Once a thriving business and tourist hub in central New Jersey, the downtown area of the Borough of Flemington finds itself largely an irrelevant player in the lives of even its own citizens. As a result, local commercial property owners joined forces and established a business improvement district. The overarching goal of the Flemington BID and the community at large was to understand what could be done to improve the economic climate of the destination. SAG was engaged to assess the individual market support and financial feasibility of various components, primarily the renovation of the historic Union Hotel, but also including a conference and events center, a performing arts facility, the retail and commercial segment, and residential opportunities.
Although the community perhaps made a few missteps in the past that may have exacerbated its current predicament, more than anything else, the Borough was simply the victim of slow, long-term change for which it was ill prepared and caught unawares. Through the study effort, SAG helped the community understand the opportunities that could exist and the steps the community itself would need to embrace and take to bring them to fruition. The community was delivered the hard truth: no easy solutions, no quick fixes. Revitalizing Flemington would take public investment; it would take continued dedication to revitalization efforts; it would ask something of its leaders, its merchants, and its residents; and, even with all of these, it would take time.
Given very limited public resources, the community’s unaccustomed nature of providing such financial incentives and/or taking bold action, and a resistance to material change in general, some in Flemington were eager to shoot the messenger. However, after SAG issued its findings via multiple public presentations, the Borough issued an RFP for a hotel developer; a private sector group formed to champion the possible acquisition of a key parcel that was part of a SAG’s recommended long-term strategic development; and a well-funded theatre company within the region (encouraged by the study and potential of a renovated Union Hotel) had meaningful discussions to purchase the underutilized, downtown Borough-owned building to re-purpose the asset into a permanent community theatre. Furthermore, through SAG’s own initiative during the study process, the owner of the building adjacent to the Union Hotel is eager to be part of Flemington’s solution.