Springfield Avenue in Maplewood is garnering more interest from potential commercial tenants, but needs more modern, “suitable” commercial space to meet the need.
This was the upshot of comments made by Springfield Avenue Partnership Director Julie Doran at a Maplewood Township Committee Budget Hearing on February 2.
Doran presented to the TC with SAP President Jim Nering, the property owner of 1628-1634 Springfield Avenue. Nering noted that in 2018 SAP had its first “community summit,” welcomed 11 new businesses, hosted the first “SAM cafe,” introduced a new murals program, produced another “successful” MayFest — among other events — and welcomed a new 30-unit apartment building at 1701 Springfield Avenue.
The Partnership also unveiled its new SAM brand and will be bringing that logo and its graphics physically to the Avenue in 2019 through banners, kiosks and place making, as well as website updates.
“We had a very successful year so we want to build on that success,” said Doran, citing the Partnership’s work to repeat successes with Black History Month, Women’s History Month and Pride Month involvement, as well as craft beer and wine tasting events. Doran noted that a canvas mural is coming to the Hilton Branch of the Maplewood Library to help celebrate the library’s 60th anniversary this June.
Another success was the “SAM Fitness Pass” which provides a cross promotion for the Avenue’s many health and fitness-related businesses. “That’s the kind of promotion we’re going to be looking to find more of,” Doran told the TC. “They are ways for people to become aware of the kinds of businesses and services available on the Avenue.”
(See the SAP’s Annual Report, Draft 2019 Budget, and Goals & Initiatives below.)
Another area of focus for 2019: Economic Development. A subcommittee of the SAP board will work closely with the township’s economic development and entrepreneurship staff to create a database of potential businesses to recruit, work with property owners to market vacant spaces, and also work closely with new development at old Jewelry Mart — where local architect and developer Mark Carelli is bringing 8,000 sf of new commercial space with parking on site. Doran said the newly developed property “should be very attractive to new businesses.”
In fact, Doran noted that the biggest challenge for the district is the lack of suitable building inventory. “That’s why Mr. Carelli’s project is so exciting,” said Doran, who added that she was hoping all the development on the Avenue continues to spur more commercial development. “There’s a lot of excitement. And that’s new. That’s different. A lot of people are calling for space. The challenge is finding suitable space for them.” Doran said that the new subcommittee will provide more formal outreach for such leads.
For 2019, the Partnership proposed raising more fund by increasing the assessment on property owners by 2%. Doran also noted that the Partnership is seeing a boost in its assessment with the opening of the new commercial property at 1701 Springfield Avenue. The Partnership was also asking for increase in the Township contribution from $20K to $21.2K, in order to offset an increase in the cost of its cleaning services (County to County has asked for a 6% increase). Doran said that the increase was the first that the vendor had requested in 12 or 13 years from the vendor. She reported, “His work has increased with all the development and improvements on the Avenue.”
Mayor Victor DeLuca noted that the requests would put the assessment at 64% of revenue for 2019 and the Township contribution at 9.5% (up from 9% last year).
In his comments, Deputy Mayor Frank McGehee expressed his appreciation of the new SAM logo and wanted to see the brand extended to all promotions. McGehee also asked that the kiosks be put to better use, including cross promotion of town-wide events.
TC member Dean Dafis asked Doran and Nering what the biggest challenge facing the Partnership was. Nering cited the challenge of tying all businesses together for promotion across a nearly 2-mile stretch of roadway. Doran broke it down by consumer facing audience and the business recruitment audience. For the recruitment audience, she cited the lack of suitable space, as reported above.
For the consumer audience, Doran said the biggest challenge is her belief that technology has only made communications more difficult. “Almost every segment of our audience uses a different medium. You have to be on all of them and you have to be there consistently,” said Doran.
Toward that end, TC member Nancy Adams asked Doran to keep in mind using print media, as well as digital.