Best Practices

 

CITY OF ELIZABETH
Mayor J. Christian Bollwage

Greater Elizabeth Midtown

A "new" energy has swept over the City of Elizabeth, creating a "new Elizabeth." This energy was so pervasive that officials in Trenton felt its impact, then chose Elizabeth as one of only four cities to participate in a pilot program named Urban Strategy.

When making the determination, the State House in Trenton delineated certain criteria that had to be met to qualify as an Urban Strategy city. What these officials did not expect is a nearly completed "strategy," spearheaded by Mayor Bollwage, to revitalize Elizabeth and rebuild its neighborhoods. Over the last two years, the Mayor has launched a city-wide plan to strengthen every region of the municipality.

For the purpose of the state designation, Mayor Bollwage and state officials decided to focus on one particular region: GEM -- Greater Elizabeth Midtown. Approximately 10,000 of the 110,000 city dwellers reside in this tract of land with a below-city-average per capita income. The district is not only a hub for retail shopping in the Special Improvement District (SID), but includes a larger residential area known as Keighry Head.

In the heart of the SID, the Midtown Redevelopment Project has begun to unfold. This special revitalization project will create mixed-use retail, office and residential developments. Provisions have been negotiated by the Bollwage team to create jobs for Elizabeth residents in the area, upon the completion of the new office and retail buildings.

Last summer the Mayor created the Elizabeth Job Club, a unique program designed to appropriately match-up Elizabeth citizens with local businesses. Still, other employment and training programs existed via the Elizabeth Development Company (EDC), a sister agency to the city, to alleviate unemployment in the city.

Other projects related to the Midtown Redevelopment Project will be under construction this year. Shovels are expected to break ground shortly on the downtown train station, linking this community to the world. There have been other discussions of uniting Elizabeth to the international airport through a monorail connection.

The integration of ancillary agencies into the servicing of Elizabeth residents has been unparalleled. The Bollwage administration has coordinated employment and training through the EDC, and its urban enterprise zone program, project development, financial programs providing grants as well as business loans, and other community outreach all support Elizabeth neighborhoods. In 1994 the EDC applied to become the first community development corporation recognized by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, a requirement needed for designation as an Urban Strategy city.

The Mayor's plan called for the participation and integration of the Elizabeth Home Improvement Program (EHIP), an agency that aids residents in their endeavors to purchase a home in the city, as well as rendering guidance on financial and mortgage planning. EHIP's programs are designed for residents of low-to-moderate-income who are purchasing or improving a home for the first time. Trenton officials have noted that housing is a key element in the urban improvement program. The Mayor had made changes in 1993, over two years before the Urban Strategy initiative, designed to afford residents an opportunity to own their own home.

The Mayor also introduced the walking foot patrol police officer to the City of Elizabeth. He assessed the patrolling areas that had not been re-drawn in 32 years. Based on phone calls by residents, the Elizabeth Police Department redistricted police presence to reflect residents' concerns and to break up crime havens.

As it pertains to GEM, walking foot patrol officers are stationed in the vicinity and have developed a relationship with local residents and business owners. Staff at the EDC funded additional police officers and security guards in the GEM area with funds captured in the three percent sales tax collection. All measures are designed to ensure the safety of these and other Elizabeth neighborhoods.

Presently, the city is assembling a residents' group, extrapolating from active citizens in the Mayor's Neighborhood Council meetings, to listen to the needs of the community. Issues will cover a range of improvements from economic development to stamping out unemployment.

Contact: Angie D. Bowen, (908) 289-0262

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