Developments along Valley Street are changing the dynamics of South Orange Village Center — changes that could be reflected in new boundaries and the budget for the Village Center’s special improvement district in 2016.
In a presentation to the South Orange Village Board of Trustees on Monday night, leaders of the South Orange Village Center Alliance, the non-profit tasked with managing the SID, enumerated the Alliance’s many accomplishments of 2015, as well as its goals and proposed budget for 2016.
Matt Glass, Chair of the SOVCA Board of Directors, thanked his “lively” board (members are listed in the presentation below) who meet every third Wednesday of the month at 8 a.m. at 76 South Orange Avenue. He invited members of the public to attend. Glass also thanked SOVCA Director Bob Zuckerman and the “incredible and amazing” Melissa Hodge, SOVCA’s events and operations associate, for their work.
Then Glass got down to the business of enumerating SOVCA’s many successes in 2015: A tremendous 2nd annual PlayDay that attracted more than 3,500 people to play in the streets in September and brought in $25,000 in cash sponsorship; Downtown After Sundown which included more than 80 concerts; the Farmers Market which grew in size and diversity (soaps, accessories); the burgeoning Halloween at Spiotta Park and trick-or-treating with Village merchants; the Elf Parade and tree lighting; and the Pop ‘N Shop. Glass noted that both Halloween and the tree had their best years ever. He also noted that the organization was looking to have another pop-up shop in June due to the success of the Holiday shop.
One event that disappointed was Small Business Saturday which brought in half the amount of participation as last year. In talking to other towns, Glass found that SBS traffic was down everywhere, probably due to the fact that American Express, which created the event, was no longer giving small business credits for the day.
Glass also enumerated SOVCA’s behind-the-scenes work: advocating for businesses, scrubbing the town code to remove business-unfriendly ordinances, facade and awning design, providing new trash and recycling cans, simplifying the process for al fresco dining and getting the fee waived, senior discount cards, and more.
SOVCA is also working on the big picture, said Glass, helping to ensure that the development in the Village Center is “done correctly” with the “correct density.” He noted that SOVCA leadership is concerned about the traffic impact of development.
Another large part of SOVCA’s job is business recruitment, with Zuckerman researching other towns and canvassing for merchants. SOVCA keeps an inventory of vacant spaces, hosts broker cocktail parties, and is stewarding recruitment for 3rd & Vallley “We should have an announcement soon” concerning a retail tenant at that development, said Glass. He also noted that “things are happening behind the scenes [at the group of buildings including Blockbuster] that we hope will move forward in 2016.”
Other duties such as marketing, communications, and sidewalk cleaning were detailed and can be found in the report attached below.
Zuckerman then took to the podium to talk about the expansion of the district southward on Valley Street — to encompass two new major developments at 3rd & Valley and 4th & Valley.
“Valley Street is changing,” Zuckerman noted succinctly, explaining that SOVCA had worked with Jef Buehler of Main Street New Jersey to ensure that it “did not bite off more than you can chew.” Zuckerman noted that the district would not be expanded any further than halfway to 5th street. “We didn’t go down to Shop & Stop or up Irvington Avenue,” he said, noting that the organization was mindful of the impact on services that any expansion would entail. Letters notifying property owners and commercial tenants were sent in October through both “snail mail” and certified mail. Zuckerman noted that only two negative comments had been received. He also noted that the expansion includes only commercial properties and all one and two-family residential homes are exempt from the assessment.
(Read Village Green’s story about the expansion here.)
Regarding the budgets, Zuckerman said that the assessment will still be about 26% of the proposed budget, despite the addition of the expansion area assessment. Zuckerman said that the “addition of the new properties will keep us from having to raise the percentage for the rest of the district.” The budget request has the Village contributing 50.2% of the budget revenue — or $160,075 of $319,325 (last year, the Village paid paid the same amount, a 5% decrease from the previous year). SOVCA is also looking to put Downtown After Sundown “back in the Village budget” and have that event be completely paid for through sponsorships.
Standout projects in SOVCA’s 2016 goals include a plan to close Village Plaza at night for two nights sometime between Memorial Day and Labor Day; improving the website to include an interactive “hot spot” parking map that tells visitors where to park on crowded nights; supporting the South Next festival; and spearheading a “Walk South Orange” effort, an archway between Bunny’s and Falafelly Yours, and revitalization for Spiotta Park.
“We want to be the go-to organization that everyone comes to to get things done,” said Zuckerman.
He invited everyone to SOVCA’s annual meeting taking place February 1 at Papillon 25.
Trustees were effusive in their praise for the organization. Said Trustee Mark Rosner, “You do a great job.” Trustee Walter Clarke: “Congratulations on another great year.” Clarke noted that events like PlayDay “really warm my heart.”
But Clarke did ask about the two negative responses to the SID expansion. Zuckerman explained that he did speak to both individuals who felt “that taxes should provide all these services…. I tell them this is supplemental. They view it as another tax.”
Trustee Schnall called Glass and Zuckerman “the best combination of leadership I’ve seen.”
Village President Sheena Collum first talked business, then praised the duo. She said that the Board of Trustees would “channel” the proposal through the Finance Committee. She also expressed some surprise that the SID expansion did not give the organization a more “substantial bump … to do a lot more. I want to understand a little better that impact and long term what Village’s contribution will be.”
Collum then said, “You guys do an amazing job. I’m blown away. It’s really exciting. More events, more activities. more marketing and branding. I don’t know how you guys do it. ”