Saturday, March 7, 2009

Economic Growth Committee minutes, March 2 2009

Present: Cory Storch, Rashid Burney, Marc Dashield (city administrator), Jacques Howard (city staff), Ken Robertson Planning Board), Jeff Dunn and Jim Uffer from Plainfield Chamber of Commerce, members of the public and Mark Spivey from Courier News

1. Discussion of NJIT/Rutgers community visioning process for transit hubs/rail corridor - the purpose of this visioning study is to get input, support and full engagement of local residents and business owners to create a guiding vision for future development at our two train stations and along the rail corridor. The resulting study would position Plainfield for future development opportunities and grants. While the economy is slumping, we can make preparations to "hit the ground running" with all stakeholders on board. It was noted by Councilman Burney that development means job creation as well as residential development.

Input was received from Marc Dashield and Ken Robertson to help tailor the proposal to Plainfields' needs. Members of the public were supportive of the proposal, feeling that it would be an opportunity to engage the community to educate, get their input, and to get buy-in and active support for Plainfields future development efforts. Cory Storch will follow-up with Marc Dashield and the proposal writers to address the concerns expressed at the meeting including the need for articulating specific deliverables/outcomes of the visioning process and to clarify the roles of the graduate student facilitators, the city administration, the council and the planning board. It was expressed by the council members present that this is an investment in Plainfield's future.

2. Discussion of the downtown summer concert series - the goal of this initiative is to stimulate business activity in the central business district. There was consensus around the table that consideration should be given to having some of the concerts in the early evening. One idea was to schedule one of the events on Thursday shopping night and recruit downtown restaurants to offer promotional deals for dinner. Having more than one venue was discussed with the possible locations being Park Madison Plaza and the North Ave block in front of the train station.

Cory Storch mentioned that the SID president was invited, could not attend but expressed a desire to have the SID participate in the concert series planning. Jim Uffer from the Chamber mentioned that their membership was from more than downtown businesses, that there are overlapping memberships with the SID and that the SID represented many more downtown merchants. Marc Dashield indicated that the administration was already considering the evening concert idea.

It was felt by all present that the concert series presents a great opportunity to unite city hall, the police department, public works and the merchants in a concert series that would provide new shoppers, many of them Plainfield residents, a positive experience in the downtown shopping district. There was discussion on how to engage hispanic business owners and shoppers in the concert series. Cory Storch agreed to reach out to the SID president and the SID Council representatives to share the ideas from this meeting.

Meeting adjourned at 7 pm.


Bill Hetfield said...

I have read NJIT proposal, and I would not give it a second thought except it will cost $65,000 - of tax payers money that could be better spent than on a study. A similar proposal of $40,000, called the Stategic Plan, was developed in 1997 as part of Al McWilliam's initial election. That plan was in the garbage can before he was sworn in. The NJIT proposal serves no practical purpose except to make Assemblyman Jerry Green and Mayor Briggs look like they have Plainfield's best interest in mind. It is a public relation ploy for it is about getting Briggs re-elected. Additionally, to think that lay people (citizens) are better planners than professionals such as major developers, planners, the market place, is not realistic; it is nieve. I thought you were going to be the voice that railed against abusive & self-serving practices from this administration! May I suggest that the funds be directed toward cleaning the NJ Transit ROW- it's an embarrassment, downtown garbage pick-up & street clean-up and repair, securing buildings, beautifying city streets, etc. Plainfield has many problems that need to be addressed; another study is not needed in these very difficult times. Plainfield is hemorrhaging.

Anonymous said...

I have long believed it is misguided to redevelop the area around the downtown train station with apartments. Instead, what would benefit Plainfield most would be IT-focused offices with retail on the first level. Why would this work?
1) The reason people use the RR is to get to New York City. Anyone willing to travel an hour (or more) to a job in NYC will only travel that time if they are getting a home and a yard. If someone is living a condo/apartment lifestyle, they live close to the city, where the action is. Very few buyers will consider a condo when they can get a stand-alone home for a comparable price.
2) It is unrealistic to think someone would move an hour out of New York into New Jersey and not want a car. If it is a couple with children – two cars. Yes, people can take the train to work and perhaps walk to some businesses … but people still will want a car.
3) Manufacturing is long gone, but IT is here to stay, and there will be growing demand. Many large banks are moving their IT operations out of the city, but want them easily accessible. Smaller IT businesses that want to work in NYC, but can’t afford the rent – our location would be perfect. IT is white collar. The city would not incur COSTS (ie, schools) with this redevelopment. People would come, work, spend their money, go home.
4) IT people work all hours. There will be a demand for food and other services morning through late evening. Retail businesses would see the opportunity with a large IT worker population wanting to do quick shopping during lunch, having lunch and dinner, etc.
5) If people come to work here – they might just decide to settle and live here – they would see the opportunity, buy, renovate, settle. We need more home ownership.
6) This has already happened – Jersey City is a PERFECT case of this scenario working. Jersey City was a slum. The city wooed the banks, the banks bought, built … and now it is a thriving business community, with nearby housing in demand and expensive.
7) I would ONLY consider building housing until a thriving business community is in place and the DEMAND for the housing is there.
I do not believe building more housing – of any kind – in the downtown will benefit the city economically. If the misguided developers build condos, they can’t sell, the city will end up with apartments – which we have plenty.
The transit village idea is great on paper – but I have yet to see a truly thriving example of it working. Business drives economic growth – not housing.


