SOUTH ORANGE, NJ – Students from Seton Hall University’s marketing department presented their research findings regarding the redevelopment of Irvington Avenue to township officials last week. The students had been tasked with finding out what the future of the street should be, according to the three different groups of stakeholders affected by any changes, neighborhood residents, Seton Hall University (SHU) students and faculty, and neighborhood business owners.
Neighborhood residents polled ranged from longtime resident retirees to young professional newcomers. The feeling among this group was that Irvington Avenue is a neighborhood that is often ignored and neglected by the rest of the town.
“When asked what they would like to see, one resident summed it up by saying, ‘more people, more security, more revenue, more life on the streets',” said Theo Filardi. Residents expressed a need for more police presence, a more diverse group of businesses, cleaner sidewalks and buildings, more greenery, better lighting, more SHU student involvement, neighborhood events, more signage.
Seton Hall students and faculty compared Irvington Avenue to the Ugly Duckling, not fitting in with the rest of the Township. The feeling among this group is that the neighborhood is unsafe, dark, dirty and home to too few enticing businesses. They would suggest more police on foot, walking the neighborhood to increase safety, as well as brighter street lighting. The SHU respondents also want a wider variety of businesses and longer hours of operation. They would like to see the addition of a bookstore, coffee shop and a sports bar. They also said the neighborhood needs to be cleaned and maintained better, to make it more attractive.
Business owners feel that the area has a lot of untapped potential, but looks “sad, depressed and a bit like Harry Potter’s room under the stairs.” Interestingly, the business owners did not see safety as a primary concern. They do see maintenance of their building by the landlords as a primary concern. They have asked for stricter code enforcement to bring their buildings up to par. They also would like to see more parking in the area to increase the number of shoppers/diners. The businesspeople would also like to see the Township include the neighborhood in holiday decorating and events that might bring more people to the Avenue.
An idea that was discussed with the different groups was the possibility of changing the name of the street to change the perception of the area. Some suggestions included University Avenue and International Avenue. As a county road, this may be a difficult task, but the concept of rebranding and marketing the neighborhood is seen as a positive step.
“This was a great group of students,” said Township Administrator Barry Lewis. “Enthusiasm, professionalism and the way you took this to be much more than a class assignment, so I was very impressed with that. Plus there is a practical effect and a benefit that we are going to get out of it. The feedback is very important to us and you are going to see changes in the neighborhood and know you were a part of it.”
“This is not just an academic exercise,” said Trustee Sheena Collum. “If you stay in South Orange, or come back and visit in 10 years, you will see the positive changes you helped bring about. I cannot thank you enough.”
“It’s always nice when you hear the customers are pleased,” said Adam Warner, Director of SHU’s Market Research Center. “Having a third party source, with more than 500 responses, makes the project credible. Hopefully it will really move the needle.”