Economic Address, April 2016
Residents and Businesses of Ewing,
We have been hard at work since I’ve taken office trying to improve the conditions that attract investment in order to stabilize our tax ratable base. We plotted a course of action that has not yet been fully realized but we are beginning to see the fruits of our labor. We have balanced our budgets, stabilized our finances, improved employee relations, improved our facilities, and solidified a foundation to do business the way a municipality should.
Ewing Township's ratable base has increased almost 121 million dollars over the past four years, and we continue to close the gap between revenue and expenditures. The simple truth is that the market seeks predictability and stability, and I believe that over the last six years we have set the stage for a new and improved way of doing business with Ewing Township.
I have placed an emphasis on partnering with Mercer County, the State, and the various Transit Agencies, along with our community and investors. The idea is to not only increase the ratable base, but improve market conditions and develop a sustainable local economy for Ewing Township that recognizes regional and global opportunities.
In short, our goals have been to:
Raise the standard of living for our residents
Improve property values
Create new opportunities for jobs and economic growth
Be a key player in the regional economy
So far, I believe we have been able to improve conditions by looking at how we do business and at how we can be better partners and what we can do to attract quality development. It is difficult at times but it can also be fun, and it is always worthwhile seeing our community move forward!
Our approach is multi-faceted, as well, so let me try to frame what we’ve been doing:
We’re being more aggressive, yet still fair, in how we enforce property maintenance issues. Businesses aren’t islands; we all affect each other's business by virtue of proximity. Each and every one of us, including government, has a role to play in making Ewing a great place to do business in.
As everyone is well aware, we have a little project going on at the old General Motors and Navy sites. These projects continue to move forward, although not always at the speed we’d like to see. It is a complex and difficult process, but we have seen the light at the end of the tunnel. We will soon have a site plan before the Planning Board for both of these properties. All told, we will see a little over a 1,000 housing units and roughly 100,000 square feet of retail in a mixed use Town Center that is situated around a one acre community green space at the old GM Site.
This project is designed as a quality place for new residents and will connect and integrate with the rest of the Ewing community, such as across the street with the Marrazo’s shopping center, the nearby West Trenton Station, the Ewing Senior Community Center, and our road network.
The former naval base project will include 300,000 square feet of retail space designed to fit both the Town Center transit-oriented development vision of the GM Site and the regional shopping venue vision to bring the historic brownfield site back to life.
This type of investment must be met by strong partnerships with the community. To this end we will continue to move forward on defining the road infrastructure necessary to support this development. One great partner in this regard has been Aaron Watson and his team from Mercer County. Our plans include developing Silvia Street and continued work on Parkway Avenue that is working out great. When the development of these roads is complete they will be finished with a strong streetscape which will provide us the look and feel of a real community center. Again, thank you to Aaron Watson and County Executive Brian Hughes for your partnership in this investment.
We also have a great partners in SEPTA and NJ TRANSIT, who are working with us to improve Railroad Avenue and the West Trenton Train Station. To add to this improvement Ewing will be looking at a brand new parking facility and other aesthetic improvements that will enable this transportation asset to work with the private investment in the GM and Naval sites. In fact, SEPTA has already identified $5,000,000 for this work. We have everybody on board, now all we need is that train line heading north and we’ll be golden.
Speaking of Silvia Street, we have just received all approvals necessary for Wawa to come to Ewing. We have worked hard to ensure the new Wawa fits in architecturally with our vision of the GM and Navy site redevelopment down the street. The Dreher Group and Wawa reps have been fantastic partners in this project, which will also include an additional 10,000 square feet of retail space designed to work with existing land uses adjacent to the site.
While the market can be touch and go at times, the traffic on Olden Avenue is still driving investment. Our Redevelopment Agency has been hard at work promoting the Avenue, working with business owners and new investors alike, and their efforts can be seen up and down Olden Avenue right now.
The Redevelopment Agency is also working to strengthen our facade improvement program within the Olden Avenue area. This program will allow us to continue improving the look and feel of Olden Avenue through facade, signage, and landscaping improvements with matching grants of up to $10,000.
We have a ways to go, but in just a few short years the Township has seen over twenty new businesses, property improvements, and expansions. Businesses like Midas, J&S Mitsubishi, Davis Hyundai, and Coleman Subaru are investing and improving their properties in addition to the new SONIC restaurant and the reinvention of the Parkside Diner into the Capital Grill.
The future of Olden Avenue looks exceptionally bright. Our commitment its redevelopment has brought much sought after attention to new investment proposals and soon we will also see the improvement of the corner of Parkside and Olden into a brand new Walgreens. It doesn’t stop there, though. We are in discussions for some fantastic development opportunities along the border of Ewing that will result in the stabilization of those areas and return them functional use, along with providing jobs and workforce housing opportunities.
