HIGHTSTOWN: Borough a finalist for Main Street program

By Matt Chiappardi, Staff Writer
   HIGHTSTOWN — The borough is one step closer to becoming part of the Main Street New Jersey revitalization program.
   Out of 14 applications the state Department of Community Affairs received this year, Hightstown is one of the five finalists, said Main Street New Jersey Coordinator Jef Buehler.
   Ryan Rosenberg, executive director of the Downtown Hightstown organization, which sponsored the borough’s application, greeted the news with enthusiasm.
   ”We’re very excited to have the chance to possibly work with Main Street New Jersey as we look forward,” said the former borough councilman.
   Mr. Rosenberg said officials from the DCA, the state Department of Transportation, and the state Office of Smart Growth paid the borough a visit about a week ago to evaluate its chances of participating in the program.
   ”We had a very candid conversation about our strengths and the issues facing the town,” Mr. Rosenberg said.
   The primary issue that gave state officials pause was local economics, Mr. Rosenberg added.
   ”Economics are a big factor in everything especially this year with the economy and our being such a small town with limited resources to draw from,” Mr. Rosenberg said.
   However, he said officials were impressed with the borough’s large volunteer base and the town’s layout and infrastructure.
   Another former councilman who is a member of Downtown Hightstown, Mike Vanderbeck, said this week that he’s confident the borough will be participating in the program soon.
   ”We would be such a great match with the program,” he said.
   ”One way or another, depending on the tier, we’ll be affiliated with it soon,” he added.
   Mr. Vanderbeck was referring to the level of participation a municipality can have in the program. Hightstown is applying for something known as a partner designation, which limits some of the program services the borough can take advantage of.
   Full designation requires a financial commitment of $50,000, but Downtown Hightstown was only able to raise about $40,000 through private donations.
   There are also two lesser designations known as “affiliate community” and “aspiring community.”
   If the application is ultimately accepted, the borough would have access to a host of free technical assistance as well as marketing and business development tools.
   Nearby towns that already participate in the program include Lawrence and Plumsted.
   The DCA is scheduled to make its selections sometime in mid-October, Mr. Rosenberg said.
   DCA spokeswoman Lisa Ryan declined to comment saying it would premature to discuss any of the applicants before a selection is made.