Robert is Co-Chair of the Redevelopment & Land Use Department at Greenbaum, Rowe, Smith & Davis LLP. His practice focuses on redevelopment, downtown and urban revitalization, transit oriented development, project financing and incentives, sustainable building initiatives and public-private partnerships. His experience encompasses counseling clients on the specialized issues in redevelopment related to strategy, process, parking demand, design and construction. Robert has represented numerous clients within the state in both the public and private sectors. He also has broad experience in complex commercial litigation, construction litigation and appellate work. Robert lectures frequently on issues related to the redevelopment process in New Jersey for a variety of groups and organizations. He developed and teaches a course in redevelopment law at Rutgers University School of Law. Robert is President of Downtown New Jersey.
Michael is a third- generation Bloomfield Resident who was first elected into office as Councilman at Large in 2010 before running for Mayor in 2013. After winning the election, Mayor Venezia became the youngest mayor in Bloomfield to be elected into office at the age of 31. Now on his second term in office, Mayor Venezia has proven that his progressive leadership can open many new doors for Bloomfield. Over the past 5 years, Michael has been working to stabilize property taxes, attract new developments that create jobs for the public while providing our police and fire departments with the necessary equipment and top of the line training to keep our neighborhoods safe. One of the Mayor’s biggest accomplishments was the purchase of 18 acres of land that was originally set for 110 townhomes but instead is being constructed to restore wetlands and be a recreational site for all to enjoy. Furthermore, Bloomfield has seen a significant reduction in crime over the past couple years thanks to the leadership of the Public Safety Director Sam DeMaio, hired under Mayor Venezia. Michael continues to reside in Bloomfield with his lovely wife Laura and their two daughters Ella and Sophia.
David leads planning and urban design for Stantec’s Urban Places initiative. Two awards sum up his career. The American Institute of Architects gave him its highest honor for achievement in the public sphere, the Thomas Jefferson Award, “for a lifetime of … significant achievement in [creating]… livable neighborhoods, vibrant civic spaces, and vital downtowns ….” Residential Architecture Magazine named David as the recipient of their 2012 Hall of Fame award “as the person we call when we have a question about cities.” He is the co-author of Urban Design for an Urban Century (Wiley, 2015) and co-editor for Suburban Remix: the next generation of urban places (Island Press, 2018).
Panel 1: The Value of Downtown
At Suasion, Susan leads a team of creative professionals who execute award-winning branding, public relations, digital and marketing campaigns. Under Susan’s leadership, Suasion has been recognized with numerous accolades, including eight NJTIA Tourism Excellence Awards and five HSMAI Awards. In 2019, Suasion was honored with a prestigious PR Daily Bulldog (Industry) Award, along with a New Jersey Tourism Excellence Award. Suasion has been named to the prestigious Philadelphia Business Journal’s Full-Service Marketing Agency List for the past three years. Susan was awarded a 2018 FOLIO: Top Women in Media Award, recognizing women trailblazers. Susan is also a recipient of the 2015 Philadelphia Business Journal’s South Jersey Entrepreneur of the Year Award.
Susan also serves as a Stockton University School of Business Adjunct Professor. She currently serves on the Downtown New Jersey and the New Jersey Tourism Industry Association Boards of Directors. She is a member and mentor in Stockton University Women’s Leadership Council. Additionally, she founded and chaired the Upper Township Economic Development Advisory Commission and is immediate past Chair of the Cape May County Women’s Commission.
Jef has worked in facilitating place- and asset-based change since 1989 in American centers of urban poverty, Latin American rural areas, and more than 70 communities in New Jersey, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania and California. Currently, he serves as the Administrator of the Neighborhood Preservation Program (NPP) in the Division of Housing & Community Resources within the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs, providing place-based revitalization, placemaking, and community and economic development assistance and training to numerous district management organizations and municipalities statewide. Jef also provides place-based revitalization and improvement district assistance and presentations to communities around the state. Prior to running NPP, Jef lead Main Street New Jersey for 20 years, was a community organizer and housing advocate in Camden, and served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Dominican Republic.
Ollyn J. Lettman, MPA
Executive Director, Bloomfield Center Alliance
Ollyn joined the Bloomfield Center Alliance as Executive Director towards the end of 2015. For most of his professional career, he has worked in the nonprofit sector, including several years coordinating the Urban Enterprise Zone Program in Newark. Bloomfield’s downtown district is experiencing significant growth and the BCA is helping local stakeholders through these changes with its many programs, initiatives, and activities. These include: 1) a Façade Improvement Grant Program, available to assist business/property owners improve their investment’s “curbside appeal” and, 2) the Gateway to Bloomfield Center Initiative, an effort to redesign and remake the vehicular entry/exit point to the district at Bloomfield Avenue’s intersection with the Garden State Parkway overpass. Under Ollyn’s leadership, the BCA has introduced new events helping to create a buzz about Bloomfield Center and invite people to see and experience the downtown’s ongoing transformation. These include BCA’s Block Party on Washington Street and its Dinner under the Stars “al fresco” dining series. Earlier this year, the BCA achieved designation in the state’s Main Street Program and received a placemaking grant to implement a number of visual enhancements. In addition, BCA’s recent Walking Food Tours have helped put the downtown’s fine restaurants and “foodie” destinations on the region’s culinary map. Ollyn is a graduate of Franklin and Marshall College and received a Master’s Degree in Public Administration from Seton Hall University. He lives with his family in Newark and is currently a board member of the Ironbound Community Corporation.
