By KATHY CHANG
METUCHEN — On Sept. 7, the Metuchen Downtown Alliance will have its first executive director, Isaac Kremer, who has nearly two decades of experience working with Main Street and historic preservation organizations in Michigan, New York, Texas, Kentucky and now, New Jersey.
After three months of reviewing more than 100 résumés and narrowing the selection to four finalists, the search committee, led by Metuchen Downtown Alliance (MDA) board members Jan Margolis and Councilwoman Allison Inserro, announced the hiring of Kremer, who is leaving his post as the executive director of Discover Downtown Middlesboro in Kentucky, where he has been for four years.
The Executive Search Committee created and implemented a rigorous selection process.
“We are so very excited and proud to have a nationally recognized, experienced, innovative and dynamic first MDA executive director with a very successful nationwide track record and an unparalleled knowledge of the Main Street Approach,” said MDA Chairman Eric Berger of U.S. Real Estate Acquisitions.
The executive director will be the central point of contact for businesses interested in locating in the district. Kremer’s job duties will include retaining and strengthening existing businesses; beautifying the district to draw tenants and customers/clients; coordinating joint marketing, advertising and branding, including social media; integrating new developments with existing properties/businesses; leveraging the borough’s transportation assets; and being a liaison with the municipality to get new businesses in.
“Now the hard work begins to beautify the District, integrate the Renaissance and Woodmont developments with the existing businesses, increase the profitability of District businesses and recruit new complementary businesses to fill the vacancies in Metuchen’s Downtown District,” Berger said.
Kremer is a nationally recognized expert in the Main Street Approach to commercial district revitalization.
This approach is comprehensive and incremental, emphasizing grassroots action in four areas — organization, promotion, design and economic vitality.
Kremer secured more than $1.28 million in grants and has leveraged more than $25 million of investments. His work has been highlighted in numerous national conferences and publications by the Appalachian Regional Commission, Citizens’ Institute on Rural Design, National Main Street Center, The Conservation Fund and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
From 2008 to 2012 as executive director of the Oyster Bay Main Street Association, Kremer led the restoration of Theodore Roosevelt’s hometown of Oyster Bay on Long Island. This resulted in more than a dozen building renovation projects. Most notable was the $2.5 million restoration of the 1854 Octagon Hotel where Roosevelt campaigned for governor.
While there he organized one of the first Better Block projects in the United States, working with residents to make low-cost changes to demonstrate the potential for long-term change. Famed musician and singer Billy Joel was among the participants in that project.
The Better Block Foundation is a nonprofit organization that educates, equips and empowers communities and their leaders to reshape and reactivate built environments to promote the growth of healthy and vibrant neighborhoods.
As executive director of Discover Downtown Middlesboro in Kentucky, Kremer attracted more than $500,000 and mobilized hundreds of volunteers to build trails, encourage entrepreneurship and bring incremental change about through three more Better Block projects.
Middlesboro won the national Levitt AMP [Your City] Grant award contest twice. This has helped to bring 10 free concerts to a neglected public space that was transformed through creative place making.
His education and training includes a master’s degree in historic preservation planning from Cornell University and a bachelor of arts degree in economics and management from Albion College in Albion, Michigan.
Kremer has had additional training in historic preservation tax credits, historic real estate finance, economic development, community philanthropy and the “How to Turn a Place Around” training from the Project for Public Spaces.
The new executive director is coming to a downtown that is starting to see a lot of changes.
On June 20, the Pearl Street parking deck opened, signifying a new era for downtown Metuchen.
The state-of-the-art, six-level, 750-space parking deck is just one piece to the major development happening downtown, which also includes 273 one- and two-bedroom housing units, 13,000 square feet of retail space and a half-acre public piazza.
The concept of the MDA has been discussed several times in Metuchen since the 1970s, and Metuchen’s Development Commission has historically advocated for a downtown management organization.
After months of discussion and public hearings, the ordinance to name the MDA to be the management organization for a new downtown improvement district was adopted by the Borough Council on May 2.
The MDA will operate independently as a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization formed under the auspices of Main Street New Jersey, part of the National Trust of Historic Preservation, sponsoring Main Street America.
Kremer will run the MDA as a full-time paid executive director at an annual salary of $60,000 to $70,000 and 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 is 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 district area, which consists of only commercial businesses and/or commercial businesses with residential units, centers on Main Street, Middlesex Avenue and Amboy Avenue and includes the Metuchen SportsPlex on Durham Avenue.
For more information about the MDA, visit www.downtownmetuchen.org.