Main Street grant program helps improve town centers

BY David Cruz, Senior Correspondent |

Revitalizing downtown Hammonton has been a quarter-century long effort. Through fits and starts and the vicissitudes of the New Jersey economy, town leaders have managed to breathe life into the small Atlantic County town, population 14,000 or so. Monday, Acting Gov. Sheila Oliver came to town to announce Main Street New Jersey and Neighborhood Preservation Program grant recipients, including Hammonton.

“We focus on activities like property rehabilitation, community development planning, code enforcement, public facility improvements and the cost for professional services, like appraisals and engineering,” Oliver said.

In other words, the nuts and bolts costs for cities and towns across the state — from Bloomfield and Montclair, to New Brunswick and Hammonton — to make their downtowns places where residents and visitors alike want to be. In Hammonton, where cafes and small shops have blossomed and cultural assets like the Eagle Theater have thrived, the theater received grants from both programs.

“That will allow this very cool 105-year-old space to really enlargen itself and also to become an even bigger destination which will provide more foot traffic, more visitors, and more enjoyment for residents of New Jersey and beyond,” said Eagle Theater chief strategist James Donio.

Part of the funding will be used to complete work on the Arts Walk, the area that connects the Eagle Theater to the rest of downtown Hammonton. It’s where Jackie Dolan’s Annata Wine Bar has opened a new wine garden, a welcoming space she says, for the extended family of Hammonton.

“You always want to try to do what’s best for your family and create the most comfortable and inviting environment for them. I’m so very happy and proud that together, with the Main Street Arts Walk Committee, we are creating a beautiful and vibrant space for all of our families to enjoy today and for many years to come,” said Dolan.

In all, 20 municipalities got $125,000 Neighborhood Preservation Program grants and 17 others got Main Street New Jersey grants ranging from just under $10,000 to just over $23,000. That’s about $3 million over the next several years so small towns and large can showcase their unique Jersey-ness.