New Life for Neighborhoods

Developer Monique King-Viehland ’99 is transforming a rundown urban university area into a bustling community

by Cheryl Dellecese

Growing up in Trenton, New Jersey, Monique King-Viehland ’99 was always told by her mother that she was destined for greatness. It’s a message she took to heart. These days, as an urban developer extraordinaire, King-Viehland is not only achieving great things, but she is changing the lives of thousands of others by turning broken-down urban areas into thriving cultural, social and retail hubs.

Monique King-Viehland ’99
Urban developer Monique King-Viehland ’99 says nothing is more fulfilling than transforming a community.
King-Viehland is president of Campus Gateway Development, Inc. (CGD), a nonprofit subsidiary of the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) located in the University Heights neighborhood of Newark, New Jersey. University Heights is also home to Rutgers University, Essex County Community College and the University of Medicine and Dentistry. The outcome of a multiyear community development initiative led by NJIT, CGD promotes area development, aesthetic improvement, quality of life and the rehabilitation of University Heights. Under King-Viehland’s leadership, the group does this by creating an urban living environment with amenities, restaurants and recreational activities that serve local campuses and the surrounding community.
With a background firmly rooted in community and economic development, King-Viehland has worked in several cities in Pennsylvania; Trenton, New Jersey; and as a special aide to New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine. NJBIZ recently named her to its “Power 50 in Real Estate”—one of only four women on the list and the only African American—and she is a 2009 inductee of New Jersey’s Martin Luther King Commission Academy of Leaders.
Here she talks about her work in revitalizing Newark’s University Heights neighborhood, and the state of American cities.
What is the timeline for CGD projects?
The project is a ten-year, four-phase, multiyear development. When complete, it will bring more than a billion dollars of investment into the city of Newark. Phase 1 is Warren Street Village, an $80-million, 3-acre, mixed-use residential housing complex, which is currently under construction and scheduled to open in September 2013. We are in discussions with potential developers for Phase 2, which involves construction and rehabilitation of a number of mixed-use structures, which will include parking, retail and residential spaces.
How is this project unique?
It is not often that a university takes such an active role in the redevelopment of the surrounding community.
What will be the outcome once all phases of the project are complete?
University Heights will be a place that is full of life around the clock and throughout the year. It will be a destination place where students, faculty, staff and neighborhood residents live, work and play.
In today’s economy, will urban development projects become more difficult to fund?
Urban development and redevelopment projects were already difficult to finance and the recent economic downturn has made it even more difficult. It means that urban developers now have to be even more creative in terms of underwriting and financing deals. Public-private partnerships are going to be essential, governmental subsidy and/or tax incentives are going to be critical and leverage is going to be a necessity.
Phase 1 of construction
A live webcam follows construction progress. This shot was taken on December 12, 2012.
What are some of the most important things to take into account when revitalizing an urban area?
All urban areas have the potential for revitalization, but potential is only the beginning. You need capital—political capital, community capital and economic capital. Urban development is simply not easy and it takes an all-hands-on-deck approach to get things moving, not to mention a firm understanding of the area’s strengths and weaknesses and an action plan to address the weaknesses and leverage the strengths. Finally, you need a plan to expand the tax base and attract investment.
In general, how are America’s cities doing?
America’s cities are struggling, plagued by shrinking tax places, decreasing support from the state and federal government and restrictions on revenue generations. Cities really need to be creative in order to stem the tide.
Explain what you mean when you say “cities need to be creative.”
By creative I mean working outside of the traditional development model. For example, focusing on public-private partnerships, where the private sector makes the investment and drives the development or incentivizing development, which means selling city-owned properties for less than market and fast-tracking permitting for developments that meet the cities’ redevelopment agenda. Another example would be leveraging non-traditional partners/institutions (large companies, colleges and universities nonprofits) with a vested interest in the city and encouraging them to invest in physical and social development and develop new methods of revenue generation, such as fees for fast-tracked permitting on projects and payment in lieu of tax agreements.
How did your Smith education prepare you for the work you do today?
Smith made me less afraid to walk into a room—where I am often the only woman, and/or the only African American and/or the youngest—and do my job.
What is your advice for alumnae and students who may be interested in pursuing a career in urban development?
This is not for the faint of heart, so you really need to be committed to do this type of work. You need to have a balance of optimism and practicality. But know that there is nothing more fulfilling than playing a role in the transformation of a community because it changes lives.