Vanessa is an expert in brand management and integrated marketing communications. She is dedicated to successfully lead organizations to achieve their goals, in turn, improving their brand and market presence. With Jersey City Economic Development Corporation, Vanessa is the Director of Small Business Development where she counsels entrepreneurs and small business owners on every aspect of starting, owning and managing a business, including access to capital and understanding the permitting and licensing process to open shop. She partners with City government and the seven special improvement districts to encourage economic development throughout Jersey City. Vanessa is on the Board of Directors of Downtown New Jersey, an organization of individuals, businesses, government agencies, and local and regional organizations that are advocates about downtowns. They are the resource for anything regarding our downtowns and commercial districts in New Jersey. She co-chairs the Program committee and is a Policy committee member. Previously, Vanessa managed the corporate brand of BASF – The Chemical Company in North America including compliance and training; mergers and acquisitions brand implementation; and launched BASF Kids’ Lab, a sponsored chemistry education for children ages 6-11, at Liberty Science Center. At Engelhard Corporation, she practiced internal communications, marketing communications and public relations as well as produced six award-winning annual reports. She holds a Master’s in Public Relations and Corporate Communications from New York University; a Bachelor’s in Communications and a Certificate in Digital Marketing from Rutgers University.
Panel 2: Growing + Retaining Business in Your Downtown
Elayne has been a leader in launching & repositioned businesses and a variety of consumer brands both domestically and globally. She has extensive experience as a licensed Business Broker and has been recently certified as a business appraiser. She also holds the NASBITE CGBP (Certified Global Business Professional) credential.
Eric does business attraction, retention and expansion for the City of Trenton. He believes that there is more potential in an innovative Shop Local program than is often realized and has created a program which has been called “the best shop local program in New Jersey” according to MercerMe.com. He has noted that some attraction and retention programs don’t achieve their desired results because some cities don’t establish the prerequisites necessary to capture the economic impact from the programs. Business attraction projects he has implemented include a proactive signature retail cluster attraction plan, including consumer demand study, incentive package, pitch development and implementation. He has leveraged federal, state and city grants and other resources to attract businesses Business retention projects he has implemented include leveraging federal, state and city grants and other resources to retain businesses as well as helping businesses resolve specific concerns as they arise. He created and implemented the Shop Trenton Campaign. The Shop Trenton Campaign includes several innovative initiatives including an aggressive social media presence, several Eat Local clubs and a community “Favorite Business” video contest. He enhanced communication and transparency of Economic Development activities to engage residents and other interested parties in business support activities. Awarded Public Employee of the Year by the Trenton Council of Civic Associations in 2016.
Larisa brings over 20 years of experience advising public, private, and non-profit sector clients on retail real estate strategy in urban environments. Prior to joining Streetsense, Larisa founded Larisa Ortiz Associates, leading award-winning projects including The City of Cambridge Massachusetts Retail Strategy, The City of New York’s Commercial District Needs Assessment, and the formation of the first Business Improvement District in Latin America. Larisa is the author of Improving Tenant Mix, published by the International Council of Shopping Centers, and currently serves as a Mayoral Appointee to the NYC Planning Commission. She also serves on the Boards of the International Downtown Association, the Coro New York Leadership Center, the National Advisory Committee of the ICSC P3 Retail Program and is Co-Chair of the City of New York’s OneNYC Plan Advisory Committee. A Fulbright Scholar and Watson Fellow, Larisa has traveled the world studying successful downtown and mixed use environments. She holds an undergraduate degree from Wesleyan University and a master’s in city planning with a certificate in urban design from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Chelsea is a selfmade entrepreneur who started her alternative cosmetic company Witch Baby Soap in the kitchen of her home with a baby strapped to her chest in 2013. It has since grown to a full handmade manufacturing facility in Roselle Park shipping tens of thousands of orders globally and a brand new brick and mortar retail location in downtown Cranford. Chelsea and Witch Baby have been featured in publications such as Allure, Nylon, Buzzfeed, Insider, Bust Magazine, and Alt Press.
Melvin is the Vice President at Option 1 Realty Group. He was born and raised in Newark and has spent his career as a broker working deals in his hometown. His client list includes national chains such as Dunkin Donuts, Jimmy John’s, and Pizza Hut; non-profits such as New Jersey Citizen Action, CAPC (Community Assets Preservation Corporation)’ and independent retailers and service providers such as Off the Hanger, Garden State Yoga, Smitty & Mo’s, Brothers Pizza,and Jane Carter Solutions. He has worked with developers like the like the Hanini Group and on major projects like the sale of the Audible Innovation Cathedral.
Food Tour of Bloomfield
Emily is founder of EMI Strategy, a firm that specializes in economic development research and helping clients create experiences that generate commerce on business corridors and downtowns. Earlier Emily worked for OCO Global where she led successful marketing and business attraction projects for the firm’s government clients, and earlier she worked at Newark’s then economic development agency, Brick City Development Corporation, marketing the city as well as supporting the growth of Newark’s homegrown technology sector.
Emily runs the New York-Times cited tour company Have You Met Newark Tours that has provided 2500+ tours to residents, visitors, and employees in Newark since it was founded in 2012.
Emily lives in Newark and serves as on the Board of Directors at Gallery Aferro and F.P. YouthOutCry, as well as the Northeast Economic Development Association.
She frequently speaks at economic development and planning conferences on tours, downtowns, and building economic linkages in the tourism economy.