Downtown Management Forum: COVID-19 Forums

Downtown Management Forum: COVID-19 Forums

Downtown New Jersey is providing a series of virtual opportunities for downtown managers, economic development professionals, and public officials to exchange ideas about best practices related to downtown economic development in light of the COVID-19 crisis. Check out the opportunities to interact with your peers below. Also, be sure to reference our COVID-19 Resource Page with rolling updates as new information, policy, legislation, and funding becomes available. 

Live Web Forums

The Downtown Management Forum series is an exchange of ideas about best practices in NJ’s downtowns. The intended audience includes downtown management professionals, public officials, design professionals, and others involved with the management of downtowns.

No forums scheduled at this time. Be sure to check out the New Jersey Downtown Conference to participate in our January educational and networking offerings.

Have a topic you want to hear more about? Email your suggestions to info@downtownnj.com.

Past Forums

Summaries, videos, PowerPoints and other resources

With the recent introduction of S2964/A4925, Senator Gopal and Assemblyman Bergen recently joined the chorus of legislators calling for expansion of liquor license laws. Downtown New Jersey and an alliance of organizations, merchants, and public officials believe that now more than ever, reform is needed to help our small businesses survive and thrive during the ongoing public health emergency. But the reasons for reform extend beyond the current economic hardship, reform has long been needed to support small business, enable a more equitable system, and help NJ retain its regional competitiveness. During this Town Hall event, we will discuss a path to reform.

  • Senator Vin Gopal, D-Monmouth
  • Assemblyman Brian Bergen, R-Morris
  • Assemblyman John J. Burzichelli, D-Gloucester
  • Mayor Shelley Brindle, Township of Westfield
  • George Constantinou, Mil Gustos Hospitality Group (Miti Miti Latin Street Food, South Orange, NJ)
  • Moderated by Tony Pizzutillo, Pizzutillo Public Affairs

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Thank you to the Media Sponsor of this event:

The repercussions of the COVID-19 closures will be felt across all sectors for years to come, particularly small businesses that make up the backbone of downtowns. Recovery is going to be a slow process – the goal is not to prevent vacancies; it is to mitigate the impact on your downtown and its remaining businesses. With proactive and sustained efforts by BIDs and local government, downtowns can recover stronger than ever.

  • The Honorable Michele Delisfort, Mayor, Township of Union
  • Larisa Ortiz, Managing Director, Streetsense
  • Marta Person Villa, Senior Vice President, Jones Lang LaSalle Brokerage, Inc.
  • Bob Zuckerman, Executive Director, Downtown Westfield
  • Courtenay D. Mercer, Executive Director, Downtown New Jersey (Moderator)

This session was presented at the 2020 NJ League of Municipalities Conference.

We do not anticipate significant indoor capacity increases in the near future; and even if they were forthcoming, many consumers still feel uncomfortable spending extended periods inside public places. With colder temperatures quickly approaching, downtowns should be preparing now to help their small businesses weather the Fall and Winter seasons. Accommodating, and even encouraging, outdoor consumer activities is not anything new – especially to those in colder climes. Your downtown may have even embraced the chill in years past by hosting a Winter Market or Winter Festival. During this forum, we discussed best practices in placemaking to make your downtown inviting and comfortable during cold weather. The discussion was led by Metuchen Downtown Alliance Executive Director, Isaac Kremer, and Storefront Mastery‘s Storefront Ninja, Jaime Izurieta.

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Winning Winter is the first in a two-part placemaking series. We challenge you to implement an innovative placemaking approach in your own downtown. At the second forum during the Downtown New Jersey Conference in early December, your innovative placemaking projects will be highlighted as examples of best practices.

Downtowns need to start thinking beyond survival mode, and begin setting the stage for recovery. With the likelihood of widespread business failures and elevated storefront vacancy, the focus needs to shift to small business creation. The moment calls for nothing less than a “Retail New Deal” that incorporates a wide array of coalition partners, including district management entities, municipalities, community banks, community development financial institutions (CDFI’s), fin-techs, institutions, foundations and various others.

This discussion was led by national retail consultant and Downtown specialist Mike Berne, President of New York City and San Francisco Bay Area-based MJB Consulting, about harnessing creative thinking, collaboration, and adaptability to encourage the timely emergence of new innovations and business models in response to changing realities and unforeseeable shocks. 

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We are still a long way from business as usual here in NJ. As communities move into recovery mode, downtown managers and public officials will need to enhance their marketing strategy to boost consumer confidence, champion small business, and promote downtown as a place to invest. At this forum, seasoned communications expert Susan Adelizzi-Schmidt of Suasion Communications Group, led a discussion about public relations, digital marketing, and creative brand strategy for downtowns in recovery.

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Events amid the COVID-19 pandemic require a bit more creativity and must be implemented with special care to ensure public safety. At this forum, we heard how downtowns are reinventing their events. We were joined by John Donio, President of Wildwood BID, Ollyn Lettman, Director of Bloomfield Center Alliance,  and Emily Manz of EMI Strategy who shared their experiences staging in-person and virtual events. 

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Small businesses in communities nationwide are facing the risk of permanent closure. To help address these challenges, Streetsense in partnership with LISC, created the Commercial District Recovery Guide that provides place-based organizations and intermediary partners focused on community economic development with a curated roadmap for action to support COVID-19 recovery efforts in downtowns and commercial districts. This forum was led by Larisa Ortiz, Managing Director of Research & Analysis at Streetsense, who provided an overview of the guide to kick-off an exchange of ideas among forum participants.

