Freehold’s downtown honored for upgrades

Staff Writer

FREEHOLD — Downtown Freehold Borough has been designated as one of the “Great Places of New Jersey 2013” by the American Planning Association New Jersey Chapter (APA-NJ).

Representatives of Freehold Borough, Monmouth County and the local business organization Downtown Freehold gathered in front of the Monmouth County Hall of Records on Oct. 26 to accept the designation.

The APA-NJ recognizes “unique, exemplary downtowns, streets, neighborhoods and public spaces — four essential components of exceptional communities,” according to a press release from the chapter. The chapter states that “great places” are places where people want to be, not only to visit, but to live and work every day.

Downtown Freehold is honored in the program’s “Great Downtowns” category, which is new this year.

The representatives met at the Metropolitan Café, West Main Street, before the ceremony, where owner Rob Kash hosted a breakfast for guests.

Richard Gatto, the CEO of Downtown Freehold, described the various improvements that have been made downtown in recent years.

Representatives from the APA-NJ included Charles Latini Jr., chapter president, and Paul Gleitz, central area representative, who presented the recognition award to Mayor Nolan Higgins.

Gleitz said the “Great Places” program was created to let people know about the wonderful places in New Jersey they need to visit and learn more about. He said the downtown designation criteria included overall planning and design, bustling shops and restaurants, and outdoor cafes.

“Even as many downtowns have struggled in recent years, Downtown Freehold has managed to survive,” Latini said. “The borough reaps the benefit from forging public and private partnerships and securing the needed investors to attract, retain and grow businesses.”

Latini said the chapter’s hope is that the towns that have been designated as “great places” will serve as examples and inspire officials in other communities to create their own great places and attract new investors.

Higgins said Freehold Borough would not have gotten to this point without the vision of the individuals who formed the Special Improvement District (SID) and the mayor and Borough Council members who supported and facilitated the work of the SID.

“We have always known that Freehold Borough is a great place to live, and we are very pleased to be formally recognized by the American Planning Association,” Higgins said. “We must recognize the work which continues to be done by our governing body, Downtown Freehold, our Special Improvement District, the Monmouth County Board of Freeholders, our friends and partners here in the county seat, and our professionals and volunteers who continue to find ways to make our downtown even greater.”

Higgins thanked the members of the borough’s Land Use Committee.

Councilman George Schnurr, who is a member of the Land Use Committee, said there were five things the governing body has done over the years to improve the downtown — it established the Freehold Center Partnership (now known as Downtown Freehold); it consolidated the zoning board and the planning board into a land use board; it created an historic preservation commission; it created the Freehold Center Core Redevelopment Plan; and it created the Land Use Committee.

Monmouth County Freeholders Lillian Burry and Gary Rich were in attendance at the ceremony. Burry said the designation of Freehold’s downtown as a great place was no surprise to her.

“Things like this don’t just happen,” Burry said. “They take hard work.”

She expressed her support for Gatto and his efforts with Downtown Freehold, as well as the efforts made by municipal officials and members of the community.

A walking tour of the downtown area took place after the ceremony.