Vacant or underutilized properties are a perennial problem for many municipalities in New Jersey. They are a drain on local budgets, a magnet for vandalism and often times, an aesthetic eyesore that diminishes the landscape of the entire area. However, the Middletown Township governing body has had a number of remarkable successes in reversing that trend in town.
The recent opening of the new Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in Middletown is a huge win on a number of levels. The renovated building had been vacant since Alcatel Lucent closed its doors in 2003. Numerous attempts by the owner to attract a new tenant over the years never materialized, and the site became the target of several commercial tax appeals. In 2013, a joint effort between the State of New Jersey, County of Monmouth and Middletown Township resulted in attracting Memorial Sloan Kettering to the site. The result is a significant revenue generator for Middletown and Monmouth County. It will also create several hundred high paying jobs, which will have a tremendous effect on the local housing market and economy. Perhaps the largest benefit is the availability of life-saving treatment, and cutting edge research and clinical trials in a convenient location in Monmouth County. No more will area residents have to travel to Basking Ridge and New York City for treatment. Further, the Memorial Sloan Kettering staff has already become an integral part of the Middletown community by participating in the Relay for Life cancer fundraiser and Middletown Day celebration before the facility even officially opened. They have transformed a vacant, idle property into a job-creating, life- saving institution.
A different project in Middletown Township with a similar outcome is the renovation of the Pathmark Shopping Center on Route 35 and New Monmouth Road. The facility’s anchor store, a Pathmark Supermarket, closed in 2009. The intervening years have seen the site degrade steadily. Last year, the owner of the property approached the Middletown governing body with a very aggressive plan to completely overhaul the site. In addition, he announced the attraction of two new major tenants, TJ Maxx and Bed, Bath and Beyond. The former had its spectacular grand opening on November 14, with hundreds of people waiting on line at 7:30 a.m. for the doors to open. The state-of-the-art Bed, Bath and Beyond, only the second of its kind in the country, will be opening in the Spring of 2017. Other new tenants will be named in the coming weeks. The entire façade is currently undergoing a complete makeover, with repaving of the parking lot, extensive landscaping and new signage destined to make the center a facility in which we all can be proud.
The renovation and repurposing of vacant or underutilized sites in town is the paramount goal of the Middletown Township Committee. This expands the commercial tax ratable base, creates jobs, rejuvenates blighted areas and provides new services and access to goods – all without impacting open space. While we cannot legally prohibit the development of undeveloped properties, we have made it a policy to strongly encourage, whenever possible, the utilization of existing before building new. The Memorial Sloan Cancer Center and the Pathmark Shopping Center are prime examples of that policy at work.
Mayor Gerry Scharfenberger
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