front, with an emphasis on restaurants and the arts.
Burlington, the developers contend, can be a magnet
for young professionals.
“The millennial generation is not looking for a
house with a lawn they have to cut and bushes they
have to trim,” says Ballard, 68. “They want a place
with entertainment. They don’t want to own, they
want to rent.”
Still, Burlington has a long way to go. It suffered
the fate of many small industrial cities in the mid-
20th century, when factories closed and downtown
businesses moved to nearby malls. Subsequent
efforts at revival fell short. Even today, the city’s
commercial heart is dotted with tired storefronts,
including some that are vacant.
WHAT IS DIFFEREN T THIS TIME? Most people in
town say it’s Jim Kennedy, a well-connected redevelopment expert the city hired two years ago.
“He has the political know-how and charm and
honesty to bring it all together and present it in a
way that the city understands,” says Genie Sonstein, a lifelong resident. In 2009, Sonstein and her
husband, Murray, opened the Lily Inn, a tastefully
appointed B&B in a downtown Georgian row house.
The two have been anxiously awaiting Burlington’s
comeback. “In small towns, people are sometimes
afraid to make decisions,” Sonstein says. “Kennedy
has been able to instill that confidence.”
That confidence is based in part on Kennedy’s
track record. A five-term mayor of Rahway and now
principal of Skye Consulting, an economic redevel-
opment organization that helped revitalize several
other New Jersey cities, Kennedy has attracted
heavy-hitter investors, creating much of the momen-
tum for Burlington’s promised revival. He is bullish
about Burlington’s history, central location and in-
nate charm. “Disneyland paid a gazillion dollars to
look like downtown Burlington,” he says.
One of Kennedy’s first initiatives was to convince
the city to hire the highly regarded architectural
landscape firm Olin Studio to explore options for the
waterfront. Using a $100,000 urban-development
grant, the Philadelphia firm surveyed more than
400 residents. Last December, Olin presented a plan
for what the firm’s Richard Newton calls “
Burlington’s front yard.” The 14-acre expanse would include
shaded walkways, a promenade oriented toward the
sunset, a band shell shaped like a boat’s hull, a marina and a living reef.
“It’s a big project for a small city, but they’ve got
the guts to do it,” says Newton, whose firm designed
waterfront spaces in Philadelphia, Annapolis and
Manhattan’s Battery Park.
The Burlington project’s price tag would be about
A year, year and a half
$6.5 million, according to Ballard. “Everyone thinks
it’s great,” he says,
“but now the ques-
tion is, how will we
fund it?” Neverthe-
less, Olin’s water-
front vision helped
reel in developers
interested in several
properties, the larg-
est of which is an
tract that locals refer
to as the gravel lot.
This spring, the city
agreed to sell the
property for $1.8 mil-
lion to Peron Develop-
ment, a Phillipsburg-based company
headed by former governor James
Florio and developer Michael Perrucci.
They plan to build 177 market-rate rent-
al apartments and retail space. Pending
financing, the Pearl Pointe project was
due to break ground by October.
group—a key force
in the revitalization
of Asbury Park (see
(Continued on page 138)
is seen as Burling-
ton’s “front yard.”
from now, you’re
not going to recognize
— Bill Pozniak, Third State Brewery