The City of Millville, located in Cumberland County, with a population of just over 27,000, encompasses 44 square miles. There’s easy access from Routes 47 and 55 and 49. Geographically, three actual bridges cross the Maurice River into this historic glassmaking capital. But it’s this city’s 21st century virtual bridges that confident local officials are praising—a variety of creative funding programs that will help assure employment and neighborhood revitalization for decades to come.
By Joseph J. Derella
Vice Mayor and Director of Revenue and Finance, Millville
New Jersey Motorsports Park Millville’s largest and newest attraction is the recently opened, 500-acre New Jersey Motorsports Park (NJMP). NJMP represents the largest single economic development project in Cumberland County’s history and
is already a major socioeconomic contributor.
By 2011, NJMP is projected to expand onto an additional 200 acres, becoming one of the area’s largest employers.
With over 38 million people living within a 150-mile radius of the facility, NJMP is centrally located in one of the United States’ largest population centers. The motorsports park is expected to draw in tens of thousands of spectators annually. Already, NJMP brought Millville national attention with four of their racing events televised on the SPEED channel network in 2008.
NJMP boasts two world-class road courses named after WWII aircraft, Thunderbolt and Lightning, as well as a F1 professional karting facility. A 15,000 sq. ft. “Driver’s Club” country club features tennis courts, swimming pool, plus the Breighton Room restaurant and lounge named after the English seaside town where P-47 pilots, who trained at Millville Airport, served during WWII. Also on site is the Officers Club, Cumberland County’s largest banquet facility.
The world-class motorsports park has over 20 VIP suites available for the public to rent that overlook pit row of the Thunderbolt Raceway. The complex also includes event garages, CDOC pro shops, and a four-story timing tower with a media center named after “The Dean of Motorsports” Chris Economaki.
The Villas At Breighton, the first wave of luxurious trackside condominiums, are under construction. NJMP has plans to construct over 180 of these units.
The economic impact on the county was immediate. Hotels and restaurants are filled during racing season. Several new businesses plan to expand as the park grows in popularity. Other attractions have also benefited with the thousands of people traveling to Millville to attend spectator events at NJMP.
Marketing Bridges to Other Millville Attractions Cultural tourism is quickly becoming the bridge allowing the city to transition from a manufacturing to a service-based economy. Attractions such as Wheaton Arts and Cultural Center, with a nationally-renowned museum containing the most comprehensive collection of American Glass in the world, are anchoring this new economic base. The center also boasts a world-class glass studio, craft studios and the Down Jersey Folklife Center.
In addition to Wheaton Arts, the recently-expanded Millville Army Air Field Museum (MAAFM) is another major tourist draw featuring displays and artifacts of the World War II history of the Millville Army Air Field, America’s first defense airport where P-47 Thunderbolt pilots trained. The MAAFM hosts the annual Wheels & Wings Airshow, which has featured the US Navy Blue Angels and USAF Thunderbirds jet demonstration teams.
The Millville Airport area contains one of the world’s finest WWII flying war bird collections featuring planes such as the P-47 Thunderbolt, B-25 Mitchell, Spitfire, T-6 Texan and a Grumman Widgeon.
New Jersey’s First RAD Millville became the first city to take advantage of Revenue Allocation District (RAD) financing created by the state Legislature in 2002. With only one full year of operating the state’s first RAD, the City was recognized by the national Council of Development Finance Agency (CDFA) as a best practices model project.
The RAD has enabled Millville to attract private developers like Goodman Properties. Their Union Lake Crossing project, at the major interchange of Routes 55 and 47, along with nearby Cumberland Mall, Millville Town Center and Cumberland Crossing now make up one of the largest retail shopping centers in the tri-state area. City Engineer John Knoop notes that a tremendous amount of cooperation from the Department of Transportation enabled Millville to change the traffic patterns on State Highway 47 to accommodate 500,000 square feet of new retail space in a relatively short period of time.
Visit Millville and you can’t help be impressed by this sprawling 60-acre, multi-million dollar shopping center. Anchored by stores such as Target, Kohl’s and Dicks Sporting Goods, Union Lake Crossing will provide RAD revenues to offset some of both the developer’s and the retailer’s acquisition and site improvement costs.
RAD has been an asset in terms of providing a long-term financial tool linking new development with the redevelopment of our oldest neighborhoods.
Related construction will soon start on two four-story hotels with a total of 242 rooms behind the Union Lake Crossing complex. “We’re at the planning board approval stage now, and anticipate a Fall 2009 opening,” notes Steve Durst, Director of Site Acquisition for Goodman Properties.
We are projecting a substantial amount in RAD revenues over the next 15 years from the shopping center
project alone, along with the creation of 1,000 jobs for local residents. This project is already generating redevelopment dollars being invested in our central neighborhoods for housing and infrastructure improvements.
