County awards $6 million grant for arts center

Staff Writer

WOODBRIDGE — The developers of a proposed arts district have been awarded a $6 million grant from the county.

Mayor John McCormac said the developers would receive the $6 million grant from the Middlesex County Cultural and Arts Trust Fund that will help fund several arts-related improvements at the former General Dynamics site, including a theater, artist studios and galleries.

“It’s a serious commitment from the County of Middlesex to further the development of the arts community in the town,” McCormac said. “We tried to do the opposite of what other towns had and what other towns planned.

“There is no point in us copying Rahway or New Brunswick; we wanted to have something different.”

The Avenel Arts Center at Station Village represents a $50 million project that will transform the 27-acre former industrial site into mixed-use community centered on arts-related retail.

The Middlesex County Cultural and Arts Trust Fund Grant will fund development and construction of the Avenel Arts Center at Station Village — which will include an arts village with more than 50,000 square feet of arts-themed retail space and a performing arts center with artist studios, galleries, and rehearsal and performance space.

The project will also include streetscape improvements, lighting, sidewalks, parks and green space.

Located near the Avenel train station, the Station Village at Avenel is slated to comprise 500 residential units, 25,000 square feet of retail space, and a 10,000-square foot arts center. It will also include a 30,000- square foot village green and 20,000-square foot pocket park.

The project is being developed by Atlantic Realty Development Corp., and Mc- Cormac said he expects construction to begin next year.

“They are still in the cleanup phase of the property. Demolition has been completed and escalation is under way,” Mc- Cormac said. “We hope that there is some visible construction by the spring.”

McCormac said there is no timeline to when construction would be completed, and it would be done in phases depending on the economy.

“The faster the units rent, the quicker they will do the next units,” he said. “It’s all market driven.”

The Woodbridge Township Council declared the site as being in need of redevelopment following a study by a planning consultant in 2007. The study showed that remnants of the site’s industrial past were clearly visible, and the facility had fallen into a severe state of disrepair.

“This project was a vision by Caroline Ehrlich of the Woodbridge Redevelopment Authority, and it is tremendously gratifying to see it come to fruition eight years later,” McCormac said.

The industrial use dates to 1916, when Security Steel Equipment manufactured metal office furniture on the site. In 1963, the property was sold to the Electro Dynamic Division of General Dynamics, which used the complex for the manufacturing and assembly of mechanical components for military and industrial equipment until 2000.

Atlantic Realty took ownership of the site last year, allowing the Township Council to abandon a bond ordinance that would have allocated nearly $8 million for the township’s Redevelopment Agency to purchase the property.

The township authorized a payment-inlieu of-taxes (PILOT) agreement that provides a 15 percent discount on the site’s property tax bill for 30 years. The property owner will pay the township an estimated $1 million annually for the site, which currently generates $377,000 in annual property taxes.