The downtown business district in Scotch Plains and its revitalization has been a topic of on and off interest by municipal officials for decades. It may seem almost the proverbial third rail of local politics. Nevertheless, we are not deterred and want to offer an alternative vision and path forward.
Mayor Glover's administration has favored an approach centered around government programs to draw people into the downtown to increase "foot traffic." While the events may be nice, they simply don't move the needle in a meaningful way. And half the year, it's too cold outside for outdoor events anyhow.
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To really effect change, we must do what it takes to draw significant private investment that will build new buildings that will attract people to the downtown both as a place of residence and business. And as a catalyst for that process, we propose to use existing municipal property to be developed.
We support a vision that includes an increased density of residency in the downtown. This increased density means people who literally walk downstairs in the morning and are in a commercial district, bringing that added "foot traffic" 365 days a year. That will make our commercial district more attractive to businesses. And subsequently, that will support better rents for property owners.
A vibrant downtown will benefit our overburdened taxpayers by leading to additional commercial ratables while growing our tax base and adding a steady flow of new tax revenues to help relieve the tax burden of our residents.
The process to get there must be one of open communication with all stakeholders. It must bring together residents, property owners in the business district, and professional leadership. It must not include government overreach. We will not use eminent domain, nor will we put significant public monies at risk. We must do this by attracting private investment.
Our job as a governing body will be to work to identify and support the right professionals, the right financing, the right private investment, and develop appropriate plans that will accomplish the goal. We have seen this accomplished in neighboring towns such as Cranford, Garwood and Fanwood. While they all have a train station and we do not, there are still many transit related solutions that can be incorporated, such as partnering with entities like NJ Transit and UBER.
We are also mindful that the retail world has changed dramatically over the past decade, and likely will continue to evolve substantially. The commercial entities in the business district will be more service focused going forward, but there will always remain a spot for successful niche retail businesses.
To see more about our vision and principles regarding the downtown, please visit our website at http://www.smithandspera2016.com/downtown
This sort of change to our downtown won't happen overnight. But laying the foundation for real change can be done in short order. And the first step in that direction will be for new leadership in town hall. Leadership that isn't afraid to make this a top priority. We humbly ask for your vote on November 8th, Al Smith for Mayor, and Ted Spera for Council.
Al Smith - Candidate for Mayor
Ted Spera - Candidate for Council
Llewellyn Jones - Councilman