An advisory committee of South Orange business and building owners is examining whether or not South Orange should create an Improvement District (ID/SID/BID) and Downtown Management Corporation (DMC) within the downtown. We are investigating what such a thing would look like and if we should recommend its creation to the South Orange Board of Trustees.
We need you! This process cannot be done in a vacuum. We need to hear from the merchants and building owners in South Orange. What do you feel would benefit our downtown and your business? What wouldn't? What works now? What doesn't? Our working meetings are every other Wednesday (6/22 and 7/14 coming up) at 7:30pm at Village Hall. They are open to the public, with an opportunity for comments and questions at the end of every meeting. For even more information, you can read the minutes of our meetings at http://southorange.gotdns.org/weblink7/Browse.aspx?startid=92502.
What is an ID/SID/BID? The Improvement District designation is a vehicle of funding for downtown improvement and support. Each building in the demarcated zone would pay into it based on a percentage of their current tax assessment. The decision of where to spend the money would rest with the same people who are paying into it. The Committee has a vested interest in keeping this number as low as possible, since we would be assessed ourselves. Additionally, becoming an ID would make us eligible for programs, grants and no- or low-interest loans from the state.
What is a Downtown Management Corporation? We are discussing the creation of a Downtown Management Corporation, essentially an entity that focuses on the downtown. The DMC would not report to the Village but would answer directly to an autonomous board of South Orange business, building owners, and others with an arm of committees that report to the DMC general board.
The purview of a DMC: There are some things that South Orange doesn't do at all that would help our businesses. There are also things that South Orange does but does not do well that we could take over. In no particular order, the Committee is currently discussing these top three priorities:
1. Beautify and cleanup the downtown; Make South Orange more welcoming to shoppers.
2. Increase and improve downtown branding, marketing, advertising, promotions and events.
3. Recruitment: Make South Orange competitive with other towns, aggressively bring new businesses in and match them with the right space; Retention: Work harder to interface with current merchants on a regular basis, listen to them and help them whenever and however possible.
The Village would contribute to a DMC as well: The Improvement District appropriation would not be the sole source of funding of the DMC. There are services the Committee believes the DMC could do a better job with than the Village is currently doing. The Village would provide the DMC the money they spend on these projects and contract them out to us, the building and business owners of South Orange. We also believe the DMC could do many of the jobs better and cheaper than the municipality. The DMC would be allowed to keep any extra money it saves on these jobs and apply it to other projects? It would be our intention to supplement ID and municipal contributions any way we can, which would include applying to the grants and loans the ID designation make us eligible for. Finding additional funding opportunities will be part of the DMC's job.
What does this means for Main Street South Orange? The Committee has preliminarily determined that it does not make sense to operate two downtown organizations at the same time. It would be our intention to fold the Main Street designation (which also entitles us to certain programs, grants and loans) into the DMC. Main Street's existing infrastructure and current resident involvement would be key to maintain, but a new board of directors made up predominately of building and business owners would have to be instituted. It would be up to that new board to hire the employees needed to run the DMC. Under this concept, the Village has agreed to continue contributing all money to the DMC that is currently earmarked for Main Street South Orange.
What geographic region would the ID and DMC cover? The Committee feels that a DMC could not feasibly provide optimum and equal services to too large an area. Rather, we believe it would be better to start on a smaller scale, ensuring that every business that pays into the ID gets a strong return on their investment. If the project is a success, then it could either be extended or targeted Improvement Districts could be created to cater to the needs of other parts of town. There is no limit on the number of IDs that a single municipality is allowed to have. For the exact boundaries that the Committee has preliminarily identified, please attend our July 20th forum or email email@example.com.
A built-in escape hatch if the ID doesn't work out: We determined that it's absolutely necessary to build a “Sunset Law” into an Improvement District if one were to be created. After five years, the ID would completely go away if not actively renewed. This would prevent us from having a difficult time wrenching free from an organization that isn't working, should that happen.
The Improvement District Advisory Committee:
Robyn Fields, Chairperson, owner of Robyn Ross
Alan Noel, Second floor CPA business owner, resident, acting president of the Chamber of Commerce and member of the committee created ten years to explore an ID
Ben Salmon, Owner of Kitchen a la Mode and resident
Carol Lowy, South Orange Avenue building owner and second floor business owner
Denise Gray-Felder, South Orange Avenue building owner, second floor nonprofit business owner and resident
Jared Hutter, Employee of South Orange Avenue building owner
Mark Rosner, BOT representative
Michael Goldberg, BOT representative
John Gross, Village Administrator
Michael Auer, Main Street South Orange representative, real estate agent & resident
Kyle McLaughlin, Main Street South Orange representative, downtown second floor business employee & resident
Jeff DuBowy, Parking Authority representative and resident