On December 14, 2020, the historic Borough of Flemington, New Jersey, the seat of Hunterdon County, announced that it had hired the downtown redevelopment experts at Stantec to reinvent its downtown core. Hopefully, Flemington will also get at least few local leaders certified as Revitalization & Resilience Facilitators (RE Facilitators), so they have a local strategic renewal process to make best use of this design and planning expertise.
Stantec is gathering extensive community input for its plan to revitalize the borough’s business districts and improve overall walkability and livability. The initiative is led by the borough’s mayor and council, the Flemington Community Partnership, the Hunterdon County Chamber of Commerce and the Hunterdon County Office of Economic Development.
The planning project supports efforts to attract private development and community-focused investment to help transition Flemington Borough into a desirable “place” for living, shopping, work and leisure.
The project is funded by the November 2019 Opportunity Zone grant award of $100,000 from the New Jersey Economic Development Authority (NJEDA). Flemington was one of just five recipients of the NJEDA grant, and New Jersey’s only rural community.
In collaboration with residents and stakeholders, Stantec’s Urban Places, its planning division, will craft a vision of a vibrant downtown environment energized by new mixed-use development and animated by local businesses and cultural programming. The project will focus on multiple corridors, including Main Street, Stangl Road, Liberty Village and the Turntable Junction area.
Local leaders, including Mayor Betsy Driver, believe the projects will help Flemington reclaim its title as one of New Jersey’s most attractive places to visit, live, do business and invest.
“The generous NJEDA grant and ongoing planning efforts allow Flemington to kick-start a wave of beneficial economic activity as an Opportunity Zone,” said Driver. “We are excited to be paired with a renowned firm, spearheading projects that the community wants to see. Our small community is certainly planning on living large – as we aim to bring this work to fruition in the near-term, modernizing our borough and bringing new equitable and diverse business investment.”
Stantec, a global design firm, is beginning work on data-gathering, community outreach and preliminary strategy development.
The project includes a sweeping analysis of Flemington’s zoning ordinances, design recommendations that consider the future of mobility and housing, and the promotion of several shovel-ready development sites. The borough’s designation as an Opportunity Zone also makes it eligible for previously unavailable capital funds, largely through tax benefits for long-term investments in the community.
“This is a market that, when well-managed and well-planned, has a ton of potential – particularly for a downtown which preserves its historic appeal. We envision a modern, mixed-use center that serves as a gateway to the entire region,” said David Dixon, vice president and urban places fellow at Stantec.
“Transformative communities like Flemington can accommodate housing needs, at scale, for today’s changing demographics. We’re thrilled to be working with the borough to help foster this long-term growth through quantitative and qualitative research, and deliverables consisting of detailed, visual recommendations,” he continued.
Stantec’s recommendations will reflect a “paradigm shift” in regional and national housing and mobility patterns. This includes a whopping 80% of singles and couples that have consistently chosen “urban” or “main street” options for new housing (particularly millennials and baby boomers) – making a livable, walkable and navigable downtown even more important to Flemington’s long-term sustainability.
An early catalyst in the borough’s transformation, Jack Cust, a Flemington-based developer who owns the popular sports tourism facility Diamond Nation (drawing nearly 500,000 people annually) will also repurpose and expand the borough’s famed Union Hotel, run largely as a boutique operation since 1814. The 15-room hotel will be completely renovated before an additional 85 rooms are added. Renovation is currently underway and new construction is slated to begin in 2021.
Over the next two years, Cust will also oversee the redevelopment of Courthouse Square Flemington, which includes 206 residential units and 20,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space, a project that will maintain the community’s historic streetscape. The project completion date is anticipated to be 2022.
Cust added, “The current lack of amenities and hotels in the immediate area forces most overnight visitors to stay in hotels located in adjacent Somerset County. The redirection of these customers to downtown Flemington will help attract other new development and should be a catalyst to jumpstart the borough’s economic engine.”
Flemington also anticipates the redevelopment of Liberty Village, its 162,000-square-foot retail outlet mall – at one time a boon for Central Jersey’s economy.
Robin Lapidus, executive director of the Flemington Community Partnership, added “We expect this impressive partnership and community engagement process to generate a lot of excitement around the long-term future of our community. Between Stantec’s unmatched planning foresight and the potential of our shovel-ready sites, we’re poised for swift success – with an opportunity to add exciting new chapters to our rich and storied history.”
Flemington, just 60 miles southwest of New York City, was once comparable to busy shore towns like Asbury Park, NJ. Its Liberty Village mall once carried 30-plus buses to its grounds daily, and the borough’s Flemington Furs was a leading regional fur retailer. It is also the home of the famed Lindbergh Trial (1932), as well as compelling rail history, agricultural innovations, and more. The 1-square-mile borough, home to residents of diverse income levels, features over 400 businesses.
Photos courtesy of the Flemington Community Partnership.