LOWER TOWNSHIP – The Cape May Airport doesn’t need to be a “low rent district” to attract businesses, according to Freeholder Will Morey.
“The tax abatement that Lower is proposing is a helpful, good start for businesses,” said Morey last week, “but the airport has no desire to be a low rent district. We are looking for businesses that can pay market rents.
“It’s important to help businesses start out – but there’s a lot of commercial space in Cape May County and we’re not going to compete here by subsidizing rents. This is valuable property,” he said.
Just last week, portions of the airport were designated a New Jersey Historic District. That designation is widely seen as a compromise that will protect the airport’s historic buildings, while delineating areas open for business.
Morey called the historic designation a “path that honors the great historic value of the naval air station, while also unleashing the exciting economic development prospects that the airport represents to surrounding communities.” He called the airport site critically important to the county’s economic development agenda.
Even with Morey’s desire to attract businesses that can pay “market rates,” a tax abatement plan may be the ticket to pulling new businesses into the property, according to local officials. Airport businesses include a coffee roaster, beer makers, a full-service graphic design firm, as well as an aviation engineering firm.
In December, Deputy Mayor Norris Clark said that a committee to review the tax abatement proposal is being formed.
The idea for tax abatement for airport-based businesses has moved quickly with Lower’s officials, advancing to the top group of ideas vetted by the Economic Advisory Council and winning the support of council members in October.
The program plan’s primary pitchman was Ryan Krill, one of the founders of the Cape May Brewing, who made his presentation at a Sept. 16 council meeting. Krill’s advocacy for the tax program has grown from his small business experience at the Hornet Road microbrewery. There, the two-and-half-year-old craft beer enterprise has grown from a single full-time employee to 10, and from a 50 gallon brewing capacity to a 500 gallon brewing system.
“Invest in the airport and those businesses will invest in Lower Township,” Krill said.
In early 2012, the township revamped its Revolving Loan Fund by establishing new criteria for businesses and getting state Department of Community Affairs grant money back into play. Prior to the update, which was completed by ordinance in April 2012, the program funds had lain dormant for eight years.
Within three months of the overhaul, Cape May Brewing secured a $63,000 loan to help expand their business. Other successful applicants for the money have included a township hardware store and hair salon.