A silent room and empty chairs greet those attempting to attend Urban Enterprise Zone meetings in Pleasantville.
The lack of state funding and dependence on what is referred to as second generation funds has reduced the amount of activity in the city, but the UEZ is slowly building back up, said director Jacqueline Belton.
“When we were funded, we had meetings every month. Now that there’s no funding, activity has decreased,” she said. “We haven’t had anything on the agenda for the past two months” which is why the meetings have been canceled.
People are anxiously waiting to see progress on the City Center redevelopment project, which is steadily coming along, she said.
“If you look around the region, some projects have just stopped, but we are steadily trying to move projects along,” Belton said.
When state funding dried up, potential was seen in the interest and paybacks from a direct loan program, creating second-generation funds. In the past, the 3.5 percent sales tax collected by local businesses was put into a savings account in Trenton. That practice is no longer in place, and the money that was there was used by the governor in 2010 to help alleviate the state deficit.
Asked if the zone ever sought to disband after losing state funding, Belton said “The UEZ is still in place for businesses to utilize, once qualified.”
The focus is on this loan program in order to build up the account again, Belton said. For the whole history of the UEZ, 90 loans have been approved with only one defaulting since 1997.
The loan amount is capped at $300,000 and can be used for acquisition of land or equipment for the business.
Some of the benefits for businesses include a 50 percent reduction in sales tax for eligible goods, and buying supplies that are needed to run the business or for capital improvement can be tax exempt if bought within the state.
Newer projects or renewed interest projects for the city include the Lakes Bay Redevelopment Area and two new residential developments. One is slated for an area along Reading and Franklin Avenues, which will include 21 single family and twin units for ownership. Another is along California Avenue, at the west end of border, for 64 units with a small commercial component.
The UEZ’s ability to write projects and be a strong partner in blighted areas has decreased, Belton said, which has hampered activity.
The City Center project has received the most attention, and relocation of affected properties was finished in July. The developer and UEZ had an agreement to use funds to buy up property and relocated the commercial and residential tenants. The site is ready to go, but with the economic times, the project is just now reaching the point of getting construction finances together, Belton said.
“Our Pleasantville fathers know the redevelopment projects have to be done in order to turn it (the UEZ) around. They are very committed,” she said.
The state UEZ program could be reached for comment.
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