Gov. Phil Murphy, center, speaks during a round table discussion of the Main Street New Jersey program at the Montclair Fire Headquarters on Thursday, April 12. Also pictured are Montclair Mayor Robert Jackson, left, and Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver. ERIN ROLL/STAFF

By ERIN ROLL
roll@montclairlocal.news

Gov. Phil Murphy and Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver came to Montclair on Thursday, April 12, to announce that the state was restoring Main Street New Jersey, a community program that helps build up downtown areas.

“It’s an honor to be here in one of our great counties and one of our great communities,” Murphy said.

Main Street New Jersey is a program aimed at strengthening downtown areas around the state. This year, the state announced that it would be restoring funding for the program, as well as for the Neighborhood Preservation Program (NPP).

The round-table talk was held at the Montclair Fire Headquarters on Pine Street. The participants included Mayor Robert Jackson, Freeholder Brendan Gill, Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo, Montclair Center Business Improvement District (BID) President Phil Cantor, BID executive director Israel Cronk, Orange Mayor Dwayne Warren and Bloomfield Mayor Michael Venezia.

“For whatever reason, both of these programs were left to die on the vine during the previous administration,” Murphy said.

The budget would restore funding for both programs. Main Street New Jersey had been de-funded last year, while the Neighborhood Preservation Program was de-funded in 2010.

When the Main Street New Jersey program came into being, Montclair’s downtown vacancy rate was at 55 percent, Murphy noted. Today, he said, it is closer to 6 percent. “You need not be a doctoral calculus Ph.D student to know that is huge progress,” he said.

The round-table talk, held at the Montclair Fire Headquarters on Pine Street, included Mayor Robert Jackson, Freeholder Brendan Gill, Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo, Montclair Center Business Improvement District (BID) President Phil Cantor, BID executive director Israel Cronk, Orange Mayor Dwayne Warren and Bloomfield Mayor Michael Venezia.

All three towns represented at the table were emerging as transit hubs, or cities built around mass transit and had walk-ability, Oliver said.

“Our millennials want walkable communities, access to their lattes, their Macchiatos, their fresh food, and Neighborhood Preservation and Main Street will enable the proprietors of businesses in these communities to offer millennials what they want,” said Oliver.

The fire headquarters on Pine Street is next door to Montclair’s Bay Street train station.

“If we can’t get the trains to run on time in New Jersey, it will continue to erode our economic growth,” Oliver said. So it was crucial, she said, to build up infrastructure along with business and residential areas.

The state just made a “historic” investment in NJ Transit in order to improve the transit agency’s infrastructure and on-time performance, said Murphy. The state budget presented in March includes $242 million for NJ Transit.

“So enough of this NJ Transit being a laughingstock,” he said.

The state will also be conducting an audit of some of NJ Transit’s finances, including a recent infusion of money for the transit agency’s budget. “It certainly didn’t seem to go to on-time services,” Murphy said.

The governor said it was crucial that New Jersey reinvest in its transit infrastructure, since New Jersey is the most densely populated state in the country, it’s fourth-smallest geographically and located next door to one of the world’s biggest markets.

At one point, Jackson noted that Montclair was increasingly popular as a town for families. And he joked that Montclair’s population increases exponentially on the weekends, as visitors from out of town come to visit the shops, museums and eateries. But that in turn required more of the town’s police, fire and public works crews, he said.

All of the members of Montclair’s township council were in attendance, along with BID staff members, Montclair fire personnel, members of the Bloomfield Center Alliance and other county officials.

After the meeting, Councilwoman Renee Baskerville said that she was especially excited about the Neighborhood Preservation Program , noting that several neighborhoods in Montclair’s Fourth Ward could qualify for NPP grants. “No better place than Montclair to kick this off,” she said.