In 1997, Cranford officials came to
grips with the fact that $3 million of streetscape improvements
and thousands of dollars spent on events and promotions
had not resulted in the kind of revitalization this
town anticipated when it created New Jersey's first
Special Improvement District (SID) 13 years earlier.
activities did not hurt the downtown’s image,
but did little to encourage business recruitment,
development of new retail and residential spaces,
or reinvestment by existing business and property
owners. The turnaround began the following year
when the township commissioned DANTH, Inc. to
assess the business district’s obstacles
and opportunities. The report, which has since
been leveraged to obtain Smart Growth grants and,
ultimately, a New Jersey Transit Village designation,
laid out the primary drawbacks of this traditional,
suburban downtown located in the heart of Union
Most of the retail space was
small - less than 2,000 square feet - and located
on the northern side of the downtown. The report
showed that there were significant opportunities
to build larger stores on the southern side of
the district. Township officials also began to
realize that the Raritan Valley Line, which bisects
the downtown, should become the centerpiece that
links the district, not divides it.
Cranford, NJ Transit Village Area
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By 2000, Cranford Township had designated
two underutilized sites as “Areas in Need of Redevelopment,”
and major projects are now underway in these areas:
• The Cranford Crossing redevelopment project,
being built by Westminster Communities, with 22,000
square feet of retail space, 50 condominiums and a
310-space parking garage, is adjacent to the train
line. Elizabeth Arden Red Door Spa will be the anchor
tenant for the retail space.
• The township is in negotiations with S. Hekemian
Group, designated developers for the Riverfront project.
This $45 million project, located across from the
train station and along the Rahway River, is scheduled
to have about 25,000 square feet of retail space,
25,000 square feet of office space, and 100 residential
units with a parking garage.
in 2000, Cranford received a Smart Growth grant
that was used to develop a Downtown Vision Plan,
a blueprint that identified growth areas for new
retail and residential units and provided recommendations
for parking, pedestrian and public space improvements.
The result is that nearly $20 million in private
investment has been made in downtown Cranford,
mostly by existing business and property owners
for building renovations or opening new stores.
These investments have not only included the upgrading
of retail space, but also the renovation of previously
vacant upper floors into highly desirable apartments
due to the proximity to public transportation.
The investment trend has even
spilled over to the outskirts of the downtown.
The Township designated several areas in need
of redevelopment or rehabilitation to encourage
development with the ability to set design standards
that preserve the community’s history and
character. These areas are outside of the SID
but still within the Transit Village boundaries.
Several projects, including banks, age-restricted
housing and a pharmacy chain, are under construction
or in planning.
Construction on the Cranford Crossing project
Cranford received a $200,000 grant
upon designation as a Transit Village (2003). The funds
were used for a year-long study of traffic circulation,
parking and pedestrian improvements that would be necessary
to accommodate current conditions and anticipated growth.
Township officials worked closely with planning and
Transit Village officials at the NJ Department of Transportation,
NJ TRANSIT and a consultant, Vollmer Associates. The
final report has already proven to be a valuable tool
for elected officials, the planning board and professional
Mayor George Jorn emphasized this comprehensive
approach in a letter to township residents: “We
are seeing economic development and downtown revitalization
at its best; projects that will bring new retail, people
living and working downtown and attractive public spaces
for all to enjoy. My colleagues on the Township Committee
are committed to sensible and sustainable growth that
respects and blends easily into our town.” He
added, “Cranford is fortunate to have development
partners, State and Transit officials who understand
that goal. Development is not short term but something
we will live with for a very long time.”