Monday, March 01, 2010

What's Happening Downtown?

If you have been downtown recently, you may have noticed some new vacancies, some for the second time since Paramount Assets acquired a large number of storefronts from the Pittis Estate. Some of the retailers on the ground floor of the Park-Madison building have also closed.

With new people in City Hall, maybe it's time for a fresh look at what is going on. Just as Connolly Properties is in charge of nearly all the apartment buildings in the city, Paramount Assets has a large portfolio of commercial properties in the central business district. So what is going on with them? Can the administration discern Paramount's direction with these acquisitions?

One interesting development is Paramount's refurbishing of a former car dealership at Fifth & Cleveland for use as state offices. It shows what can be done to create a modern, attractive building where there was formerly neglect and obsolescence. If the improvements are now on the books, the building should also be producing additional tax revenues.

But on the prime block of East Front Street between Park and Watchung, things are not looking so good. It has been a very long time since the downtown had a retail anchor. There are still a few "destination" stores, such as Suburban Jewelers, that can attract outside customers. The rest appears to include a glut of urban wear shops that have a definite appeal to the demographic served, but not to older buyers who need more traditional garb and footwear.

With a new city administrator and a new director of Public Works & Urban Development, maybe a review of the downtown is in order. It should be much easier to develop a data base nowadays and to do updates that indicate trends. And sitting down with principals of Paramount might be informative. Have they had trouble attracting new tenants? Could the city do anything to enhance the downtown besides holding a few summer events?

The idea of a business registry has been floated at times, but stalled over who would pay for it. There is a person who is contacting all the SID members, but at last report, only about half had been interviewed.

Springtime 2010 seems like an opportune time to get a grip on the current status of the central business district, to see what's there and who is doing well. Certainly the block-long building on East Front between Roosevelt and Westervelt has attracted new tenants, and the Heard One complex is busy.

New SID welcome signs are on the way. People are eager to shake off the winter doldrums and will soon be in a shopping mood. City Hall, business groups, merchants and property owners need to get reacquainted for a better downtown.

--Bernice Paglia


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Let me quote from the most recent press release archived on the City website, dated March 24, 2009, nearly one year ago, announcing a community forum:

"The Mayor's commitment to discussing topical issues facing the City has lead (sic) her to focus this discussion on the most pressing issue facing our community, the recent economic downturn. The current economic condition is requiring government to take immediate actions at all levels. Consequently, the Mayor and her administration will ouline actions take by the city to obtain stimulus funding to spur economic growth. Most importantly, the forum will describe the planning decisions that the City has made that will jump-start the City as the economy rebounds."

This is the City Administration in a nutshell. "Immediate actions at all levels" means waiting 9 months to introduce a budget with a 9.6% tax increase. "... obtain stimulus funding to spur economic growth" is the flip side to the Republican mantra that tax cuts are the solution to everything.

So, although "Springtime 2010 seems like an opportune time to get a grip on the current status of the central business district", with this bailout mentality and dilly-dallying, people getting "reaquainted for a better downtown" will likely have to wait until Spring 2014.

If past is prologue, by then our new City Administrator and Director of Public Works and Urban Developement will both be long gone.

10:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Connolly Properties in Plainfield will probably be on the auction block very soon if the upcoming auction of Connolly Trenton assets and the soon to be announced auction of his East Orange portfolio are indicators of what is to come. Lastly the rehabilitation of the paramount property you referenced will not likely result in new taxes given the city does not usually reassess property after rehabilitation is performed.

11:28 PM  

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