SOVCA to focus on placemaking, beautification in coming year

Downtown South Orange

SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — The South Orange Board of Trustees heard a presentation from the South Orange Village Center Alliance about its 2020 budget at the Nov. 25 BOT meeting, hearing from SOVCA Board President Mark Murphy and Executive Director Julie Doran about their goals for South Orange’s downtown. The presentation highlighted placemaking and beautification goals for the center of town, along with new marketing strategies. Placemaking refers to a community-centered approach toward designing public spaces.

“You guys give us such a significant amount of resources to let us do what we love to do,” Murphy said to open the presentation to the BOT. “As a board we’re only looking to have a stronger, tighter relationship with the Board of Trustees. For me, owning a business for 16 years in town, I think there’s a deep bond when someone gives you money or an asset and you want to return value to the person who gave you that. I think a lot of people behind the scenes this year, whether they were staff or volunteers, worked really hard to deliver on that promise to give back what you give us. I hope you feel that way.”

Doran announced that in 2020 two new members will be joining the board of SOVCA. George Constantinou, the owner of Miti Miti, and Maurice Blackwell, a resident of South Orange, will be working with SOVCA in the new year. She said the organization will continue to focus on six major areas: business recruitment and retention, placemaking and beautification, marketing and communication, events, advocacy, and fundraising. According to Doran, working with business owners is SOVCA’s first priority.

“We want to continue to work with our existing businesses and support them in every way possible,” Doran said at the meeting.

Specific goals include meeting with individual business owners throughout the year and communicating with businesses located on the second floors of buildings to include them more in the center of town.

“We’re looking to create a business council to advise us how to work with the business owners,” Doran said. “We think the best people to help us help our business owners are the business owners themselves.”

While discussing placemaking and beautification, Doran said SOVCA wants to enhance the downtown area with visual amenities. They plan to create a fundraiser dedicated to adding lamppost banners, lighting, art installations, holiday decor, murals, plants and streetscape improvements.

“We already do some of these, but others will be new,” Doran said. “We want to add more public art. We want to continue our ‘Keep Downtown South Orange Clean’ campaign. We started with some posters and information in 2019, and we’re hoping to add social media to that campaign this year. We want to work with the middle school students since they are our No. 1 visitor after school hours when they come through the town. They’re a population we want to keep aware of the fact that we are trying to keep downtown cleaner, so we think we could do some fun social media videos using the students themselves.”

During the events section of the presentation, Doran said SOVCA will continue to put on PlayDay and the Under Cover Music Festival, in addition to possibly working with Seton Hall University to plan events.

“We will continue to work with the township and our businesses to advocate on their behalf,” Doran said. “An important component is going to be the reusable bag ordinance as we roll it out at the end of this year and into the first quarter of 2020.”

The total proposed income for 2020 is $334,500. Of the total, $102,000 will come from assessment revenue. SOVCA is asking the village to provide them with $150,000. Sponsors provide $35,000, event income totals $13,000 and beautification fundraising will make $15,000.

SOVCA runs the South Orange Farmers Market, and Doran said the estimated income will be approximately $7,000. Donations will take in $2,000, reimbursements from the village will take in $10,000 and interest income will make $50.

In addition to the monetary income, SOVCA also has non-cash income. The village provides office space that is worth $16,532 and support staff that is worth $21,775.

Expenses were also outlined in the presentation. Placemaking and beautification takes up most of the budget at $120,550. SOVCA will spend $44,150 on business recruitment and retention and $50,852 on marketing and communication. Events and fundraising will cost $73,650 and advocacy work will cost $14,002. General expenses and administrative work will cost $31,345.

Trustee Karen Hartshorn Hilton suggested the information kiosks downtown be used, in addition to any online marketing done by SOVCA.

“I love social media, but I think we have a tremendous asset in our physical kiosks that are positioned around town and I just want to make sure you’re not forgetting them,” she said at the meeting. “Make sure they’re super clean and have good, up-to-date information on them. I think a lot of people do look at them. Social media is important, but the physical is very important as well.”

Doran said SOVCA is already working on a system for updating the kiosks on a weekly basis.

At the meeting, Trustee Steve Schnall applauded Murphy, Doran and the rest of the SOVCA for their work during the past year.

“I think the past year really had a focus on placemaking and beautification in general,” he said. “The downtown looks better now than it ever has. Spiotta Park is bristling and the music walk looks fresh and new. You guys are doing a great job.”