As the Maplewood Village Alliance asked the Township to increase its contribution to the organization, Maplewood leaders in turn are asking for the business alliance to increase its own contribution by raising its assessment.
MVA is the management organization of the Maplewood Village’s special improvement district, a private/public initiative that is largely funded by an assessment of commercial properties in the district’s boundaries.
MVA Director Deb Yohannan presented an update to the Township Committee at a budget hearing in February. Yohannan reported on the Alliance’s continued work promoting the Village through events (including the new Plaza Night), marketing (including a new marketing committee with Amy Howlett of the General Store), building relationships with merchants (including a new merchant committee), recruiting businesses (Chaise Fitness and Brave Floral now opened, with Ani Ramen and Luna Stella coming soon), providing information and trouble-shooting around the sidewalk paver project, and continued work to improve and communicate about parking.
(See Yohannan’s report below.)
Township Committeeman Dean Dafis made it clear that he was delighted with Yohannan’s leadership as the new downtown manager, calling her “incredibly resourceful and hard working.”
However, Dafis, Mayor Vic DeLuca and Deputy Mayor Frank McGehee all questioned why the Alliance was not proposing an increase in its assessment for 2019 (meanwhile the Springfield Avenue Partnership was proposing one).
DeLuca noted that the proposed assessment revenue of $56,043 for 2019 is different than 2019 only because the 2% increase didn’t “kick in” for the whole year in 2018, but he ultimately asked that the Alliance raise its assessment by 5% for 2019.
Said McGehee, “We also have to be cognizant that expenses are increasing. I don’t want to put any burden on merchants … but the landlords have obligations to the town and the merchants.”
DeLuca noted that the Alliance was asking for an increased contribution from the town, going from $13,500 in 2018 to $14,100 in 2019. The Mayor noted that the Alliance was 59% funded through its assessment and 15% through township. However, the Township was also providing additional services by funding a coming parking study and a vision plan through the Department of Community Affairs (DCA), as well as picking up the cost of the paver project.
“There is the feeling that this is underfunded,” said the Mayor, of the assessment.
Dafis stressed repeatedly that “increasing the assessment is not punitive.”
“As your liaison all year last year, we’ve talked about this,” said Dafis. “This idea that the SID is a public private partnership … and that means that going forward despite historical practice we really need to own that as [the Alliance] board.” Dafis serves on the MVA’s board as it Township Committee liaison.
Dafis continued, “The [MVA] board needs to understand that without monies coming in from the assessment as new developments come, as the Village becomes more successful … our costs are only going up and we cannot keep doing things the way we are doing them.” Dafis said that the assessment was a duty that “every property owner has to contribute to a [system] from which they benefit.”
“We have authority up here [as the Township Committee] to raise the assessment,” said Dafis, “but we want to see the [MVA] board say that ‘we want that, so we can do all the things we want.'”
DeLuca urged Yohannan and MVA Board members Alan Weiser and Ellen Davenport to “take a look at your board.”
“I continue to urge you to get the merchants involved in leadership roles,” said DeLuca, while giving Yohannan credit for the new merchants that she had already involved.
DeLuca said he proposed a 5% increase in the assessment. He said that the impact would be minor on the property owners’ pocketbooks as the total generated by the increase would amount to $2,802 across the 44 properties in the Village.
Nonetheless, DeLuca felt the modest amount was a long-overdue step in the right direction for the Village’s property owners. “As more of these shops open, there’s going to be more demands on the Alliance, and you don’t have the resources to do it,” said DeLuca. “Rip the bandaid off this time. Do the 5%. That’s my recommendation.”
Township Committeewoman Nancy Adams recommended term limits for MVA board members. “You’re going to look at your bylaws?” she asked.
Yohannan replied, “Yes.”
To end the Alliance’s portion of the hearing, both McGehee and DeLuca reinforced their desire for the two districts — Springfield Avenue and Maplewood Village — to work together
“Please cross promote events with the SAP. We’re one town,” said McGehee.
Said DeLuca, “The ‘One Maplewood’ approach – we’re going to have to work on that. … I have been disappointed the last two years with lack of participation from Maplewood Village merchants in Black History Month. …. Between the movie theater and the book store and even the restaurants, there could have been a lot more. We rolled everything out without them because they were unprepared.”
Correction in the MVA report: There was NOT a community meeting on the 104 Baker Street Redevelopment Plan on February. Maplewood Planning Board review of the plan was scheduled for Feb. 12 but canceled due to weather.