Editor’s note: The following state of the town address was delivered by Mayor Andy Skibitsky at the town’s 2016 organization meeting Sunday. To read about that meeting, click here.
Two years ago, I described the state of the town in just one word — “strong.” Strong as in resilient. Strong as in enduring. Strong as in robust. Last year, I needed two words — “very strong.” This year, I need three words — “very strong” and “thriving.”
The state of the town is oftentimes associated with the town’s fiscal health. The good news is the town of Westfield has successfully navigated itself to a very strong and stable financial position. Perhaps there is no better evidence of this position than the AAA rating assigned by Standard & Poor’s this past August. The S&P report described the town’s financial position in the following terms, and I quote:
- “Strong management”
- “Strong budgetary performance”
- “Very strong budgetary flexibility”
- “Strong debt and contingent liability profile”
Such an endorsement of the town’s fiscal management by an impartial source should be reassuring news to our residents.
The town is fortunate to have won numerous awards and accolades in recent history, with new ones added every year. In March of 2015, the publication “New Jersey Family” named Westfield the “Best Mid-Size Town for Families.” Beginning its description on why Westfield was selected with “It has great schools, barely there crime and neighborhoods filled with young families. But what really makes it stand apart is its downtown.”
In almost all of the accolades the town has received, the downtown is mentioned as a significant feature adding to the town’s overall appeal and liveliness. There has been much written in business and real estate journals about the economic benefit to the community of a vibrant downtown. For example, it is estimated that for every dollar spent downtown, more than 87 cents stays in the local community.
Westfield’s downtown, however, is more than just an economic benefit to the community — it is truly a social and cultural meeting place. The central location, the physical layout, its walkability, the independently owned shops, the professional services, the restaurants, the national retailers, the festivals, the music — all contribute to the heartbeat of the community. This is why I have always advocated for “Westfield first.” If you can’t find it downtown, you don’t need it.
Of course, with the advent of the internet and online shopping, it cannot be denied that the retail paradigm is rapidly changing. In order to keep our downtown vibrant, we need to attract a regular influx of people to visit, shop, dine and use the professional services. To that end, the town welcomes private investment in our downtown areas. The town is committed to carefully managing growth while, at the same time, making sure it is meeting its statutory and court-ordered obligations. To be sure, nothing degrades the character and vitality of the community more than a lack of investment.
I am happy to announce that there are three new development projects planned within Westfield’s downtown area, all representing significant investments in our future without sacrificing character. During construction, residents will do doubt notice the changes, but be assured that the town has taken the necessary steps to ensure that the changes are positive and will be a boost for the downtown area and indeed the entire town.
The first project is a 70-unit residential building located at the intersection of South Avenue and Central Avenue. Construction on this project will commence in earnest in 2016. Included in this project are improvements and added lanes to the busy Central Avenue/South Avenue intersection — the complete cost of which will be borne by the developer and none of which will be at taxpayers’ expense.
The second project is the redevelopment of the “Jolly Trolley” site. Here we will see the construction of a new building containing not only retail space but a total of 20 residential units. We also expect construction to commence on this project in 2016.
The third project is the planned development at the intersection of West Broad Street and Rahway Avenue where we will see the construction of a building containing a total of 31 residential units. An application to the planning board is expected in January for this project.
These developments all share some important characteristics:
- They are all modern and architecturally appealing.
- They all represent improvements to currently underutilized properties located at highly visible locations within our downtown area.
- They all will provide easy access to the goods, services and entertainment that Downtown Westfield provides. Residents of these new buildings can walk from their front door to all that Downtown Westfield offers in a matter of minutes.
- Bus and rail service, too, are just steps away.
These developments also provide housing alternatives which may appeal to our existing residents. Perhaps they no longer need the size of the home in which they currently reside; perhaps they just want to simplify their daily lives and wish to remain in the town they love, close to friends and relatives.
Existing residents are not the only ones who could be served. We expect that young professionals, perhaps those who are just starting out in their careers, will be interested in the new units. Many of these individuals are looking to live, work and play within the same community. Westfield provides this opportunity.
To be sure, private investment in our downtown is not the only area undergoing positive change. Based on the number of building permit applications, existing residents are investing heavily in their own home and properties. Such investments and improvements ensure that Westfield will remain a strong, vibrant, healthy and prosperous community for many years to come.
Before closing, I want to remind residents to keep in touch with the town by following us on Twitter and Facebook, signing up for Nixle notifications, tuning in to TV 36 and checking out the town’s website, www.westfieldnj.gov. In the coming year, there will be significant upgrades to the website and, just recently, the Westfield Police Department launched their own Facebook page. And, as I have done so since the day I took office, I am available to meet with residents during my Saturday morning, and sometimes weeknight, office hours. Just call 789-4041 and my assistant will be happy to arrange an appointment for you.
In closing, let’s remember that Westfield is a town of nearly 31,000 residents living in an area of just over 6.7 square miles, yet it retains its “small town” feel. We know that the true state of the town, and what really defines us as a community are the people — the people who, with great pride, call Westfield their hometown. It’s about the parents who choose to raise their families here. It’s about the close-knit neighborhoods that hold annual block parties. It’s about the abundance of recreational, educational, cultural and spiritual opportunities. It’s about the hundreds, if not thousands, of volunteers who give so generously of their time and talents to coach and guide our youngsters in sports, Scouting and other activities.
It’s about our senior citizens, many of whom contributed to making Westfield what it is today and now stay to be close to the families they have raised. It’s about all of the hard-working merchants, professionals, restaurateurs and proprietors who have invested in Westfield and chosen it as their business home.
Thank you to each and every one of you for your individual contribution to making Westfield the truly unique and remarkable place that it is. We have so much to be grateful for.
Thank you and may God bless you.