We are moving, and we are moving in several directions at once, but all are pointed upward.
It’s not just business which are growing within Ewing, however. On the residential side we’ve also seen a lot of activity to bring the Township fresh new properties that will spur reinvestment in our more established areas. For instance, the redevelopment of the former Channel 52 site on Parkside Avenue with fifty townhouse units is being completed right now, as well as work along Bear Tavern Road and Old Ewingville Road, where our first single family subdivision in twenty years is being built.
We've had plenty of activity keeping us busy, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t recognize some of our other business that have been with us a long time. Businesses such as NJM, Homosote, Heath Lumber, and of course all of our restaurants which are some of the best in Mercer County. Our hotels - the Courtyard Marriott, Element, and Springfield Suites - also add significant value to the Township with their success.
Throughout all of our progress, though, we have taken great care not to drive existing businesses out, and we will continue to do so as new development comes online. The College of New Jersey continues to prove itself as a true catalyst for growth; Campus Town is a welcomed addition in that regard, as a project that includes enough student housing to accommodate over 440 students and a total of 83,000 square feet of retail. The addition of these units will assuredly take some of the pressure off of our residential neighborhoods. Our highly successful Town & Gown Committee continues working to improve relations with The College of New Jersey, and someday our community will recognize what many of us already do: that the College of New Jersey is a tremendous asset for our entire community.
Ewing’s success is due not only to our great location, but also the presence of regional assets such as the Airport, Capital Health, Cenlar, ETS, and others. I believe investors see Ewing Township, and its Board and Commissions of dedicated public servants as a reliable and honest partner in regard to the development approval process. We will continue to grow and by now I’m sure you folks know I’m serious when I say that Ewing Township is open for business.
Our success is also because we've been proactive and invested in our future. In fact, we view all the components that make up this great community as important drivers of economic growth. Whether it is the services we provide, our Parks and Open Space assets, or the programs we offer, all are important parts of the decision making criteria for new business.
Day-to-day issues are tough sometimes, and while some may say we should bank all of our surplus I believe that government must invest and be serious about being a strong advocate in order to successfully attract business. In fact, our door is always open to new ideas from you all to help us further in this regard as we assess what we can be doing better. Ewing values the business community’s insights! We will continue to identify strategic ventures that are aimed to leverage and support private investment taking place in Ewing Township.
As I’ve already said, we continue to enhance and improve our relationships with other governmental entities. Our Health Department is sharing staff resources with the County, Hamilton Township, and the City of Trenton. We partner with the Ewing Public Schools with buildings and grounds We partner with the City of Trenton with lead abatement and hazmat resources.With TCNJ we have the Bonner Program. We also have the Neighbor-to-Neighbor program, mentoring such as Kids Bridge, and tutoring resources for our students. We also apply for grants together, and we will continue to look for more ways to improve. For example, we have partnered with Mercer County on roadway studies, plans, and investments.
Ewing has also been blessed with a very proactive and energetic Green Team who has just finished a visioning effort that really drummed up a lot of support for where I’ve believed we should be heading. I believe that their effort - as a truly open process - was important. The energy and ideas that the public came up with was inspiring; from community branding and marketing to ways to continue reducing our carbon footprint.
This work has pushed forward some of the items on our list of strategic investments, particularly our parks and recreational open spaces. We’re going to take advantage of these assets in ways we’ve never done before. We will continue to build on regional trail initiatives and we will be creating master plans for each park that connects neighborhoods to each other and to commerce. Our Capital Improvement Program will eventually work lockstep with private investment in order to get more bang for our buck. This is another way in which we are a good partner to business.
Ewing is also revealing our Commitment to Technology. I’d like to thank Robert Green, the head of my IT team for all his hard work. We have improved our website, have planned to install WiFi in our buildings for citizen use, and will be increasing how our Police Department can do its job more effectively using technology by bringing them into the 21st century of policing.
We have also been able to improve the Hollowbrook Community Center with the help of the Educational Testing Service through the Ewing Public Education Foundation. We have installed a state-of-the-art Computer Learning Center, and importantly, will be working with TCNJ and our schools to ensure that children who have limited access to technology will get the opportunities to interact with technology that they deserve. In fact, both of our community centers are bustling with activity these days, with each center being financially stable and self supportive. It is through our partnerships with groups like ETS, Mercer County, KidsBridge, and other community groups that makes this possible.
It has been a lot of hard work, but it’s a job I have thoroughly enjoyed. Thank you all for your support of me and my family over the past year, and I truly look forward to seeing us continue to grow together and leave the landscape in a better place than where we found it.
Bert H. Steinmann