METUCHEN – The Metuchen Downtown Alliance has garnered National Main Street accreditation status for the second time.
“To fulfill all of the performance criteria is an ongoing process that has taken much of the last four years,” said Isaac Kremer, executive director of the Metuchen Downtown Alliance (MDA), who noted he has logged in approximately “100 hours each year tracking the work of our program, gathering data, and reporting it.” “In any given week or month we’re always working to efficiently manage our program so that it conforms to these standards.”
The MDA has 372 full members, of which 82 are property owners and the remaining are businesses, Kremer said.
“Any business or owner within the downtown district is automatically a member of the Downtown Alliance,” he said.
The National Main Street Center Designation (NMSC) accreditation process evaluates and provides national recognition to established Main Street district revitalization programs based on 10 basic performance criteria. The criteria serve as a roadmap for programs and provide targets for better, more effective performance, according to NMSC.
Main Street New Jersey is MDA’s state coordinating program, which makes sure designated programs follow the performance criteria.
Evaluation criteria determines the communities that are building comprehensive and sustainable revitalization efforts and include standards such as fostering strong public-private partnerships, documenting programmatic progress, and actively preserving historic buildings, according to Main Street New Jersey.
Evaluation is done yearly, and is granted only to Main Street accredited communities that fully participate in the state’s network.
MDA received its first accreditation in 2017.
Kremer said they could not seek re-accreditation status in 2018 or 2019 due to the elimination of the Main Street New Jersey state coordinating program in 2018.
During that time, Kremer said they continued to work hard as a program to continue to follow the performance criteria. The Main Street New Jersey program was reinstated by Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration in 2019.
“We were visited by National Main Street Center field staff in the fall last year who evaluated our program and gave recommendations,” he said.
In June, MDA was recognized with 860 Nationally Accredited Main Street America programs.
“These accredited Main Street programs have proven to be powerful engines for revitalization by sparking impressive economic returns and preserving the character of their communities,” said Patrice Frey, president and chief executive officer of the National Main Street Center. “During these challenging times, these Main Street programs will be key to bringing economic vitality back to commercial districts and improving quality of life during the recovery process.”
“The success of our program is rooted in the work of our volunteers,” said Eric Berger, chairman of the MDA Board of Trustees. “Our 142 volunteers contributed 4,450 hours valued at $101,705 in 2019.”
In 2019, more than $60,000 in matching grants were given to businesses and owners for storefront improvements, Berger said, including a $23,000 Main Street New Jersey Transformation Grant from the Department of Community Affairs.
The Middlesex County Board of Chosen Freeholders and the New Jersey State Council on the Arts awarded another $5,000 for murals on the sides of two businesses.
A total of 18 businesses opened in the downtown in 2019. In addition, regular services continued, including regular cleaning of the downtown, providing flowers in 50 downtown planters, and marketing and promoting the downtown to attract visitors.
“We’ve come a long way as an organization and a community in a short period of time,” Kremer said. “Just a few short years ago it is easy to remember empty storefronts that have now given way to a vibrant, walkable downtown with a newfound sense of energy and excitement.”
Kremer said they are grateful to the National Main Street Center and Main Street New Jersey for charting a path for new vitality in downtown Metuchen.
“This is all the more important as we confront the challenges posed by COVID-19 united and together as an organization and community,” he said.
The MDA was founded in 2016. It is a volunteer-based, nonprofit downtown management
corporation dedicated to the management and revitalization of the designated Metuchen
business district in partnership with stakeholders, residents, municipal
government, and other partners.
Since its inception in 2016, Metuchen has seen more than 100 business starts, more than $100 million of investment, and added 387 apartments downtown, according to the MDA.
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.