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NJEDA Re-Launches Program to Repurpose Vacant, Underutilized Suburban Properties

More Projects Eligible Under New Program Rules

The New Jersey Economic Development Authority (NJEDA) announced changes to the 21st Century Redevelopment Program that will revise the eligibility requirements to both open the program to more projects and streamline the application process. Initially launched in 2018, the program makes grants up to $50,000 available to communities to help them redevelop, repurpose, or regreen vacant and underutilized retail or office park properties.

“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 NJEDA Chief Executive Officer Tim Sullivan. “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 21st Century Redevelopment Program was created in October 2018 in response to a number of demographic and economic trends that resulted in many suburban office parks and shopping malls becoming empty or underutilized, leaving host communities stuck with the costs of maintaining infrastructure and roads while coping with depleted resources resulting from the lost jobs and business opportunities. The program awards grants of up to $50,000 to help municipalities, counties, and redevelopment agencies develop plans to repurpose these properties into productive economic assets. Grant recipients are also required to participate in at least two events hosted by the NJEDA to foster a dynamic discussion about repurposing stranded assets and provide guidance to communities facing similar challenges.

Through a stakeholder engagement program, the NJEDA learned that while communities need grant funding to address the challenges posed by underutilized or vacant spaces, some of the eligibility requirements in the original program limited accessibility for many potential applicants. The updated program announced today will maintain the basic structure of the original program but builds in greater flexibility, which will allow more communities to benefit.

One challenge to applicants the NJEDA identified was stringent square footage and vacancy requirements that barred too many potential projects from eligibility. The new program expands eligibility by removing space and vacancy rate as eligibility requirements and instead incorporates them into the scoring criteria used to evaluate projects. This will broaden the program while ensuring that properties of significant scope and scale are prioritized.

The new 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. This bill, signed by Gov. Phil Murphy on Friday, allows municipalities to designate vacant and underused malls and corporate 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 this 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.

Another key improvement to the program addresses the process by which the NJEDA will accept applications. Instead of the rolling application process built into the original program, the NJEDA will now establish a competitive application window of 90 days. Once all applications are received, staff will evaluate and score them competitively, with the five highest scoring applications to be recommended to the Board for grants. This will ensure only the plans with greatest community benefit will receive funding rather than offering an advantage based simply on when the application was received.

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