Highland Park is among just 20 municipalities statewide to join the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs (DCA) Neighborhood Preservation Program (NPP), which is designed to strengthen the economic health of threatened but viable neighborhoods and to encourage private investment in these communities. The Department selected the communities through a competitive application process.
The borough’s program application focused on revitalizing the Woodbridge Avenue commercial district and its adjacent residential neighborhoods to make it a more welcoming gateway into the Highland Park community and to nurture economic development.
“Since the very beginning of the Murphy Administration, DCA has committed considerable resources to programs that foster economic growth, community development, and housing rehabilitation in neighborhoods at risk of decline,” said Lt. Governor Sheila Oliver, who serves as DCA Commissioner, in an earlier press release.
“As Mayor, I appreciate Woodbridge Ave’s unique character, both as a primary corridor into town from Route One and the site of many of our automotive businesses, light manufacturing facilities, and retail establishments,” said Highland Park Mayor Gayle Brill Mittler. “I’m also aware that Woodbridge Ave has traditionally not received the same level of attention and support as Raritan Ave/Route 27. I make a serious effort to regularly elicit input from residents and businesses there and to assist them whenever we can. I’m excited that the Neighborhood Preservation Program will help us to more broadly address concerns of residents and business owners on Woodbridge Avenue, to build on the assets of the area and to add amenities that’ll attract more residents, visitors, and businesses.”
DCA selected communities like Highland Park based on community engagement, staffing capacity, readiness to proceed, NPP mission fit, feasibility of goals, neighborhood assets, distress level, past revitalization efforts, and work to leverage other place-based designations. The borough will work closely with its Stakeholder Engagement Team to create and implement a five-year plan to improve the Woodbridge Avenue district. Members of the Stakeholder Engagement Team include residents and businesses from the district as well representatives from the Historical Commission, Planning Board, and Main Street Highland Park. The director of Middlesex County’s Office of Business Engagement, Sandy Castor, will also serve on the team to help identify ways to align the borough’s work with that of the County’s Destination 2040 plan.
Highland Park will receive $125,000 in grant funding during the first year of the program with the opportunity to receive additional funding annually for up to five years. In addition to the funding, a hallmark of NPP is that the program offers an array of technical assistance and training to support the empowerment of participating local governments and neighborhood district stakeholders so they can build a foundation to sustain their revitalization efforts over time.
NPP grant funds must be used for neighborhood preservation and revitalization activities consisting of housing and economic activities. This includes projects such as:
- Enhancements like lighting, seating, art, and performance spaces;
- Public gardens and parklets;
- Public recreational features like splash pads, music installations, outdoor games and equipment;
- Public outdoor seating and dining areas;
- Shade features like mature trees, outdoor umbrellas, and outdoor canopies;
- Local small business gift card programs; and
- Direct grants to small businesses.
The NPP program, which began in 1975, focuses on revitalizing neighborhoods that are beginning to decline through local planning and community participation and building local capacity and coordination to maximize grant funding and sustain neighborhood vitality. There are 40 neighborhoods participating in the program, which includes the new round of communities announced by DCA.