Downtown New Jersey Conference & Downtown Excellence Awards

Professionals Gathered at annual Downtown Conference

Courtenay D. Mercer, PP, AICP
Executive Director, Downtown New Jersey

September 18, 2019

Downtown New Jersey, a statewide non-profit organization, hosted downtown economic development professionals in New Jersey at the annual Downtown Conference on Friday, October 18.

The premiere downtown economic development event of the year, the DNJ Annual Conference hosted industry experts who provided insights into downtown management best practices, as well as development, business and retail market trends. The conference provided not only an opportunity to learn the latest trends happening in downtowns, but also an opportunity to network with peers. DNJ also celebrated achievements in downtown economic development at the Downtown Excellence Awards presentation during lunch.

The conference is located in a different community every year to showcase the wide variety of experiences NJ’s downtowns have to offer. “The Bloomfield Center Alliance is excited to be hosting this year’s event. On behalf of the organization and township, I welcome the many Downtown and Main Street professionals who will be coming to Bloomfield Center that day. We look forward to sharing with them the wonderful story that is Bloomfield Center’s continuing resurgence and engaging this audience so we can learn and grow from our shared experiences,” said Ollyn Lettman, Director of the Bloomfield Center Alliance.

The theme of this year’s conference – “The Value of Downtown: Capitalizing on Your Assets to Realize Success” – was reinforced throughout the day by industry experts. David Dixon, Planning and Urban Design Leader of Stantec’s Urban Places, kicked off the day discussing his work with IDA to prepare The Value of U.S. Downtowns and Center Cities: Second Edition report. The report findings extend beyond just the economic and fiscal benefits of a downtown’s value to their promotion of equity and inclusion, diverse economic opportunity, cultural, economic and entrepreneurial innovation, civic engagement, environmental responsibility and resilience, and other areas.

Following the keynote, industry experts joined Dixon in a discussion about success stories that have added to the value of NJ downtowns through five principles – economy, inclusion, vibrancy, identity and resilience. Providing insights were Susan Adelizzi-Schmidt, President of Suasion Communications Group; Jef Buehler, Placemaking & Place-Based Revitalization Specialist at the NJ Department of Community Affairs; Ollyn Lettman, Executive Director of Bloomfield Center; and Vanessa Quijano, Director Jersey City Small Business Services at the Jersey City Economic Development Corporation.

The afternoon panel brought together economic development and real estate professionals, along with a small business owner to discuss challenges and best practices in growing and retaining downtown businesses. Leading the discussion was moderator Elayne McClaine, Regional Director of NJ Small Business Development Center at Rutgers New Brunswick, who was joined by Larisa Ortiz, Managing Director of Streetsense; Chelsea Selby, CEO/Owner of Witch Baby Soap; Melvin Sykes, Vice President of Option 1 Realty Group; and Eric Maywar, Economic Development Specialist for the City of Trenton Division of Economic Development.

The conference was proudly sponsored by New Brunswick City Market and Commercial District Service at the platinum level of support. Additional sponsor support provided by Arterial; Greenbaum, Rowe, Smith & Davis; Exchange Place Alliance (Jersey City); Historic Downtown Special Improvement District (Jersey City); My Downtown Mobile; Provident Bank; and Suasion Communications Group.

For more information about the 2019 Downtown Conference & Excellence Awards, visit


Downtown New Jersey

DNJ is a non-profit membership organization of individuals, businesses, developers, government agencies, and local and regional entities that are passionate about downtowns. Downtowns reflect our communities’ unique identities, provide a focal point, a convenient local place of commerce, and offer a sense of place where people can gather and truly be a community. DNJ provides advocacy, education, and technical assistance resources dedicated to ensuring the vitality of our downtowns. For more information, visit

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