Location: Elizabeth Avenue, Elizabeth (courtesy Don Smartt)
AREA PROFILE Elizabeth Avenue includes a variety of commercial, residential, and industrial uses. The area is quite dense with very few vacancies. Many of Elizabeth Avenue's business and property owners grew up in the area, and some are third generation owners.
Three years ago, the mayor of Elizabeth decided that revitalizing the downtown areas in his town made sense both politically and economically. He commissioned the Elizabeth Development Company to campaign for support of a Special Improvement District. The officer in charge of this project went from door-to-door to sell the idea to businesses on Elizabeth Avenue. Initially twenty people agreed to meet to discuss the ways in which to promote the avenue and ensure growth. These volunteers became the Elizabeth Avenue Steering Committee. The motto for the committee is "assuring our Great City's rebirth." The Steering Committee is the first step in the process of setting up a SID. The members of the committee now have the challenge of selling the SID concept and its advantages to the rest of the merchants. The city has hired Don Smartt of the Community Advocates to consult on and facilitate the organization and planning process. The Steering Committee intends to finance its activities through a combination of assessments, UEZ, and private sector funds.
PROGRAM ELEMENTS (Proposed)
Organizers intend to purchase additional litter containers (possibly funded by UEZ) and to locate new and existing receptacles closer to litter producers. They also plan to remove existing graffiti using the city's 100% reimbursement plan.
The Steering Committee has proposed an educational campaign with the aim of bringing together health department and property owners to address upper floor residential trash and find ways to reprimand violators.
Organizers plan to institute a lighting program to increase public safety. Businesses will be encouraged to leave their lights on in an effort to improve visibility and enhance the appeal of the area. The use of energy-efficient lights will also be encouraged in order to defray costs and minimize environmental impact. Organizers plan to install attractive, well-placed signage and landscaping elements. The proposed district also plans to install banners throughout the avenue, publicizing events and announcing arrival into the district.
Plans include drawing up an inventory of all buildings in the district, identifying "unsafe" and "unsavory" locations, and devising a means to rectify this. The proposed district will also pay for supplemental policing and "hospitality squads."
Strengthen the district's image as a pedestrian friendly neighborhood shopping area; create a sense of place. Advertise Latin/ Continental ambience, personal service, family owned specialty shopping etc. Advertise through multimedia targeting Residents and non-residents. Examples of the modes to use are direct mail with brochure and or newsletter, radio and cable, web site with links to EDC, City and business directory.
Business Development, Retention and Recruitment:
Plans call for identifying and seeking funding to stimulate small business improvement. The proposed district would like to encourage the city to investigate legislation that provides 5-year tax abatements for those who improve their properties. The rationale is to remove the disincentives associated with tax increases that normally result from capital improvements.
Organizers seek to identify and apply for programs that offer financing in the forms of loans, grants or mortgage financing for rehabilitation or new construction, operations or inventories. The also hope to develop a loan program that will improve upon existing loan programs, e.g. 'blended' below market interest rate, three points below prime, or zero percent loans. In addition, the proposed SID plans to promote the use of existing public and private financing programs for new investors. Organizers also plan to develop cooperative public relations, advertising, and media efforts to promote available financing.
The proposed district will seek to fill existing vacancies by identifying available properties and strategically marketing these to recruit complementary uses to the district.
The district also intends to explore membership in business and community development organizations, e.g. National Main Street Program, Downtown New Jersey, and the Council for Urban Economic Development. These resources offer support and training materials and a network of experts to the district.
Plans call for investigating options to provide free parking on holidays, peak times; improving awareness of existing municipal parking lots through the use of attractive and easy to identify directional and lot signage; and upgrading municipal parking facilities by providing lighting, trash receptacles, public telephones and other amenities.
Personal interview with Don Smartt, Community Advocates (consultant to proposed SID). Personal interview with Elizabeth Avenue SID Steering Committee.
Fort Lee, NJ
Fort Lee's Main Street includes a variety of businesses: clothing stores, nail salons, a bakery, and restaurants, including a Blimpie's. Parking is limited, despite a large lot behind Main Street.
Area merchants were initially interested in forming a SID. Merchants were concerned about a lack of parking and the number of vacant parcels in the area and the lack of uniformity in Main Street's storefronts. Sidewalks are active but narrow, limiting streetfront activity. They were interested in street beautification as well as developing better public relations. However, turnout to planning meetings was low, despite the support of a large number of Korean merchants.
A working committee put together a SID proposal for the area, and it was passed initially. However, the mayor was uncomfortable with the assessment system. It was too much like a tax. Many, including the mayor and City Council, changed their minds about establishing a SID and decided to look at other neighborhood revitalization options.
A new Advisory Council was formed to analyze the issue. Based upon their recommendations, the city hired a new Director of Economic and Industrial Development.
Personal interview with Peggy Thomas, City Administrator, Fort Lee.
East Williamsburg, NY
Grand Street between Bushwick Avenue and Union Avenue Manager:
The district began as a merchants association that was organized with the help of the St. Nicholas Preservation and Development Corporation. St. Nick's provided legal and administrative assistance throughout the BID's formation and continues to offer aid and support.
The district contains commercial, industrial, and residential uses with comparison and convenience shopping. Retail stores include sporting goods, shoes, clothing, records, grocery and dry cleaning businesses. The district also includes two moderately sized supermarkets and several medical centers. The district serves the East Williamsburg area containing a broad mix of ethnic groups.
The SID's staff consists of one full-time manager, Leonard Battle. Mr. Battle makes it a priority to have frequent personal contact with business and property owners, residents, and community leaders.
A consultant has just completed a neighborhood revitalization plan to help the district focus its energies and develop new approaches. The plan takes into account community demographics, merchant and shopper surveys, and community publications.
