Mayoral candidate: Rick Proctor, Democrat

Note: The two major-party candidates for mayor were invited to submit a blog post (no more than 750 words) about their redevelopment platforms. Entries were edited only for spelling and style. Also on the ballot in the Nov. 2 election are three At-large City Council seats. Today’s post comes from Democrat Rick Proctor. Republican Pat Cassio appeared Monday morning.

Redevelopment agencies are one of the most important tools a community has to help breathe new life into areas in need of revitalization, economic development and new opportunity. In 2000 the City of Rahway recognized the need to revitalize and reinvest in the downtown area, as well as the outlying areas, and created the bipartisan Rahway Redevelopment Agency. Revitalization has not only provided funding for new development but has attracted new business and provided investment as well as units for sale and rent to supplement and provide vitality to the city’s downtown area.

Redevelopment/revitalization projects that have been completed as well as those planned to be
completed when the economy turns around, will provide an additional $160 million of property value that will result in approximately $7 million of property taxes. The Carriage City project consisting of a 100-room Hotel Indigo and 220 residential units pays $1,245,827 in property taxes annually.

Revitalization of our downtown area is much more than new construction replacing blighted areas; it is and should consist of programs such as the following which I fully intend to support:

1. The Façade Improvement Program: As a property owner, this program can help improve commercial storefronts for very low out-of-pocket cost, what begins as a loan will convert to a grant if the improvements are maintained.
2. Mini-Façade Improvement Program: This program is similar to the above, but it is available to the lessee (with property owner consent) and is given as a full grant. This grant does not need to be paid back. The lessee would be entitled up to $3,000 to fix up and make minor exterior improvements to commercial buildings.
3. Sign Grant Program: This program provides grants and loans to commercial businesses within the downtown area to provide for signs and awnings and would not only bring attention to the individual businesses but will provide a theme throughout the downtown.
4. Art Rent Subsidy Program: I would recommend and work to implement this program to eliminate vacant stores by encouraging artists to move their business into the downtown area and request property owners to provide a rent subsidy to have their vacant buildings occupied.

5. Streetscape Programs: I would continue to work to obtain state and federal grants to provide for continued streetscape programs inclusive of street lights, sidewalk improvements, crosswalk improvements, intersection improvements and tree plantings within our downtown area. In the past several years the city received over $1 million for programs such as these and I will continue to make every effort to realize grant money for this purpose.

Most of the above listed programs can be paid for by Community Development Block Grants received from the federal government and distributed by the county. In this regard, the city has received over $100,000 of grants for the façade and sign programs. I believe my experience as a Union County freeholder and relationships that I have with federal lawmakers will be beneficial in obtaining future grants in this regard.

Let me say that I recognize there must be an open and transparent relationship with all business leaders in the city and will encourage open meetings to solicit ideas from local businesses as well as local business organizations to obtain information that will be useful in the coordination of the revitalization of our city. I propose a “one stop center” in city hall to help new business owners, residents and developers navigate the sometimes complex maze of board approvals, permits and licensing requirements.

Further, I intend to meet with not only the city bipartisan Redevelopment Agency but will reach out to mayors and downtown managers of other main street communities in the state to share ideas and concepts as to the best methodology for attracting commerce to the city.

During these difficult economic times we must continue to make prudent and economical decisions that will result in economic gain for the future. In this regard, I continue to support the progress that has been made regarding the Arts District and have been encouraged by experts in this field that investment in cultural arts will not only attract new residents and businesses to the city, but will bring people from all over the state to Rahway as they recognize the cultural diversity that Rahway is undertaking and this will be the economic engine for revitalization until such times as the market trends improve.