Courtenay D. Mercer
Executive Director, Downtown New Jersey
October 21, 2019
Statewide non-profit organization hosted industry leaders in real estate and downtown management
Jersey City, NJ – Downtown New Jersey (DNJ) held its annual conference on Friday October 18, 2019 at the Westminster Arts Center in Bloomfield. The premiere downtown economic development event of the year, the DNJ Annual Conference hosted 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 in downtowns, but also opportunity to network with peers. 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.
The conference included welcoming remarks from DNJ President and well-known redevelopment attorney Robert Goldsmith, Esq. who lamented the potential impact of proposed redevelopment legislation on the revitalization of downtowns. Goldsmith also praised the conference host community, as a place “where downtown district management efforts are paying off, as demonstrated by the ongoing development interest in the area.” Mayor Michael J. Venezia also welcomed conference-goers to Bloomfield and gave an overview of the community’s revitalization efforts.
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.
(Download Printable Version of David Dixon’s Presentation: The Value of U.S. Downtowns & Center Cities)
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.
Another panel brought together economic development and real estate professionals, along with a small business owner discussing the 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.
(Link to NJBIZ Article about Growing + Retaining Business Downtown panel: Downtown NJ panel: Brick-and-mortar is essential, just make good decisions)
During the conference, DNJ celebrated the initiatives and achievements that have made a major or sustained impact on downtown economic development in New Jersey with the Downtown Excellence Awards. “Every year, we are more and more impressed by the dedication and creativity of downtowns in their efforts to provide services, engage new audiences, and promote the economic development of their downtowns,” DNJ’s Executive Director, Courtenay Mercer said. “We are privileged and honored to recognize these efforts through the annual Downtown Excellence Awards.”
DNJ presented the following Downtown Excellence Awards:
Built Projects: Excellence in Community Development
Awarded to L+M Development for the Walker House
Tools of the Trade: Excellence in Communications
Awarded to the Partnership for Haddonfield and Suasion Communications Group for 2018 Communications Campaign
Tools of the Trade: Excellence in Placemaking
Awarded to the Elizabeth Avenue Partnership for Downtown Student Art and Mural Project
Individuals of Excellence
Awarded to John Donio for Achievements in Promoting and Revitalizing Downtown Wildwood
Individuals of Excellence
Awarded to the Abigail Galie for Achievements in Promoting Downtown Medford
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. We were happy to share with them the wonderful story that is Bloomfield Center’s continuing resurgence,” said Ollyn Lettman, Director of the Bloomfield Center Alliance.
For the first time, the DNJ Conference included a food tour where attendees sampled fantastic food, met the chefs, learned some local Bloomfield history, and found out what’s next from Bloomfield Center Alliance staff. After the food tour, business networking continued during a reception at Bloomfield’s Essex Junction Craft Bar & Kitchen.
With a crowd of over 100 developers, lawyers, downtown professionals, public officials, and community organizers participating throughout the day; Goldsmith celebrated the conference as “an engaging, well-attended event providing insights into issues and tools impacting downtown revitalization.”