Writing in this magazine last year, I described the City of Orange’s retail rescue and business improvement plan to attract shoppers back into our business districts and help local businesses weather the economic storm and grow. A year later, I am back to discuss redevelopment and economic development.
We’ve made great progress in government accountability and crime reduction. In economic development we continue to move forward even with a weak economy. We are moving on many fronts to revitalize and develop Orange, create and retain private sector jobs and improve the overall quality of life.
Transit Village In December 2009, Orange received a $583,000 grant from the New Jersey Transportation Trust Fund to improve the area around the Orange train station. Earlier last year, Governor Corzine designated Orange as the state’s 20th Transit Village.
The Transit Village initiative is a signature project of Valerie Jackson, our Director of Planning and Development. Ms. Jackson says, “Our vision is to create a functioning public space that will unite the Orange train station with the city’s commercial center on Main Street. We want to attract people to live, work and shop in this area. Our goal is to attract privately-funded, market-rate development and serve as a catalyst for the revitalization of Main Street. We want to have a flourishing transit village with mid-rise buildings flanking a public green space, with retail and restaurants at street level and market-rate residential space above.”
The improvements will help Orange benefit from the fact that we are only 20 minutes from mid-town Manhattan by train. It will encourage use of public transportation and help restore the historic importance of the railroad to Orange. It will help us create a more economically viable and pedestrian-friendly downtown including housing, jobs, fine dining, arts and entertainment and preservation of our rich architectural character.
Redeveloping the Walter G. Alexander Public Housing Site In June of this year, we began the demolition of the Walter G. Alexander Housing Complex, two decrepit, public housing towers. When I was campaigning for mayor, I knocked on doors in the complex. I met many good people living in a bad situation. The buildings were home to crime and other problems. Residents told me that the buildings needed to be torn down.
When I launched my Quality of Life Task Force after taking office, we immediately conducted a site inspection and issued violations, which helped the Orange Housing Authority get demolition approval from the Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Together with Valerie Jackson, I met with Walter McNeil Jr., the Housing Authority Executive Director and the Commissioners to encourage them to stop adding new tenants and relocate existing ones. All tenants were relocated within six months. The Orange Housing Authority gave the families Section 8 housing rental vouchers to find new places to live. Since demolition, the quality of life in the area has improved dramatically.
As Diane Johnson, a regional director of HUD said, “In 1954, we thought high rise was the answer. In 2010, we know there is a better plan.”
At the ceremony that formally kicked off demolition, we unveiled a better plan, a $27 million redevelopment initiative for the site. Our plan is to turn the 5.8-acre site into 166 units of new family and senior housing in three phases. We will create a lower-density neighborhood by building three-story town homes that will be rented to senior citizens and families of mixed income.
The last phase of the project will involve building for-sale units, primarily at market rate, once the area has been revitalized. The new housing will help stabilize the entire neighborhood, which is plagued by vacant, blighted properties. Construction of the new housing will comply with Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED), an international green building certification system.
Green Development I am trying to make Orange a leader in the use of energy saving technologies. Orange is the perfect laboratory for sustainable development. It is a compact city where homes are a short walk or bicycle ride from a train station and our central business district.
The new Green Orange even has an urban farm, a hydroponic urban greenhouse created under the Garden State Urban Farm program that provides job training in the growing and marketing of hydroponic produce.
One builder has paved the way for green building in Orange. The Valley Lofts were built with green building materials and boast roof top gardens complete with sod grass, shrubs, and beautiful views.
Another green initiative under
construction is the Grand Central Redevelopment Project, 70 units of affordable housing. It will be New Jersey’s first Climate Choice building under a Board of Public Utilities
Program to encourage green building innovation.
Grand Central will be at least 60 percent more energy-efficient than a typical apartment building. It will have passive solar heating and ventilation, air-tight walls and windows, solar panels that generate enough electricity to power at least 50 percent of demand, and ENERGY STAR lighting fixtures and appliances.
By preparing for a Green future, Orange is in the forefront of the movement to combat global warming, reduce America’s dependence on foreign oil, create Green Collar jobs, and reduce the cost of energy. We are firm believers in the principle of “think globally, act locally.”
The Gateways to Orange As part of our development strategy, we are working to make our commercial district gateways more inviting and attractive to business and residential development. We are presently in conversations with the owner of a former ball bearing manufacturing site on the West Orange end of Main Street to consider options for his property. The site now houses a mix of light industrial and retail uses. One option is redevelopment with new commercial and residential space, featuring retail space on Main Street, with residential above, and deck parking in the rear. The location provides a real opportunity to engage and welcome visitors to shop on Main Street.
On Main Street’s eastern gateway, we are planning streetscape and signage improvements. Some of our design concepts include recommendations
of local high school students who participated in an urban design program. On the eastern gateway to Central Avenue, Orange’s other major commercial corridor, we are using federal Community Development Block Grant Funds to create a new streetscape.
It is not easy to maintain the momentum for redevelopment and revitalization in the midst of a major economic downturn. Yet, in Orange, we have found that through a mixture of innovation, community and private sector involvement, a clear sense of direction and a talented planning and development staff, we are able to make great strides toward achieving our long term economic development dreams. We have become more competitive in attracting public and private grants and investment and in attracting new businesses and residents.