An 84-acre portion of the downtown, with frontage on the Maurice River, is also a future RAD development site. The Glasstown Riverfront Renaissance Plan projects hotels and restaurants supporting retail uses, plus mixed-use living and business office space. The city is currently accepting requests for proposals for the hotel development. In addition, a privately financed project of 120 riverfront condominiums is under way.
Replacing Blight Residents of a blighted residential development called Millville Gardens are being relocated as the city eliminates over 100 dilapidated units. The city purchased the site for $2.7 million, using bond funding. A Workable Relocation Assistance Plan is directing residents to new dwellings. The city has issued a request for proposal for a mixed-use project and will be demolishing the existing structure this spring.
Two local nonprofit organizations, AHOME, Inc. and Holly City Development Corporation have partnered with the city to use RAD funds to acquire properties for rehabilitation and resale as affordable, first-time homeowner units. Both organizations have approved projects through the New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency’s CHOICES program, which will result in over 40 new affordable homeownership units to stabilize the neighborhood. Bethel Church and Development Corporation, a provider of social services and job training to low-income residents, is an anchor in the South Millville neighborhood, also within the RAD.
Small Business Potential Recognized The Grow Millville Fund is a functioning economic stimulus program. Representing a partnership between the city and the Grow America Fund, Inc (GAF), the program helps small companies obtain special financing for expansion. Loans must comply with SBA guidelines and procedures.
The Grow Millville Fund can arrange loans as permitted by the U.S. Small Business Administration from $50,000 to $1 million at or below market rates for terms up to 25 years. Proceeds can be used for business purposes such
as machinery and equipment, land and building acquisition, renovations
Massive complexes like Union Lake Crossing are wonderful, but we also must facilitate the success of our smaller businesses. Small businesses are a key element in effective community development and wealth. We need them to realize their potential.
Elsewhere in the City Quality of life for residents is of primary concern and taken to heart by Millville officials. Recreational activities include sailing, kayaking, canoeing, fishing, swimming and river boat rides. Water sports are offered on both the Maurice River and the picturesque 898-acre Union Lake, southern New Jersey’s largest freshwater body.
The city is in the midst of building a new soccer complex with six fields and a clubhouse at the airport, flanking the existing Rob Shannon Sports Complex. It’s part of a vision to centralize league programs including soccer, football and softball into one area.
City Team Work Millville’s commissioners and city staff have helped save costs through shared service agreements for information technology support with the Board of Education and cooperative purchasing, plus joint social service programs. By taking advantage of the latest technology, the city has integrated purchasing, budgeting, payroll and personnel cross-training procedures to increase efficiencies and consolidate department personnel.
We are particularly excited about an improved city bond rating: the result of Millville’s stable finances, increased ratables and modest debt. This is in light of extremely tough economic times experienced by all areas including the public and private sector.
Bridges to the Future The Millville Airport Industrial Park has been expanded by 400 acres with municipal water and sewer ready to be installed, chiefly as a result of its location adjacent to the new motorsports park. The city-owned Millville Airport is New Jersey’s largest general aviation airport, and is operated by the Delaware River and Bay Authority under a long-term lease agreement.
The County of Cumberland is pursuing a feasibility study to place a conference center adjacent to the New Jersey Motorsports Park. The Cumberland Empowerment Zone Corporation will be instrumental in the funding of the center and also in the continued revitalization of the city.
The Arts The active Levoy Theatre Preservation Society is in line to receive $2.9 million in UEZ funding. The Levoy is a century-old former vaudeville palace and movie theater in the center of the downtown Glasstown Arts District that will be turned into a performing, screen arts and educational center serving Southern New Jersey. The theater, seen as the missing link in the downtown landscape, will become a key city venue after an $8 million renovation.
A three-year successful Weed and Seed federally funded grant program focuses on neighborhood restoration and crime prevention. The $150,000 annual program is designed to “weed” out crime and “seed” programs for residents in arts and cultural education.
New Jersey School Development Authority funding is in place and the city is working with the Board of Education and state officials to designate a suitable 60 acre plus site for a new 350,000 sq. ft., 2,400 student high school campus. This will replace the existing 85,000 sq. ft. high school built in 1965, which was designed for 1,200 students.
Whether it’s public safety, public works, recreation, information technology or economic development, our dynamic team effort is laying out all the necessary tools and planning to see us progress into the coming decade.
Our confidence is high, and our dedication to planned growth and fiscal stability supported by these unique state and federal programs can only mean success for Millville in the coming years.
This article was originally published in New Jersey Municipalities magazine. Vol. 86, No. 4, April 2009