BY KATHY CHANG
METUCHEN — Despite wanting to include businesses on South Main Street in the district area of the proposed Metuchen Downtown Alliance (MDA), officials working on forming the alliance said that the action was considered but will not happen just yet.
“There was a pretty big discussion,” said Councilwoman Allison Inserro, who said she wanted to include South Main Street.
Inserro said after interviews and discussions with other directors of Main Street organizations, the stakeholders discussing the MDA came to a consensus — “don’t bite off more than you can chew” in the beginning and keep it small.
“We want to demonstrate that we can keep it manageable at first,” she said. “The consensus is, this is a good size and then we can expand. Ideally, we would want to see the South Main Street included and Central Avenue as the area develops further.”
Councilman Jay Muldoon said he felt passionate that South Main Street should have been included; however, after the discussion, he noted some key things to think about.
“When you include an area, you need to provide the area with services,” he said.
Inserro and Muldoon said with correct language in the ordinance and the organization’s bylaws; they would have the ability to add South Main Street and Central Avenue to the MDA in the future.
Muldoon said in the meantime, the borough has other projects underway to work on linking South Main Street into the downtown area, which include a project to implement signage by the Metuchen Parking Authority.
The Borough Council voted in favor of introducing an ordinance for the formation of a MDA organization at a council meeting on April 18. The second reading and public hearing on the ordinance is expected to be held at the next council meeting on May 2.
While many members of the community and business owners said they are in favor of the formation of the MDA, Nancy Jessen, a lifelong resident of Metuchen and a small business owner in the borough, told the council that she is against the formation of the MDA.
“I don’t think raising taxes on the small businesses in the downtown is a way to fill an empty store front because raising the taxes will ultimately raise the rent,” she said.
Jessen held an “I love the Brainy Boro” sign that she made.
“The purpose [of these signs] is for [the council and the business community] to use our brains to think about it … is this really the right approach for revitalizing downtown Metuchen?” she asked.
Other concerns raised by the public included competition from online shopping.
“This is the biggest problem right now for malls and brick and mortar stores on Main Street,” said Inserro, holding up her smart phone. “This Main Street program takes Metuchen’s historic assets, artistic assets, our people and puts them together, leverages them, so that we have a cohesive strategic plan.”
As of right now, Inserro said the borough has no plan for the competition.
“We’ve never had a plan, and we need a plan otherwise we are all going to be doomed by [online shopping],” she said.
The MDA is proposed to operate independently as a nonprofit 501c3 organization formed under the auspices of Main Street, NJ, part of the National Trust of Historic Preservation, sponsoring Main Street America.
The district area, which consists of only commercial businesses and/or commercial businesses with residential units, includes the Metuchen SportsPlex on Durham Avenue down Middlesex Avenue with the new development to Main Street and Amboy Avenue.
MDA will be run by a full-time paid executive director at an annual salary of $60,000 to $70,000 supported by a volunteer board of trustees and volunteer teams of business owners and landlords who will work on bringing in grant money.
The MDA Board of Trustees will be made up of 13 members — four district business owners, four district real estate owners, one Metuchen resident who is not a district business/property owner, one member of the Borough Council, one member of the Chamber of Commerce board, one member from the Arts Council, and one member from the Metuchen Parking Authority.
The executive director will be the central point of contact for businesses interested in locating in the district. The job duties include retaining and strengthening existing businesses; beautifying the district to draw tenants and customers/clients; coordinate joint marketing, advertising and branding including social media, integrate new developments with existing properties/businesses; leveraging the borough’s transportation assets, and liaison with the municipality to get new businesses in.
MDA funding will come from the Downtown Improvement District (DID) Assessment, and then there will be a borough parking authority contribution plus fees from fundraisers, grants and sponsorships.