. In Millville, 800 acres or 2,200 properties are within the boundaries of the RAD, representing 17 percent of our tax base.
Public and Private Investment
According to a financial analysis, RAD will generate tax increments to the extent that over $8 million of bond debt can be supported for neighborhood renewal projects. The program requirements for some of these activities, such as housing rehabilitation, are being designed and structured by city staff presently. The RAD provides a wide degree of flexibility for the structure of these programs, as it is essentially a local program fueled by city projects.
In addition to this $8 million investment, the city has several other community development programs with target areas also in center city. The federal Community Development Block Grant Program (CDBG) provides approximately $300,000 per year; the federal Weed and Seed Area generates $200,000 annually for crime prevention and neighborhood restoration; the federal HOME program provides $165,000 for community housing organizations and homeowner rehab; the state Neighborhood Preservation Program will contribute $300,000 to projects in the Third Ward Neighborhood.
Finally, the city fully anticipates that several of our non-profit partners such as AHOME, Inc. and the Millville Housing Authority will pursue housing development projects that will result in additional dollars concentrated within center city.
Millville has used its Urban Enterprise Zone (UEZ) funds in very creative and visionary ways to enhance the downtown business district, provide new infrastructure, promote new commercial development, and invest in new industry. The Millville UEZ has contributed significantly to the development and growth of the Glasstown Arts District. UEZ funding has helped with façade improvements, waterfront development plans, streetscape improvements, business development loans and the Riverfront Renaissance Center for the Arts, which is the heart of Millville’s arts district.
The UEZ investments have also impacted the Millville Airport and Gorton Road Industrial Parks, with infrastructure improvements, new hangar space, and loans to attract new business.
Glasstown Arts District
Just seven years ago, Millville’s downtown had only a 50 percent storefront occupancy rate. “The revitalization of downtown Millville found its catalyst in the summer of 1999. After a great deal of research, surveys and target group interviews, it was determined that the “arts” would be that catalyst,” noted Marianne Lods, Executive Director of Millville Development Corporation.
A zoning overlay designating a 12-square-block area as an “arts district” was legislated by the city and encouraged the development of arts and art related businesses and residential living on 2nd and 3rd floors of commercial buildings.
“Currently, store front occupancy levels are over 90 percent with a total of 140 businesses in the Glasstown Arts District, plus two historical institutions and five government and non-profit agencies for a total of 147 businesses/employment entities,” reported Lods.
“Since 2000, 123 new businesses have opened. The net increase is 89 new businesses in Millville’s downtown. Market rate property values have nearly tripled on small to mid-size buildings, and doubled on large buildings,” she continued. Dozens of businesses have applied for and received Façade Grants & Loans to facilitate the improvement of their buildings. Several historically significant buildings have been restored with this funding and private investment.
With the assistance of Main Street New Jersey and the Department of Community Affairs (DCA), resources have been made available to our building owners and entrepreneurs. The architectural assistance program has yielded fantastic restoration of beautiful, historic facades on buildings built in the 1800s.
The New Jersey State Council on the Arts continues to be our partner in funding a portion of the General Program of the Glasstown Arts District. The annual grant enables our summer youth art program, Art Creates Excellence, and the hiring of artists and musicians throughout the year. The New Jersey Office of Travel & Tourism has partnered with us to promote our annual summer festival.
Joe Derella, Vice Mayor, Millville and Marianne Lods, Executive Director, Millville Development Corp. contributed to this article
Through economic development planning as a Smart Growth Community, a good public and private investment mix, plus strong community support, Millville is indeed poised to increase tourism, industry and retail business, and continue the successes and innovative partnerships with the state and private sector toward filling our glass in the near future.