For the past few months, Main Street Highland Park (MSHP) and the Highland Park Redevelopment Agency (HPRA) have been having conversations about how to redevelop the Raritan Avenue vacant lots next to Main Street’s building, as well as the Main Street building lot itself. The goal would be to bring energy and vitality to the downtown with a public square and a market/community arts building.
MSHP’s Design Committee Chair James Nichols, AIA from Main Street Highland Park first presented Main Street’s concept for redevelopment to the Highland Park Redevelopment Agency on December 3, 2015. Since that time Main Street and HPRA have been establishing criteria and figuring out how to take this project to the next step. According to MSHP’s executive director, “in the ongoing redevelopment and revitalization of our downtown, a public square and gathering space is an extremely important piece of the puzzle. Not only could this space provide a permanent home for our hugely successful Farmers Market, Christmas tree and menorah lightings, outdoor movie nights, but it could also provide a space for music performances, art exhibits, impromptu games, outdoor picnics, and more.
Mr. Nichols in December presented a concept for developing the parking lot (222 Raritan), the old Senior Center lot (218 Raritan) and the facility currently used by Main Street (212 Raritan) into a public square and market/community Arts Center. What followed that initial presentation was strategic planning on how arrange revenue generating developments that could amortize the construction of a market/arts building and square while simultaneously creating amenities for the community
Most of the feedback from the Redevelopment Agency has been very positive about having a public square and a community building. However, members expressed skepticism as to whether a developer would be satisfied with the suggested amount of market rate housing. As Rebecca Hersh has indicated, that was the goal of the presentation: to consider the nuances and what hurdles have to overcome.
“That’s why the concept we presented to the Redevelopment Agency was more than a potential real estate development. It is an initiation of the discussion of what it would take to realize the desires and needs of our community,” she said.
The Redevelopment Agency members agreed that public activity should continue to occur in the space. The sentiment that resonated with everyone was the need for a quality public space that could be used to formalize those activities, boost the pedestrian experience and provide an obvious place of gathering to the town.