View Recovery Guide>

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As our downtown retail establishments are permitted to reopen in the coming weeks, will need to employ design countermeasures to survive the short term and to thrive in the long term.  At this forum, we learned best practices from industry experts, and how NJ business owners are handling the transition.

Panelists:

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Now more than ever, “going digital” is necessary to stay relevant and present in the consumer’s mind. At this forum, we heard about a few of the digital resources that our members have found valuable for both their downtown and their businesses.  

Panelists:

Kenneth A. Gruskin, AIA, PP, CID, Principal, Gruskin Group
Ken provided an overview of MyDowntown Mobile® – A branded service offering of Gruskin Group, and shared how towns have been using it to effectively communicate with their community during the pandemic.

Kate Giovambattista, Founder, Beyond Main
Kate provided an overview of Beyond Main, an online local marketplace for downtown districts and small businesses.

Ray Painter, Publisher, Edible Jersey
Ray provided an overview of Edible Jersey‘s partnership with Local Line to create My Community Market for farmers’ market vendors to open online stores. He also talked about an opportunity to promote your downtown restaurants in the next issue of Edible Jersey.

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On May 22nd, the NJEDA Board approved an additional $45 million in funding to small businesses from the State’s federal CARES Act allocation. At this forum, Christina Fuentes, Director of Small Business Services at NJEDA provided more information about eligibility and applying for Phase 2 of the Small Business Emergency Assistance Grant Program.

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Towns should be looking at their ordinances and permitting processes now to ensure they fully support their businesses’ ability to adapt to social distancing expectations. Some communities are looking at street closures, enabling expansion of restaurant/retail into parking lots, relaxing sign rules, revising on-street parking rules to enable pick-up and delivery, etc. Others are also working to revise use restrictions to provide flexibility in filling anticipated vacancies. The discussion was led by Bob Zuckerman, President of Downtown New Jersey with input from Courtenay Mercer, Executive Director of Downtown New Jersey; Nancy Adams, Councilperson in Maplewood; and Stuart Koperweis, Executive Director of Hoboken Business Alliance

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Farmers Markets are a wonderful way to provide residents with fresh produce and unique packaged goods, while also supporting NJ’s farmers and local small business producers of packaged goods. If done right, they can even alleviate some of the anxiety many are experiencing shopping at large grocery stores or struggling to get a delivery slot. At this forum, the discussion was led by two BIDs that began planning early with an eye toward maximizing safety for both vendors and consumers. Rachel Sieg of the HDSID shared the details of their upcoming traditional walk-up market in downtown Jersey City; and Rebecca Hersh shares her experience setting up Main Street Highland Park‘s drive-through market. 

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Downtown New Jersey has been invited to provide input into the State’s reopening strategies. In preparation for that discussion, we’d like to hear your concerns, ideas, and needs for reopening safely. In this open exchange, come prepared to discuss both the needs for your businesses and for your own operations within the downtown district.

Forum Summary>

As part of Sustainable Jersey’s Virtual Summit, Downtown New Jersey Executive Director, Courtenay Mercer and NJDCA’s NPP Administrator, Jef Buehler discussed how we can support local business when it’s not business as usual. They explored new strategies to engage the community through the Support Local Economies and Buy Local Program Sustainable Jersey actions.

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The COVID 19 pandemic has left many downtown organizations with budget shortfalls, either from special event cancellations, stalled membership drives or fundraising events that have been postponed. Board members are asking how to we readjust our downtown organization’s budget to deal with these new and changing realities? The conversation was led by Donna Ann Harris of Heritage Consulting Inc., a Philadelphia based firm that works nationally in downtown and commercial district revitalization. Over the years Donna has worked with many Main Street New Jersey communities on board training and development, fundraising and strategic planning. Donna provided insights about the board’s role in financial oversight, and gave some tips about making cuts to your budget if absolutely necessary.

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At this forum, we were joined by Marta Person Villa, NJ Retail Lead and Senior Vice President with Jones Lang LaSalle and a former SID director, municipal administrator, and DNJ President. Ms. Villa discussed “what’s next” – how does your downtown recover from economic upheaval, and what can you do now to plan for a time when we’re all back to business? Using global recovery statistics as a backdrop, she showed current and imminent downtown retail occupancy conditions, and mapped out a proactive recruitment strategy to expedite recovery starting in the 3rd quarter.

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Mike Blinder, Founder & President of The Blinder Group, publisher of Editor & Publisher Magazine, and author of Survival Selling Even in the Toughest Times presented his Survival Marketing Workshop on how to market effectively in tough economic times.
 
 

Thank you to TAPinto for sponsoring this forum.

At this forum, we were joined by Christina Fuentes, Director of Small Business Services at NJEDA and Erika Calderon, Small Business Legislative Aid from Senator Menendez’s office to discuss programs, policies, and legislation that have passed or are being considered to provide economic relief to downtowns and small business.

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At this first forum, there was not a formal presentation. Instead, participants shared best practices and discussed needs. 

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Facebook Group

Downtown New Jersey created a safe space for members and partners to exchange ideas about hot topics in downtown economic development. There are currently several feeds related to COVID-19 response.

Please note that you must answer the membership questions to be approved. We want to be sure only “real people” are joining, and we need to know who you are before we will approve your membership. Also, this group is is not intended for individual business owner participation, rather it is meant to be an exchange of ideas between those involved with the management of downtown business districts.