Bill Hetfield said...

I take exception to Ms. lynch conclusion that "business drives economic growth-not housing." As real estate person with over 30 years experience in the real estate field, this statement is false. It is people (purchasing power) and their housing that determine the quantity & quality of commerce. To the point, commercial development follows, it does not lead development. After WW11, new highways faciliated people leaving aging cities with their minimal quality, older housing stock; as a result, quality of commerce declined. What followed housing to the suberbs were the malls, strip centers, jobs, etc. Today, whether it be Westfield or Cranford, development, whatever it is, reflects the purchasing power of the community. As to Plainfield, the quality of our commerce reflects the purchasing power of the trading area population. To enhance commercial development in Plainfield, the purchasing power of residents needs to increase. This requires placing a priority on maintaining most of Plainfield's above average, existing housing stock and creating a critical mass of housing in the downtown. That will require a redevelopment plan of scale that encompasses a good chunk of the core downtown. By redeveloping lands east & west of Watchung & Park Avenues from Front Street to 7th Street. So far the politicans have lacked the courage and possibly the capacity to take the steps that would enhance, economically & socially, the entire community. What are they afraid of? If history is a judge, it is loss of power and change!

Bill Hetfield said...

Today,I spoke with Darius Sollohub, AIA from NJIT. It was a good conversation. He did not disagree with my evaluation, but concurred that without the political commitment this is just another exercise. He was clear about the benefits and that makes me more inclined to see merit to the project. If he is accurate on that count, it is all the more important that the conceptual ground work be laid before the survey/study is made. There needs to be visionaries who prepare the citizens for a project that will renergise the community. Who or what constitutes that visonary is open for discussion. However, without the political buy-in, the city is going no where wwith this endeavor. There is a lot of selling/PR that must take place. I hope you & Rashid, etc. are up to the task.

Anonymous said...

I don't disagree with certain of Mr. Hetfield's points. Yes, Westfield's thriving downtown reflects the purchasing power of its community. Where does the money come from? Primarily it is driven by NYC.

I am not against housing development per se ... I'm against housing right up on the railroad tracks. Putting housing there instead of offices, missing the opportunity to create white-collar jobs HERE IN TOWN. If businesses brought their operations to town, then people would come to town to work, that would create a real opportunity that retailers could see for business AND it would help create a demand for housing in Plainfield.

New York City will always be a draw ... my point was I don't see any consumer looking for housing, working in NYC, would want a home on the railroad tracks AND not need a car.

It seems most of the downtown "development" plans for housing don't include the condo owners having 2 cars. Developers don't want to "waste" space on parking. But, to be a quality development, to attract the monied customer Plainfield would want ... you need that parking. Otherwise, most consumers will pass ... especially given the real estate market ... there are more attractive, developed communities with housing.

Plainfield does need to be redeveloped. Our downtown buildings do not have a small, quaint main street flavor like Westfield. Plainfield is a city. So ... Plainfield should embrace that it is a city and capitalize on that ... redevelop with an eye towards attracting white-collar business, where the railroad is a major asset.

The other thing everyone dances around, and doesn't want to come out and say ... Plainfield will not change until the ratio of middle income/well-to-do/poor changes.

To attract the middle income/upper income customer ... Plainfield will have to clean up it's act.

My reasoning about putting offices at the railroad tracks, wooing those businesses ... these businesses will bring professional, middle-income people into town to work. Retail/restaurants will follow to provide services to those workers. Then, if new housing stock where built ... there would be people interested, because they would have nearby work (as well as the usual NYC draw).


Anonymous said...

Good comments from all, but you need a good mix of both residential and commercial to make it work. Look at Newport Center in Jersey City. Former abandoned railroad yards on the waterfront. A former ghost land now one of the hottest pieces of real estate in the country. While Plainfield will never be a Newport, we can look to it as a shining example. First came the apartment buildings, then a condo tower, followed by the commercial aspects. The North avenue train area should have the entire block redeveloped into a blended mix of retail on the 1st floor with commercial offices above followed by apartments above those. Higher end units, not our typical "ghetto" units. Sorry, but we have more than enough of them already. (The units, not the people, everyone needs a place to live) If you provide a decent, clean place to live with modern amenities, they will come...and yes, even to Plainfield. How many of our own Plainfielders would come back or would choose to live in a new unit at the station?? Look at Morristown or any other town with the train. New Brunswick is another prime example of a success story. Only in the past 5 to 10 years have they been making huge strides. Before, it was a project here and there. J&J got the ball rolling and others followed. If you can attract such greats as IM Pei and Kondylis and their deep pocket clients, why cant we?? Its time the politicos wake up and get their heads out of their rear ends and get on the band wagon. It pretty bad when the owner of the 4 story building near the train station parking lot is keeping it empty instead of putting in luxury apartments and retail space. Wake up people!! Enough with the spot zoning. make a plan and get this city going again. And by the way...the facades should be kept in tact, build new coming up off the facades for a great contrast of old and new. Just my 2 cents for the day!