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John Heldrich, a Civic Visionary

November 1st, 2014 by

John HeldrichWe note with sadness the passing of John J. Heldrich, who died Oct. 28 at the age of 88.

In 1975, Johnson & Johnson’s chairman asked John Heldrich to lead a committee that was charged with determining whether the city of New Brunswick, then in a state of substantial distress, could be saved. The group commissioned an in-depth study that found that indeed, New Brunswick did have a future, but only if the business community were willing to commit to being actively involved in its revitalization. The study recommended the formation of a public-private partnership to develop a vision and a plan for the revitalization, and the creation of a real-estate development entity to implement that plan.

Out of those recommendations the community-development organization New Brunswick Tomorrow and the New Brunswick Development Company (DEVCO) were formed. John Heldrich was named chairman of New Brunswick Tomorrow, and Johnson & Johnson made the pivotal decision to stay in the city at a time when many other corporate headquarters were being moved to the suburbs.

Today, New Brunswick has a vibrant and rapidly growing downtown, with robust new development that links transit, employment and education. And John Heldrich’s pioneering commitment to the city seems prescient now, when more and more companies are abandoning their suburban headquarters and moving back into urban areas.

For his civic leadership and his commitment to New Brunswick’s future, New Jersey Future honored John Heldrich at its 25th anniversary celebration – held, fittingly enough, in a newly completed DEVCO building adjacent to the train station in downtown New Brunswick. He leaves a lasting legacy.

For more information on The New Brunswick Study Committee and the American City report, see this report on urban revitalization of New Brunswick, prepared for the 2009 Rutgers Model Congress; and Urban Development in the City of the Traveler, a 2011 Rutgers University history honors thesis.

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