Updated at 8:28 p.m. Feb. 28

WESTFIELD, NJ — Downtown Westfield Corporation has named a new executive director.

Robert Zuckerman, who previously headed up the South Orange Village Center Alliance and serves as president of Downtown New Jersey, a statewide group advocating for downtowns, addressed the special improvement district’s board Monday night during the same meeting at which he was appointed.

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“I’m looking forward to working with each and every one of you to make downtown Westfield as spectacular as it possibly can be, and to working hand-and-hand with the municipal government to partner with them on redevelopment and on other initiatives that can really make the downtown sparkle and shine,” Zuckerman told the board.

Zuckerman will begin in his role March 23, said Patricia Hanigan, who chairs the DWC’s board. A search committee comprised of Hanigan, a local business owner, a local property owner, the town’s administrator along with a planning board member and the interim DWC director picked Zuckerman for the job, officials said.

“The committee worked tirelessly, and I am confident we have found the right person in Robert,” Hanigan said.

Zuckerman has extensive experience in “business recruitment” and has served on the Board of Governors of the South Orange Performing Arts Center, she said.

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Before working in South Orange, Zuckerman served as executive director of New York City's Lower East Side Business Improvement District, on the Greenwich Village-Chelsea Chamber of Commerce and on the Gowanus Canal Conservancy, officials said.

In May 2019, voters elected him to the South Orange Board of Trustees, that township's governing body. It is an unpaid part-time position.

“I spent five-and-a-half years running the Village Center Alliance and I believe left downtown South Orange in much better shape than how I found it,” said Zuckerman, 58, who lives with his husband and three rescue cats in the Essex County municipality. 

During his time at the South Orange Village Center Alliance, Zuckerman spearheaded 28 new business openings, improved the township’s streetscape through new murals and plantings and launched new events such as “PlayDay” and the “South Orange Food Stroll,” a profile of Zuckerman posted to TAPinto SOMA says.

Until Zuckerman begins in his new role, the DWC’s interim executive director, Kathleen Miller Prunty, will remain on in a part-time capacity.

The DWC's new executive director will earn an annual salary of $93,500, Prunty said. Zuckerman has chosen not to enroll in health insurance as part of his new position, creating a savings for the town, she said.

Zuckerman comes to Westfield amid local concern about some vacant storefronts in the downtown and following the closure of the landmark Rialto Theatre. Officials are looking to turn the vacant movie theater space into a performing arts center.

Zuckerman has the endorsement of a past chairman of the Greenwich Village-Chelsea Chamber, a news release from the DWC said.

“Bob’s ability to deal gracefully and effectively with disparate and sometimes difficult situations is quite remarkable,” James Hart, the past Chamber Chairman, said in the release.

In addition to getting a new executive director, the DWC is slated to expand its board of directors by four members, adding two residents, one merchant and one property owner.

The town council is anticipated to approve the new appointments Tuesday night.

The appointees are as follows, according to the council agenda:

Owner Director — Lillian Pien
Operator Director — Roberta Loew
Resident Director — Michael LaPlace
Resident Director — Bob Conway

This story has been updated to include the new DWC director's annual salary. The figure had not been made publicly available at the time of first publication.

Email Matt Kadosh at mkadosh@tapinto.net | Twitter: @MattKadosh