As Ewing Township sits between Trenton, the state’s capital, and Princeton, an intellect-driven, high-culture college town, its value often gets lost in translation.
Yet, the town’s economic and social significance to the region remains evident. Ewing’s relative proximity to several power-house enterprises such as Capital Health and the forthcoming headquarters of Church & Dwight, the parent company of Arm & Hammer, make it a locus of regional commerce.
Furthermore, to local residents, students, community leaders and elected officials, this town holds great potential to grow beyond its suburban setting. With the Trenton-Mercer Airport expanding its service and a nascent “Redevelopment Plan” for the former General Motors site, it is no wonder that Ewing is so highly regarded by the people who are dedicated to its progress.
“For the first time in a long time, people are excited about what’s happening in the town,” said Councilwoman Jennifer Keyes-Maloney, who has lived in the town since she began her experience at the College in 1995. After serving a full year on Ewing Township’s Redevelopment Agency, Keyes-Maloney brought with her communal warmth as she was sworn into the Ewing Council in November. Having been a student, then a resident, and finally an elected official, Keyes-Maloney has seen Ewing’s many troughs and peaks from a variety of angles. Above all, she noted a newfound excitement for change.
“You’re seeing hope, and with hope comes new energy and new ideas,” Keyes-Maloney said, pointing to ETRA’s recent plan to unite residents and local professionals through a common goal of economic growth.
Building on recent momentum, one long-time resident presented ideas for a town movie theater, and an expansion of the town’s cultural activities and night-life. Steve Kaplan, a Ewing High School band teacher, has lived in Ewing for 25 years and has raised two kids in the town. An avid musician, his claim to civic participation arises annually at Ewing’s Historic Community 4th of July parade.
But like the town’s officials, Kaplan has also reflected some much-needed changes — specifically regarding the long-since-occupied GM lot.
“I don’t know much about the plan, but I’m glad they’re doing it,” Kaplan stated, pleased with the opportunity to voice his opinion.
Although unintentionally, Kaplan highlighted a very significant facet of Ewing life — public opinion.
It made sense then to Ewing Mayor Bert Steinmann that the town would primarily guarantee a secure and enjoyable landscape to not only current residents, but also to potential ones. His primary task in this regard was apparent as he directed the Ewing Township Redevelopment Agency to oversee the remediation of the GM lot at Parkway Avenue.
“I see that these plans have a potential to tremendously benefit the town,” Steinmann said in reference to the Redevelopment Plan.
To drive his plans for Ewing forward, Steinmann also commissioned CWL Planning, spear-headed by Charles Latini, to come up with a way to involve the entire community — students, workers and residents alike.
“This project will put Ewing on the map by connecting rail service with the airport by creating a new and dynamic Town Center that works to enhance the entire area’s character,” Latini said, expressing the motif that Ewing has the opportunity to grow economically.
After the U.S. Bankruptcy Court’s settlement with GM in 2011, many sites similar to Parkway Avenue were put under the care of the Revitalizing Auto Communities Environmental Response Trust.
The RACER Trust, as a part of the court’s decision, has been commissioned to “market and sell 89 former GM locations in 14 states across the country,” according to Bruce Rasher, the trust’s redevelopment manager.
Catering to commuter’s desires and the region’s needs, Rasher has been on board for ETRA’s plans, primarily involving a walker-friendly “transit-oriented, mixed-use” facility. Since Ewing Council’s decision last month determined the former GM lot at Parkway Avenue “in need of redevelopment,” the pleas of long-time residents for a community-driven project seem to have finally been answered.
“We are working closely and cooperatively with the community,” Rasher said in regards to the trust’s work in Ewing. The move toward economic growth came out of both a regional need for “transit-oriented” facilities and a local desire for a place where residents can live and enjoy themselves after work. According to the Redevelopment Plan for Parkway Avenue, the main strategy is directed at “inviting local employees, residents and visitors” to what is staged to become “a hub of commerce and social activity.”
Nicol Nicola, economic policy specialist for the Mid Jersey Chamber of Commerce, reiterated how essential it is to maintain community businesses with a similar perspective to that of Keyes-Maloney: propelling themselves from student to community leader. Remaining involved in Ewing has been a common thread between both of these influential forerunners.
“It’s very important that people are spending their money here,” Nicola said.
In a recent study she conducted for the Chamber, Nicola concluded that Ewing’s industries are comparable to that of the entire state. In fact, according to statistics developed from the U.S. Census Bureau, 34 percent of Ewing’s workforce has at least a B.A., an additional factor considered in attracting business to the town.
“We must work on maintaining the educated workforce,” Nicola said, with several years of personal connection to Ewing in mind. After all, loyal students are a precursor to development in an economy where a college education is in high demand.
If Ewing’s proponents can bridge such a gap, future township improvements may find the broader audience they are looking for.