Rahway Survey Results Encouraging for New Jersey Regional Development
Last week, The Actors Fund Housing Development Corporation (AFHDC) launched its new e-newsletter, Housing Previews! We thought we’d share one of this issue’s stories here – a take on the results from our recent Rahway Artists Housing Survey by Carol Ann Herbert, Chair of the Planning Committe, New Jersey State Council on the Arts. (Click here to read the rest of Housing Previews, and you can subscribe here.)
Carol Ann Herbert is a member of the New Jersey State Council on the Arts and chair of its planning committee. Ms. Herbert has also served on the board of the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies from 2008 to 2011 and is currently a trustee for the New Jersey Theatre Alliance as well as a board member and vice-chair of the Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation.
As a member of the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, I spend a lot of time working with colleagues, organizations, and citizens to advance Governor Christie’s goals to foster thriving artistic endeavors and contribute to the growing vitality of the creative economy in our state’s diverse communities. While originally intended to measure market demand for their affordable artist housing development in Rahway, NJ; the results of a survey conducted by the Actors Fund Housing Development Corporation have important implications for these pursuits.
The mission of the New Jersey State Council on the Arts is to improve the quality of life in the state by helping the arts to flourish. In addition to inspiring, entertaining and connecting meaningfully with residents, artists and non-profit arts organizations move more than a billion dollars through the state’s economy every year. This is why one of the specific goals of the Council is to build a state economy whose community and economic development strategies, plans and resource allocations at all jurisdictional levels feature the arts and culture. When I learned about the Actors Fund Housing Development Corporation (AFHDC) and discovered that it was planning projects in New Jersey, I was encouraged. Here is a group that recognizes both the human and economic impact of the arts.
When I discovered that the AFHDC has been officially named the redeveloper of a site in Rahway, NJ and plans to develop a building called the Rahway Residence for the Arts, I was even more encouraged. Rahway, a small city 21 miles southeast of Manhattan and located on the New Jersey Transit Northeast Corridor line, has been developing a vibrant arts scene as a revitalization strategy for the last decade. In 2007, the city completed a renovation of a historic 1,300-seat Vaudeville theatre located in the heart of downtown, which now houses the Union County Performing Arts Center. This September, a new purpose-built theatre, Hamilton Stage, opened a few blocks away and is providing opportunities for residents to experience the likes of American Repertory Ballet and Strangedog Theatre. With these two theatres, as well as galleries and city-sponsored arts programming, downtown Rahway seems a perfect fit for affordable artist housing.
In August, the AFHDC launched a survey of visual and performing artists, as well as others working in associated creative professions, to measure demand for the project they envisioned, which included 60 apartments and a cultural space that could be used both by residents to practice their art and the larger community. The New Jersey State Council on the Arts supported this survey and assisted in its promotion.
The survey remained open online for one month and over one hundred organizations assisted in publicizing it to applicable individuals. The full survey report, published this week, shows strong results. While the full report contains 60 pages of data and analysis, I will pull out a few of the most salient items here.
725 people out of 1,072 who took the survey (68%) expressed interest in relocating to the Rahway Residence for the Arts. Only four of these respondents currently lived in Rahway. As the project is currently conceived, it could bring as many as 126 new residents to the city, representing more foot traffic in the downtown; more dollars spent in local restaurants, shops, and convenience stores; and more homegrown creative capital. Just think of the numerous possible collaborations with the existing arts facilities in the immediate vicinity.
74% of interested respondents did not know about Rahway’s status as a growing center for the arts, but were excited enough by the project description as well as what they read about Rahway and other Actors Fund housing facilities that they felt the Rahway Residence for the Arts could be a home for them. This represents an opportunity for the City of Rahway, its businesses, landlords and non-profit arts organizations to capture new markets by continuing to raise awareness about their unique offerings.
Additionally, 82% of the interested respondents are currently engaged in work in New York City. Considering that the Rahway Residence for the Arts will be a three-block walk from Rahway’s New Jersey Transit train station and a 40-minute ride to Manhattan’s Penn Station, this piece of data indicates the power of transit-oriented development.
Overall, 68% of interested respondents were living outside of northern or central New Jersey, including the 32% living in Manhattan. This suggests potential for the region to attract residents from elsewhere by providing transit-accessible, affordable housing alternatives linked to exciting cultural activities.
From my perspective as a member of the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, the results of this survey suggest the possibility for cities and towns of our state to replicate this strategy and cultivate a strong creative economy. Proximity to Manhattan can be a benefit, but so can local assets such as historic theatres, committed leadership, and artistic, entrepreneurial residents. The Rahway Residence for the Arts is truly an exciting initiative and we at the Council will be enthusiastically supporting it through its next stages of development.
Editor’s Note: The full survey report can be found here. Along with our development partners, the Ingerman Group and Crawford Street Partners, AFHDC will be applying for low-income housing tax credits to raise equity for the project in the spring of 2013.
Learn more about the Actors Fund Housing Development Corporation, as well as all the free and confidential program and services of The Actors Fund. Learn more about the New Jersey State Council on the Arts.