2021 Placemaking Awards Announced

2021 Placemaking Awards Announced

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

January 21, 2020

Downtown New Jersey Recognizes Achievements in Placemaking at Annual Conference on Thursday, January 21

Downtown New Jersey (DNJ) celebrated placemaking projects and initiatives intended to help New Jersey small businesses and downtowns survive and thrive during the shutdown and capacity limitations associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. The awards were presented at a virtual ceremony during the Downtown Conference.

 

(View awards ceremony PowerPoint>)

The premiere downtown economic development event of the year, the DNJ Annual Conference hosts industry experts who provide insights into downtown management best practices, as well as development, business and retail market trends. The conference provides not only an opportunity to learn the latest trends happening in downtowns, but also opportunity to network with peers.

Nominations were accepted in two categories – early action and winning winter. Nominee categories also acknowledged the varying capacity of downtown districts, from all-volunteer led groups to BIDs with more significant staff and budgetary resources.

“This is the first ever Downtown New Jersey Placemaking Awards. In a normal year, we would gather in-person to celebrate projects, programs, and leaders at the Downtown Excellence Awards,” DNJ’s Executive Director, Courtenay Mercer said. “Since we could not do a larger program this year, we wanted to recognize excellent placemaking projects and initiatives helping small business cope with the economic strain of COVID-19.”

Joining Downtown New Jersey in recognizing excellence in placemaking was AARP New Jersey, who sponsored the event because these community efforts align with their own Livable Communities initiative.

 DNJ presented the following Downtown Placemaking Awards:

Early Action/Medium-Sized Organization
Awarded Red Bank RiverCenter

To help its downtown businesses weather the economic impact of the pandemic, Red Bank RiverCenter created the Red Bank Broadwalk, an outdoor dining and retail plaza in the center of its downtown. The project was the brainchild of the Red Bank Reopens Task Force. The project was the brainchild of the Red Bank Reopens Task Force. Within days of the Governor’s order permitting outdoor dining, Red Bank was able to open the Broadwalk and several streateries.  Two blocks of Broad Street were closed to vehicular traffic, first starting on weekends and then ultimately 24/7. This project helped Red Bank’s businesses make the most of the outdoor season, provided a safe place for residents and visitors to go as they emerged from lockdown, helped keep Red Bank in the minds of those still not comfortable with eating out, and created an increased sense of civic pride due to positive media coverage about the town.

Early Action/ Medium-Sized Organization
Honorable Mentions
Early Action/Merchant
Awarded to Cranford Theater

In a collaboration with Cranford Theater, Downtown Cranford coordinated a Golden Ticket giveaway as a tie in with the drive-in showing of “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.” For the chance to win a Golden Ticket, people just needed to shop or dine at participating locations during designated days. The business owners were given Golden Tickets and were responsible for choosing winners. Pictures of the winners were also shared on social media to help promote the event, and to encourage people to continue to support downtown for a chance to win.

Early Action/Merchant
Honorable Mention
  • The Fox and the Falcon for creating an attractive and engaging outdoor space that spurred more restaurants to follow suit in what would become known as South Orange’s “Restaurant Row”.
Early Action/Small Organization
Awarded to Main Street Highland Park

“Keep feet on the street” has always been Main Street Highland Park’s motto. In March, when the pandemic got serious, the organization’s staff and volunteers, in partnership with local businesses and the Borough of Highland Park, got to work to make sure people could keep coming downtown in a way that made them feel safe. Main Street Highland Park nimbly adapted events and created new ones, that followed public health regulations, including the weekly Farmers Market, downtown planting days, community mural projects, outdoor movies, a downtown window art tour, outdoor music, downtown trick-or-treating, an outdoor dance performance, outdoor fitness classes, outdoor art exhibits, window literary walking tours, and holiday artisan markets. The organization also worked with the town and police department to close off two streets and a parking lot to auto traffic and purchased outdoor picnic tables, cafe tables and chairs, signage, advertising, hand sanitizer and masks, umbrellas, tents, and heat lamps to use at these “Town Tables” locations, as well as to give to businesses for use at their shops..