The BID sponsors a number of promotional events each year. Examples of these are the Annual Thanksgiving Raffle and the Annual Back to School Promotion that encourages merchants to extend products and services to the entire school district. The BID co-sponsors many projects with St. Nick's from which it rents office space and shares secretarial assistance. The BID also publishes a merchant newsletter named "The Grand Merchant", that emphasizes the needs of the merchants in a timely fashion. The BID is expanding its promotional efforts with increased focus on Mother's Day, Father's Day, Christmas/New Year's, and other seasonal events.
The BID provides the district with holiday lights and decorations each holiday season.
The district considers graffiti removal its biggest project. The BID contracts with a painting company which paints over storefront and wall graffiti once a month. The BID has also contracted with a sanitation company to provide supplemental sanitation services. The sanitation crew sweeps the sidewalk and 18 inches into the street five days a week.
Personal interview with Leonard Battle, Manager, Grand Street BID.
New York City Department of Business Services. 1997. Starting and Managing Business Improvement Districts. New York City, NY. July.
Central Business District downtown Trenton
Trenton is the County seat and the State Capitol
East State Street from South Stockton Street to Calhoun Street,
Bank Street to Lafayette Street
The 15-block district contains a mix of both private and public properties. The private properties includes a range of small retail predominantly eating establishments - fast food and sit down dining, low cost clothing stores and personal service businesses including dry cleaners, convenience stores, shoe repair, and professional firms - law offices, accountants, foundation offices. These private businesses serve to support the downtown government offices within the immediate area. Major public components of the district are the State offices of the Department of Taxation, the Department of Community Affairs and the Economic Development Authority, not to mention the Capitol complex itself. Although most of the restaurants and a majority of the upper-end retail establishments including a florist and jeweler cater to the office and government workers, the District does obtain a large customer base from the neighboring North Ward, Canal Banks area, an Urban Coordinating Council Zone. This residential component is composed of the city's large proportion of African American and Latino ethnic groups and is the most economically depressed area within the city and the region. Hence the downtown area must cater to both a middle to upper middle class daytime, weekday worker and a low income night time and weekend city resident.
The future development for the area includes a 165-room hotel by Marriott that will be linked to a renovated War Memorial building and concert hall. In addition, there are plans for a light rail trolley bus system connecting the downtown to the Train Station, and a new multipurpose arena by the Mercer County Improvement Authority (now under construction) just down the street in the neighboring Capitol South Main Street Program project area. Although the district's book store just closed and several properties lay vacant and boarded, in addition to the hotel, recent additions to the district include a café and two upper scale ethnic restaurants - one with evening jazz entertainment.
It is important to note that the City of Trenton works very closely with the Trenton Downtown Association. The manager often has direct contact with the mayor himself. Of the 21 Board members, four are city officials, including the Director of Housing and Development and the Director of Economic Development. David Schure, the program manager, indicated that this close involvement with the city government and their continued personal support is vital to their organization. Having the Chairman of Corestates Bank as President of the Board certainly does not hurt them either and provides a wealth of financial experience from which to draw.
Another interesting factor is that the SID was established with little to no resistance from property owners. The Trenton Merchant's Association, which is still in existence, paved the way for the SID's birth. After a long period of drought, the business owners felt they really had no alternative but to join to make the streets cleaner and more secure. The quarterly average assessment for a small business in the district is approximately $150 and is more than enough considering the ample amount of UEZ funds. Property owners do not find the assessment a burden.
David Schure, the manager, makes himself personally known to the business owners so that they feel free to approach him with problems or with new ideas. Many credit the area's rapid growth to his dynamic personality and leadership.
The SID's Board of Directors is composed of 21 members: 10 SID businesses; 1 bank personnel (President); 4 government officials; and 15 SID property owners.
The dedication of funds to various programs is decided at an annual Board retreat. These programs include the following:
Advertising only makes up 5 percent of the budget and involves 'guerilla' marketing strategies, much more labor intensive than media oriented. Pamphlets, a monthly newsletter and calendar of events, a new website, and posters account for much of the advertising budget.
Physical improvement programs include a façade renovation grant program, landscaping and street repair, banners and signage, and most importantly approximately 20 percent of the budget is dedicated to a sanitation / maintenance crew to keep the streets clean. Most of the street improvements are accomplished through UEZ funding or the city's capital budget and do not factor into the district's annual budget.
Other programs sponsored by the Trenton Downtown Association include lessons in how to provide better service policies for customers so that the downtown can offer the personal service that the nearby Mercer Mall and Quakerbridge Mall can not. The association offers a class in how to design window displays so that they entice customers.
The BID sponsors a number of events throughout the year to enhance and lure customers into the downtown. These events include a farmer's and craft market on the commons area - a portion of the district closed to vehicular traffic and Heritage Day sponsored in conjunction with the City celebrating the beginning of summer and the year long efforts of the local businesspeople. Holiday decorations including a tree lighting ceremony on the commons and seasonal lights. Summertime sidewalk sales are frequently employed to drum up business during peak consumer seasons. The Corestates Bike Race that brings the region's bike enthusiasts to the downtown is another major event sponsored by the local Corestates branch located in the center of the SID.
Approximately 10 percent of the budget is devoted to a part time security patrol which is often employed in full force during major events. Bike patrols with off duty policemen here are the most helpful. It is hoped that when the new hotel enters the scene, the bellman's 24 hour presence coupled with more bodies on the street will help to alleviate the crime problem after hours.
Future plans include a new plaza area funded through Urban Enterprise Zone monies (the district is part of the UEZ zone) and the creation of an arts community within the district to establish a night-time residential base. Here both programs are a cooperative effort of the SID and a non profit as well as city government. The SID does not close any doors to those willing to help.
Personal interview with David Schure, Manager, Downtown Trenton SID.