SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — Julie Doran, executive director of the South Orange Village Center Alliance, presented the organization’s accomplishments in 2019 and goals and budget for 2020 at the South Orange Board of Trustees meeting on Nov. 25. 

It has been a year of accomplishments, said Doran, who was hired this year. “We were happy to add seven street level retail businesses to the district” and seven second floor businesses, she said. “It’s pretty exciting to get a lot of activity on the second floor — and not just offices. These are different kinds of businesses that are looking to relocate to South Orange.”

She said the completion of the executive director search “brings me here tonight. Thank you, I’m glad to be here.” Doran started her job in August.

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Doran said that successful events produced by SOVCA this year included the sixth annual Play Day and the second annual Undercover Music Festival. “Both generated over $23,000 in combined net revenue,” Doran noted. 

Business development is crucial to SOVCA, and more than 100 requests for help were received, “everything from helping them fill out their permit requests… [to] talking about parking issues they may have, it really runs the gamut,” she said. “If we don’t have the answers we try to find the answers.”

“We also represent the business and economic development needs on various committees working with the township: zoning, design review board” and others. Under that umbrella, they helped 10 businesses get grants to update their facades through a Village-funded program. 

As part of “a renewed focus on downtown beautification in 2019” Doran said another accomplishment has been the updating of the Music Walk, the alley adjacent to Bank of America which connects the parking lot to South Orange Avenue. With a grant from Main Street New Jersey for $21,500, the alley was refreshed. “The grant enabled us to put in all new landscaping, to work on the lighting, to redo the poles, to add bistro lighting across the top, to put up art on the walls” and add bicycle racks in the shape of guitars. And more is happening yet: “Two benches are coming, and an audio system is coming. So that’s something we’re really excited about. The reaction so far from the business owners and residents has been very positive.”

Spiotta Park has also had a facelift: the toy animals were repainted, the fountain refurbished, and new landscaping, lighting and a mural were installed, she said.

SOVCA's budget for 2020 will be $334,500. South Orange is being asked for $150,000, the same amount as has been allocated the past several years. The matter will be voted on at a future BOT meeting. The remaining income for the organization will be $102,000 from assessment revenue and "the remainder is based on sponsorships, donations, and event income," Doran told TAPinto SOMA. 

Doran said during her presentation the major areas of programming for 2020 are: business recruitment and retention; place-making and beautification; marketing and communications; events; advocacy; and fund-raising. 

Specific goals include getting second floor businesses more engaged with the downtown community; the creation of a business council to advise SOVCA how best work with the business owners; hosting three resource workshops for downtown businesses; and activating each of the four business corridors (downtown/Sloan St, both East and West South Orange Avenue, and Valley Street) with targeted programming. Doran said they will also be working to make business owners aware of the matching grant program for façade/storefront improvements.

South Orange retail is doing well, she said. “We actually have a lower vacancy rate than most people perceive.” Although there are some persistant vacancies such as the former home of Blockbuster on South Orange Avenue, which is already slated for development, “we only have five active vacancies at this point in downtown, but we do know we have development coming down the road.”

Doran also announced two new board members starting in 2020: George Constantinou, owner of Miti Miti on Sloan Street, and Maurice Blackwell, a South Orange resident who has a background in urban planning and fund-raising. She said the public is invited to SOCVA’s monthly meetings.