Early Action/Small Organization
Awarded to Celebrate Westwood

Amidst the pandemic, Celebrate Westwood‘s “Arts on the Avenues” brought Westwood’s central business district to life, creating a place for artists of all stripes to showcase their talents. “Busking Stations” were programmed from July 4th to Halloween, including singer/songwriters, a pianist, a sculptor/painter, musical theatre actors, small bands, graphic artists, photographers, and filmmakers, who entertained residents and visitors as they looked for ways to keep busy while masked and distanced.

The effort led to a welcome back video, small outdoor music events, a staycation brochure, a short film, a community cookbook, art events for kids, photo essays on social media, and more. A $3200 grant from Westwood for All Ages, a local age-friendly organization, allowed for artist stipends and the purchase of supplies. The support of the Mayor and Council as well as the Library, Recreation, and Public Works Departments enabled volunteers to plan and pivot as pandemic regulations changed.

Early Action/Volunteer Organization
Awarded to DesignShed

Pop Goes The Plaza! was a temporary street closure installation in Montclair’s Downtown district every weekend from July 18th through September 26th. DesignShed offered its services for free to coordinate a volunteer effort to design, activate, and implement. The goal was to demonstrate the potential of our streets, bring life back to downtown and to help local businesses during these challenging times. From inception to launch, this tremendous community effort was completed in just three weeks. Both Montclair’s Mayor, Sean Spiller, and the Executive Director of Montclair Center BID, Jason Gleason, have stated that the impact Pop Goes The Plaza! had on the surrounding business was significant. It drew people in, booked up restaurants, and created more foot traffic, all while following public health requirements.

Early Action/Volunteer Organization
Honorable Mention
Winning Winter/Medium-Sized Organization
Awarded to New Brunswick City Center

Walking in a socially distanced Winter Wonderland, New Brunswick City Center developed unique experiences for the holiday season for businesses and patrons alike. Restaurants hosted outdoor, heated tent dining experiences and festive boutique shops transformed into a pedestrian plaza with upbeat activities throughout the week both virtually and live.

With George Street opened exclusively to foot traffic, there was a lot of room for imagination, including expanding on annual favorites such as the annual tree lighting ceremony, which offered 19 different locations, live entertainment while downtown patrons shopped and dined, and hosting the New Brunswick’s City-Wide Game Watch, to support Rutgers Football. Ice sculptors, stilt walkers, jugglers, and more kept families entertained during the day. New Brunswick’s City Center truly lit up the season and kept the magic of winter alive during these difficult times.

Winning Winter/Small Organization
Awarded to Downtown Denville BID

The Downtown Denville BID quickly and consistently adapted to the devastation that the global pandemic caused shopping districts. For an aggressive and safe “reopening” plan, the BID restructured budgets, activated volunteers and re-imagined the shopping and dining experience. The result was an innovative “Reopening” Plan that included; four “Denville After Dark” physically distant shopping and dining events with pedestrian-only access along the main downtown corridor, several semi-permanent outdoor dining “parklets” and beautification throughout the district to encourage outdoor eating, sidewalk tents and tables for stores to sell merchandise outside with social distance, entertainment and, additional investment in marketing and promotion featuring radio, connected tv, social media, print and more.

Winning Winter/Small Organization
Awarded to South Orange Village Center

The South Orange Village Center Alliance (SOVCA) presented South Orange Open Air Holiday Market during the 2020 holiday shopping season. Set in the central downtown parking lot the market was surrounded by restaurants offering seasonal beverages and food options. The market provided the community with great gift shopping while offering an outdoor, socially distanced holiday shopping experience. The market featured between 20 and 35 rotating vendors, a weekly surprise gift including hand warmers, Hanukkah gelt, candy canes, holiday cookies, and shopping bags.

Live music was included at every market and seasonal décor set the stage. Julie Doran, SOVCA’s Executive Director said, “Holding the market during evening hours allowed us to transform the parking lot into a winter wonderland of sorts, offering a festive and inviting atmosphere that was as much an attraction as it was a place for holiday shopping.”

Winning Winter/Small Organization
Honorable Mention
Winning Winter/Volunteer Organization
Honorable Mention

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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 www.downtownnj.com.