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Metuchen Downtown Alliance receives AARP Community Challenge grant to help continue expand and repurpose public spaces, outdoor dining and retail

METUCHEN – With the uncertainty of when indoor dining will be allowed to commence again due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, the Metuchen Downtown Alliance has received help to expand and repurpose public spaces, outdoor dining and retail in the borough through the 2020 AARP Community Challenge grant.

“The AARP is providing $19,000,” said Isaac Kremer, executive director of the Metuchen Downtown Alliance (MDA). “We are matching that with staff and volunteer hours … 150 hours of staff time and 500 hours of volunteer time, valued at $21,250. MDA is providing an additional $17,435 in matching funds for total project costs of $57,685. That would make this our largest single project and one of the top investments in livability for any community in New Jersey.”

The MDA is one of three grantees selected in New Jersey along with Trenton Health Team in Trenton and Harvest Family Success Center in Flemington. The project is part of the largest number of AARP Community Challenge grants to date, with more than $2.4 million awarded among 184 organizations nationwide.

Grantees will implement “quick-action” projects to create more livable communities across all 50 states, Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. All projects are expected to be completed by Dec. 18.

In May, Metuchen was one of the first downtowns in the state to proactively implement an outdoor dining plan, which went into effect on June 15, working with borough officials, MDA volunteers, restaurant owners, and the borough’s Parking Authority.

The MDA and Metuchen Chamber of Commerce organized and executed a complex program in roughly two weeks – relaxed numerous borough zoning regulations, parking restrictions, alcoholic beverage consumption, use of public spaces, sidewalks and parking lots – to launch the outdoor dining program including the closure of New Street to traffic to provide open space for outdoor dining Friday to Sunday nights.

Since the outdoor dining plan went into effect, borough businesses have seen an increase in sales with an average increase of 16.2% with Cai’s, Jersey Mike’s and Metuchen Diner reporting double-digit increases in sales, Kremer said.

As of June 14, 29 restaurants and retail establishments are participating in the borough’s outdoor dining plan. The MDA provided direct assistance on submitting reopening grant applications to the borough for Antonio’s Brick Oven Pizza, Brewed Awakening, Café Paris, La Rosa Pizza, Lola’s Latin Bistro, Metuchen News, Orchid Kosher, Pink Lotus, Sumiyaki Japan, and Torino 2.

With the AARP funds, the MDA will continue to assist retailers with expanding outdoors with sales and display spaces, mobile carts and parklets. Alley conversions will eliminate at least one dangerous intersection, Kremer said.

“AARP’s Age Friendly and Livable Communities initiatives have guided our community revitalization efforts since 2017,” Kremer said. “An early grant from AARP New Jersey helped to create Imagination Alley. Now we look forward to helping businesses get through the pandemic by making downtown more welcoming for older adults, which will also make Metuchen a better place for people of all ages.”

Stephanie Hunsinger, state director of AARP New Jersey, said the goal at AARP New Jersey is to “support the efforts of our communities to be great places for people of all backgrounds, ages and abilities and the coronavirus pandemic has only underscored the importance of this work.”

For more information about the Community Challenge projects and AARP New Jersey’s livable communities work, visit www.aarp.org/livable. For more information about MDA, visit www.downtownmetuchen.org.

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