Looking to repurpose vacant retail or office park? EDA again offering $50,000 grants to do so

Board approves reopening of 21st Century Redevelopment Program, which had been put on pause by pandemic

The 21st Century Redevelopment Program, a program that awards grants of up to $50,000 to suburban communities to help them redevelop, repurpose or regreen vacant and underutilized retail or office park properties, has been reopened, the New Jersey Economic Development Authority announced Wednesday.

The return of the program, which had been put on hold in April 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, was approved by the EDA’s board of directors at its monthly meeting.

The 21st Century Redevelopment Program was created in October 2018 in response to a number of demographic and economic trends that resulted in suburban offices and shopping malls emptying out, leaving communities stuck with the costs of maintaining infrastructure and roads around these facilities and a lack of resources to do so.

In response to stakeholder feedback, the EDA adjusted the eligibility criteria for the program in 2019 to make more properties eligible while ensuring that properties of significant scope and scale remain prioritized. To accommodate the significant business disruptions resulting from the COVD-19 pandemic and work-from-home directives, the EDA put the program on hold in April 2020.

The board action Wednesday paves the way for the EDA to resume administering the 21st Century Redevelopment Program in accordance with the updated parameters approved in 2019. As such, the program will make grants of up to $50,000 available to help municipalities, counties and redevelopment agencies develop plans to repurpose vacant properties into productive economic assets. Potential uses of the grant funding include, but are not limited to:

  • Legal analysis to explore 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;
  • 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.

Grant recipients will be 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.

EDA officials said they will use a competitive application process to award 21st Century Redevelopment Program grants. Applicants will have 45 days from the date the application launches to submit proposals. Once all applications are received, EDA staff will evaluate and score them competitively, with the 15 highest scoring applications recommended to the board for grants.

“The 21st Century Redevelopment Program will play an important role in Gov. (Phil) Murphy’s plan for a stronger, fairer recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic by providing resources to help municipalities repurpose dormant office spaces and industrial parks into valuable community assets,” EDA CEO Tim Sullivan said.

“This has always been necessary, but it is an even better opportunity now as communities adjust to the post-pandemic future of work and the changes in demand for office and retail space that will come with it.”