MILLVILLE — Proponents of Cumberland County College’s proposed $7 million Arts and Business Innovation Center here say said the facility could be ready for students by the fall 2014 semester.
What is needed for that to happen is a final funding plan, something that a memorandum of understanding agreed to by CCC and the Millville Urban Redevelopment Corp. on Thursday requires to be in place within six months.
Corporation Director Don Ayres said the agency has already spoken with various funding sources and is confident that a financial plan will be ready by the end of the six-month deadline. Ayres would not identify those sources, but he said some options include tax-credit programs, low-interest loans and some foundations that are still interested in financing redevelopment efforts.
“We wouldn’t have entered into a memorandum of understanding … if we didn’t think we were going to get it across the finish line,” said Ayres, who runs the private non-profit corporation that handles Millville’s economic-development efforts.
CCC officials also are confident.
“Yes, we will move forward,” said John Pitcher, the college’s vice president of finance.
Should that happen, the proposed center at High and Vine streets — which would offer credit and noncredit arts classes, the existing Clay College enterprise on High Street, and the Cumberland and Salem Workforce Education Alliance — would benefit a downtown whose resurgence was stymied by the economic slump of the past few years.
Officials in the city’s Arts District admit that shoppers are spending less on arts items and more on basic necessities. The slump was bad enough for merchants to consider in July 2011 a new marketing plan to increase downtown customer foot traffic and retail sales, stimulate real estate activity and enhance recruitment of potential new businesses.
Arts District Director Maryann Lods could not be reached for comment.
The downtown suffered another blow in September 2011 when city officials said the proposed $25 million Overlook riverfront development project was placed on hold while the municipality and developers reconsidered the plan’s financial risks.
The Overlook development would be built along the Maurice River at Buck and Pine streets. Plans call for a $15 million 108-room hotel, a $6.4 million 15,000-square-foot public library and a $2 million 105-space parking garage.
City officials said the hotel could help pump more shoppers and visitors onto the High Street business district. They also said it could house visitors attending events at the New Jersey Motorsports Park.
Officials will not say that the project is dead, but there has been little public action on the endeavor.
That’s not to say all the downtown business district news is financially depressing: The renovated Levoy Theatre recently reopened, with officials and merchants hoping it will attract shoppers and visitors to High Street.
Mayor Tim Shannon said what he believes is different about the CCC project is that both the college and the development corporation are putting up some money.
CCC officials said the corporation will provide about $2.5 million in capital funding for the project, with the college providing another $1.5 million in state funds.
“It’s not like they’re starting from zero looking for funds,” Shannon said. “They’re going to explore all funding opportunities. With (CCC and development corporation) people putting their heads together, I really believe we have a leg up on the project just because of the quality of people involved. At this point, I think it’s a very exciting project.”
Downtown merchants say they will be grateful for any project that draws more people to High Street.
Foot traffic on High Street has been “up and down,” said Jeanne Cooper, an owner of Apron Strings Dessert Boutique.
Cooper said she’s taken arts classes at CCC, and would like the college to offer more of those classes. She said the 500 students that project developers say could attend the new center each semester should help local businesses.
At the Dew Drop In, a collectibles and antique shop at the Village on High center, owner Todd Fahrer said, “I think anything that brings more people down town is needed.”
Fahrer said CCC’s proposed center will not only attract hundreds of students, but also their parents and friends. That is good for downtown businesses in need of customers, he said.
The proposed center will be a three-story facility totaling 30,000 square feet. CCC will lease about 18,000 square feet for its activities.
Ayres said there is an option to buy some properties behind the building, something that would give the center parking along Vine and Second streets.
Besides getting a final financial package, Pitcher said the other main issue involves CCC and the development corporation working out a lease agreement agreeable to both sides.
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