EDA changes eligibility for $50K community grant program

Changes to the eligibility requirements for the New Jersey Economic Development Authority’s 21st Century Redevelopment Program were announced Tuesday, which the agency said will open the program to more projects and streamline the application process.

The program, launched in October 2018, provides grants of as much as $50,000 to communities to help redevelop, repurpose or regreen vacant and underutilized retail or office park properties, the EDA said.

“The (program) is an important component of (Gov. Phil Murphy’s) plan to invest in communities that provide 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,” EDA CEO Tim Sullivan said.

The EDA said the grants will help municipalities, counties and redevelopment agencies develop plans to repurpose those properties into productive economic assets.

“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,” Sullivan said.

The program was created as a response to trends that resulted in the vacancy of numerous suburban office parks and shopping malls, leaving communities attempting to maintain infrastructure with depleted resources.

Grant recipients must attend two EDA events the agency said will foster discussion and provide guidance to communities undergoing something similar.

The EDA learned, through a stakeholder engagement program, some of the requirements for the original program limited accessibility for many potential applicants. The EDA said this updated program builds in greater flexibility, which will allow more communities to benefit.

Stringent square footage and vacancy requirements were what the EDA pinpointed as a challenge to applicants and barred potential projects from eligibility.

The new program expands potential use of the grants to include support for communities seeking “area in need of redevelopment” designation under Assembly Bill 1700.

The bill allows municipalities to designate vacant and underused malls and office parks that have had under 50 percent occupancy for a year as “areas in need of redevelopment,” which will supposedly give greater flexibility for future land-use decisions to the property.

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 reuse 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 reuse scenarios.

A competitive application window of 90 days is how the EDA will accept applications for the new program.