SOVCA provides 2016 overview, looks ahead at 2017

Village president ‘fuming’ over defunding of Main Street NJ

SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — The South Orange Village Center Alliance’s leaders presented their organization’s proposed 2017 budget to the South Orange Board of Trustees at the board’s Jan. 9 meeting. In addition, they listed the group’s many accomplishments in 2016 and requested a five-year extension.

Though the budget is not yet set, as it stands now, SOVCA’s 2017 proposed total income is $330,750 and its proposed total expense is $331,600. Income is expected to come from assessment revenue, donations and sponsorships, event proceeds, interest payments, the sale of promotional goods and the village. This money will go toward administrative operations, advertising and marketing, economic development and services, and events and promotions.

SOVCA is allocating more money to the 2017 budget than last year’s, as it exceeded both its projected income and expense in 2016.

SOVCA was created back in 2012 with a five-year vision plan and the understanding that, should it be successful, the BOT could choose to renew the organization and keep it running in 2017. The board must now decide whether to keep SOVCA around; if not, 2017 will be SOVCA’s last year in the village.

According to SOVCA Chairman Matt Glass, if the board were to extend SOVCA, it would run until 2022, pending another extension. Additionally, should SOVCA be extended, it would request a charter change to expand its board, explain how the board works and list the requirements to serve on the board.

To persuade the board to grant the extension and support its budget, SOVCA Executive Director Bob Zuckerman listed the organization’s achievements.

Zuckerman highlighted the third Play Day South Orange, which, despite being held on its rain date of Sept. 25, brought more than 4,000 attendees and expanded its footprint to W. South Orange Avenue.

“Play Day gets bigger and bigger,” Zuckerman said, adding that the event raised $28,300 from sponsors and $11,400 in wristband sales. “We have taken in more sponsorship money from more sponsors than we ever have before.”

Zuckerman also touched on Downtown After Sundown, which held more than 80 concerts in 2016, and the South Orange Farmers Market, which brought in more money in its 20th year. He admitted that Party in the Plaza — the move to close Village Plaza to vehicular traffic during Downtown After Sundown concerts — received some mixed feedback.

“I just got an email last week from someone who said they really loved it,” Zuckerman said of the event, adding that not all the merchants in the area were fans, as customers could not park nearby and deliveries were affected. SOVCA is still determining whether or not to continue Party in the Plaza for 2017 and is looking for more feedback from the public and merchants.

“Halloween, of course, was great, with over 200 families, great costumes,” Zuckerman said of SOVCA’s Halloween celebration. He added that the event was fully sponsored and therefore incurred no cost for SOVCA.

As for Small Business Saturday, Zuckerman said that, with American Express no longer giving credit to participating customers, SOVCA set aside $1,000 for $10 coupons to give to shoppers in the village center.

“This year we might do our own Small Business Saturday and move it a week over to be eight days after Black Friday,” Zuckerman said, explaining that he thought there would be increased sales then. If this change were made, South Orange’s small businesses would no longer be participating in the nationwide movement, but Zuckerman thinks they would benefit in the long run.

Continuing village President Sheena Collum’s movement to better integrate Seton Hall University into the South Orange community, Zuckerman touted SOVCA’s recent partnership with the school to present “South Orange is #HallIn,” in which the two organizations promoted SHU men’s basketball viewing parties at village center establishments and worked with the village for Final Four public viewing.

“We want to start working with (Seton Hall) again soon because I think there’s a really good chance they’ll be in the championship,” Zuckerman said. “We want to have a big party downtown with a big screen (for a) watching party.”

Zuckerman discussed the success of the Food Stroll and Pub Crawl, which was organized “last-minute” because Restaurant Week “hadn’t been working out.” This event sold more than 300 wristbands.

One of SOVCA’s most successful endeavors was the Pop ’n Shop, a pop-up store open in May and December that included more than 40 merchants and paid for itself through its sales, which came in at more than $23,000 — a record. The store was set up in the former Blockbusters space and Zuckerman pointed out that it was “the first time in five years that anything had been sold in that space.” While SOVCA is unsure if it will continue the spring pop-up shop, it is already eager to do so in December 2017.

Lastly, Zuckerman discussed SOVCA’s December holiday celebration, an event at which 125 families visited with Santa at the Firehouse. This fully sponsored event incurred no cost for SOVCA.

In 2017, SOVCA intends to beef up its marketing and sponsorship appeals; grow its events, both in terms of sponsorship and attendance; involve more businesses in events like the Food Stroll and Pub Crawl; find new vendors for the farmers market; and work more closely with Seton Hall University.

SOVCA also intends to install SOVCA-identified banners throughout the area; continue working with the newly created Design Review Board to improve storefronts and properties; beautify the area; enhance SOVCA’s website with a better calendar, an interactive parking map and updated merchant listings; design and install new way-finding signage; and begin planning to revitalize Spiotta Park.

According to Glass, SOVCA is excited to launch two new marketing campaigns in 2017, and wants to brand South Orange as the “Live Music Capital of New Jersey” with a logo to be displayed on village promotional materials and business signs.

“There’s live music here and we’re not really promoting it,” Glass said. “Our goal is to launch this as soon as possible.”

Glass said South Orange already has a vast number of live musical performances, so the village should capitalize on this.

Village Counsel Steve Rother suggested inviting radio station WGBO to South Orange to broadcast live from South Orange Performing Art Center’s Loft, saying that the station often does live shows and it is just a matter of attracting it to the village.

The second marketing idea, which is less developed, would be to celebrate South Orange’s diversity with the phrase “Everybody Belongs Here.”

“This truly is a unique place,” Glass said. “No matter what you look like, no matter who you love, you should come to South Orange.”

SOVCA does anticipate at least one problem this year: the defunding of Main Street NJ. This organization, a branch of Main Street America, provided technical assistance and training in downtown revitalization and management.

“Apparently this was something that this administration in Trenton had been looking to do for some time,” Zuckerman said, adding that South Orange had been a member of the organization since 1993. “I think it is incumbent on us to advocate to return this service.”

Zuckerman said South Orange is still a Main Street community as it is a member of the national organization; however, without the New Jersey branch, there is no organization between communities within the state and no seminars.

“One thing you should know is that our website, our brand, everything came because of Main Street NJ,” Glass said.

Collum fervently agreed with Zuckerman and Glass that something should be done to return Main Street NJ to its task.

“I’m fuming right now,” Collum said upon hearing that Main Street NJ had been defunded. “My blood pressure just hit the roof. The amount of waste that occurs in Trenton, yet they knock off the Main Street program, which is perhaps one of the most successful local government-oriented (organizations) supporting small businesses. There are Main Street communities all throughout the state.

“As the executive director of the American Planning Association’s New Jersey chapter, (I know) the majority of great downtowns that exist in our state are Main Street communities and follow the Main Street model, so I am absolutely disgusted beyond belief that the tiny pittance of funding they had to begin with was taken away,” Collum continued, adding that she would like the BOT and SOVCA to co-write a letter to legislators on this issue. “I’m at the point where I’m done with this administration; November can’t come soon enough.”

SOVCA will host its open meeting to discuss its 2017 direction and budget Tuesday, Feb. 7, at 6:30 p.m. at Boccone South, 59 South Orange Ave. in South Orange. The event will include food and discussion.