Economic growth is thriving in Old Bridge, officials report

OLD BRIDGE – With 127 grand opening ribbon cutting celebrations for businesses taking place in the past two-and-a-half years, officials say the economic development and redevelopment in Old Bridge is thriving.

“The real number is 140 because some businesses for some reason don’t accept an offer to hold a grand opening,” said Steve Mamakas, executive director for the Mayor’s Office of Economic Development. “Also [the number] doesn’t account for the doctor offices and professional services opening up in the hospital. So there’s a lot of energy happening in town.”

Mamakas, along with Mayor Owen Henry and Business Administrator Himanshu Shah, shared the successes and status of economic development and redevelopment in the township at a council meeting held earlier in December.

“Our growth has been recognized by the county, the state and nationally through our Amazon proposal,” he said.

Although Amazon did not select Old Bridge for its second headquarters, Mamakas said he is still in contact with Amazon.

“We are talking to the investments and opportunities team,” he said. “We are talking about possibilities that Old Bridge may bring for them. It may be an Amazon Go location or it may be an operation center.”

Mamakas said he, along with the mayor and council, were invited to be panelists for the New Jersey League of Municipalities in November to talk about Amazon, which put Old Bridge front and center.

“Other municipal leaders, state leaders and other mayors were asking questions about what we are doing in Old Bridge, what is going on in Old Bridge, and what we have in Old Bridge in a way of businesses,” he said.

Mamakas said the township has myriad businesses from Hackensack Meridian Health Raritan Bay Medical Center and light industrial businesses to tackle shops and hatchet throwing, with Bury the Hatchet on Route 34.

“The hatchet throwing [business] feeds into our desire of making Old Bridge a destination location,” he said.

Mamakas said his office is constantly receiving inquiries and leads. He said his office also reaches out to any retail and/or commercial entities – warehouses, restaurants, offices and entertainment – that may be interested in looking for other locations.

“It’s part of our strategic planning. … Old Bridge has been around for a long time since the 1700s,” he said. “We like to tell [interested businesses] through our Think Old Bridge campaign that Old Bridge has a historic future.”

Mamakas said a good example is the former Lowe’s store location on Route 9 south. He said the township had a car dealership looking to take the property.

“Currently we are in negotiations with something, but [discussions are] very active,” he said.

Mamakas said his office deals with redevelopment along with economic development.

“Our job is to continuously look for developers to come into our township and develop parcels that we have designated as redevelopment,” he said. “We vet them out and we also look for other areas throughout the township that may fit the criteria for redevelopment.”

Mamakas said there are a couple projects in the works including the Laurence Harbor senior center building, which is part of an affordable housing project, as well as a 39-acre parcel of property on Texas Road between Route 9 and Marlboro Road.

“We are looking for another developer to develop that property,” he said, adding officials are continuously seeking out different developers and moving parcels along.

Henry said the township’s efforts in economic redevelopment and development has resulted in providing a stable tax base.

“The municipal budget is $4 million less than what it was when I took office seven years ago … that’s because of economic development,” he said.

Council members applauded Mamakas and township officials on the successes of the township.

Council vice President Anita Greenberg-Belli said it is obvious there is a lot of positive activity, from small businesses to a hotel. Hampton Inn by Hilton is constructing a 100-room hotel on Spring Valley Road between the intersection of Route 18 and Route 9 south.

Greenberg-Belli said the Kennedy International warehouse on Waterworks Road has been a win-win for the area.

“One would think, how could a warehouse beautify the area? … They did an amazing job with the grounds,” she said, adding there are dedicated employees at the warehouse.

Shah said it is important to recognize the council authorized a PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) agreement for the warehouse, which has generated significant revenue for the township and school district.

Council President Mary Sohor noted the township’s economic development business alliance meetings are an important component to economic successes in the township.

“Sometimes a business comes into town and they have no communication with the township,” she said. “The meetings have a nice atmosphere and allows businesses to share ideas and be part of the town.”

Contact Kathy Chang at kchang@newspapermediagroup.com.