Lakewood shoppers and merchants could be in for a big surprise soon: more money in their pockets. As of December 2, 2009, Governor Corzine approved the boundary modification plan proposed by Lakewood Township’s Urban Enterprise Zone (UEZ), putting the Town and Country Shopping Plaza, 1990 Route 70, Lakewood, within the “Zone,” a move that should bring about $2 ½ million in revenue each year to Lakewood Township.
Once Town and Country retailers, such as Home Depot, Pet Smart, Staples, and Value City, among others, become certified UEZ businesses, a process that should take about six to eight weeks, both shoppers and merchants will realize tremendous monetary benefits.
Customers who shop at UEZ retailers will only pay 3 ½ percent sales tax instead of 7 percent, a substantial savings especially on big ticket items; and UEZ businesses will be able to purchase supplies or equipment, or make improvements to their businesses, all tax exempt.
In addition, Lakewood Township will be able to use the UEZ funds for approved economic development projects, such as municipal services, police, EMS and fire personnel, road improvements, economic development loans, and other economic stimulus projects.
Lakewood officials have been waiting 15 years for this potential economic boost. Fifteen years ago when Lakewood’s UEZ boundaries were proposed, neighboring towns opposed putting the Town and Country Shopping Plaza in the Zone, claiming that Lakewood would have an unfair economic advantage. Over the last 15 years, however, many businesses, such as Raymour and Flanigan, Lowes, Target, Costco, etc., opened outside of Lakewood’s borders.
“At this point,” says Patricia Komsa, the Lakewood UEZ executive director, “in order to attract businesses along Lakewood’s Route 70 corridor, the state deemed it appropriate to include the Town and Country Shopping Center, which has several vacancies among its twenty-eight available stores.
“The benefits offered by the UEZ program will now allow the businesses there to be more competitive, attract shoppers, gain additional revenue, and increase employment opportunities for area residents.”
Lakewood Mayor Robert W Singer says, “The reauthorization of the UEZ for another 15 years and the inclusion of the Town and Country Shopping Plaza in the UEZ will help augment Lakewood’s tax base and ratables, stimulate employment, motivate job retention, and aid the town in recruiting businesses to the new areas of the zone.
“Having a 3 ½ percent sales tax is an excellent draw for customers to come to Lakewood, make purchases, and patronize the businesses here in Lakewood. There are more than 400 businesses in Lakewood that are certified UEZ businesses. This is just the stimulus Lakewood needs to help revitalize its economy.”
Getting to this point has been a long, arduous process. The current UEZ boundaries could be modified, but the total area within the UEZ could not be increased. Yehuda Abraham, director of business development for Lakewood Township, determined which UEZ areas in the municipality were viable for commercial retention, improved economic activity, and future business development.
Both the Lakewood Development Corporation and the Lakewood Township Committee publicized the proposed boundaries at public meetings, adjusting them according to requests, and finally approved the boundary modification map to be submitted.
Russell Corby, Lakewood Township senior advisor and retired UEZ executive director, presented the boundary modification plan to the Urban Enterprise Zone Authority, Trenton. After the Authority’s approval, the proposal had to withstand the Governor’s review process.
According to Komsa, Lakewood plans to return to the state to seek additional boundary approvals. “This is part of a larger plan to modify our UEZ boundaries. We will be requesting that the remaining modifications not approved in 2009 be reviewed and approved in 2010.”