Sunday, September 22, 2013

Economic Development Report

My unscientific analysis of downtown Plainfield businesses, with no data whatsoever, is now complete.  The number one business is the sale of alcoholic beverages (no Rebecca, not mattresses).  Aside from its ability to stimulate anti-social behavior, alcohol is "probably the most social drug we humans have" (Michael Pollan).  Its importance in the revitalization of downtown Plainfield should not be underestimated.   It's part of my vision for downtown Plainfield as a place where all are welcome to earn a living, shop and have fun. All as in people of many ethnic backgrounds and socio-economic groups.

Plainfield has many liquor licenses and some bar licenses are used downtown to cater to a Latino clientele.  Notable among the downtown liquor establishments are two with frequent police calls for help - La Bamba and Pueblo Vieijo.  Its safe to say they are doing their part to dissuade new customers from using our downtown.  There is also Los Faroaenes and Chez Maree, both recently attracting attention as sponsors of street festivals.  These festivals are attracting new customers including families with young children (very desirable) but it is doubtful they are using our downtown as much as just being festival goers.

I've mentioned "new customers",  and "visions" for downtown and its time we have a healthy discussion about it.  As downtown becomes more and more a Latino gathering place, is there room for new customers who are not Latino?  Can we make downtown a place where parents feel more comfortable bringing or sending their children?  Is there a place for more shops that offer more than low end merchandise and services?

I fervently hope the answer to these questions is yes.  But a vision has to be backed by people with energy and resources.  One who fits this description is Plainfield's designated downtown redeveloper, the owner of Landmark.  He needs a liquor license.  Landmark's vision of downtown Plainfield is for apartment living, enhanced by restaurants, artisanal coffee shops and bakeries, and a healthy compliment of the arts.

In order to attract new customers to downtown, some restaurants will need to sell alcoholic beverages.  Alcoholic beverages = good business plan = enough profit to succeed = people having fun = attracting new customers.  Landmarks customers are retiring baby boomers and young people who enjoy the amenities of city living.  Sounds like diversity to me.

Back to my analysis of Plainfield's downtown.  My formula for success is:

1. support Landmark in any way possible to obtain a liquor license for a restaurant,
2. use the offices of city hall to bring together downtown stakeholders to create a shared vision, and convince merchants that diversity can be their ally, not a threat,
3. hire economic development professionals to enable city hall to do its part, in partnership with our merchants and turn would be investors into will be investors,
4. make downtown more friendly to shoppers and businesses through better code enforcement, ABC (Alcoholic Beverage Control) enforcement and more visible public safety measures (security cameras, police walking/cycling/segway patrols).

A central part of revitalizing Plainfield is converting the sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages from a detriment to an asset.  Not a easy goal but one worth the time and effort it will take to achieve.

Monday, September 9, 2013

The Street Festival Report

I went downtown last night to observe the festival.  I was particularly interested in when the amplified sound would be turned off.  Around 8:00 PM, there I was along with hundreds of festival goers.  There had to be a least 500, maybe 750 people there.  Families were out in numbers.  People appeared to be having a good time.  

The music was loud, very loud and when the band finished their set at 8:30, I took a stroll down Somerset St, assuming one more band was setting up.  Minutes later I returned to the sound of a familiar voice at the microphone.  It was Adrian Mapp, speaking to the multitudes with help from a translator.  He was being asked by the event organizer to allow the music to go past the City Council mandated 9 PM  end time.  Talk about being put on the spot!  How Adrian responded is worthy of mention because in my opinion, it demonstrates how our potential Mayor will operate under pressure.

Adrian said that as a Council member, it was his duty to uphold the 9 PM requirement.  He said that everyone is welcome in our city and he was happy to see so many people.  He was pressed a second time about allowing the show to be extended, and the large crowd waited expectantly for his reply.  He said that there are many voices in Plainfield and that they must all be heard.  He promised that the future of downtown festivals would be decided with all of the voices being heard.  The audience responded with cheers and applause.

PS - I found out later that Adrian had been sought out by the event sponsor to speak to the crowd.  He had only planned to be an attendee, like me.  When the sponsor saw I was present he offered me the microphone also but I declined.  Adrian had sent the right message and that was all that was needed.

PS #2- the sound system was turned off promptly at 9 PM.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Plainfield festivals

The number of festival days held downtown has grown tremendously in the last two years.  No wonder they are getting so much attention.  Either join the festivities or grin and bear it if you don't like the noise and outdoor alcoholic beverage consumption.  For me it will be a bit of both. 

I will be attending this weekends festival sponsored by Faraones on Front Street.  I have done so in the last few years and have enjoyed the food (the roasted corn is quite good).  But the female members of my family won't go back.  They don't like the outdoor beer drinking and what comes with it.

Up till now, I have accepted the sponsor's sales pitch: a great cultural opportunity for Plainfield that brings people to town to see what a good place our downtown is for shopping and having a good time.  But with numerous complaints coming from retail store merchants and residents, the Council has decided to evaluate the future of downtown festivals.

Heeding the residents and downtown merchant complaints I voted against this weekends festival.  But the Council majority ruled that this year the show will go on.  The best I could do was offer two amendments to the festival resolution.  One, to ban sales of alcoholic beverages, was shot down.  The other, to close the festival at 10 pm instead of 11 pm and to end the music and 9 pm instead of 10 pm, was supported by my colleagues. 

I aim to use my blog to provide information on the Faraones festival by way of photographs.  Here are today's, showing that 1) our parking lot is used the day before the festival begins and 2) contrary to claims that attendees will see what is good about downtown, we have some serious (but fixable)eyesores that reinforce the reputation Plainfield currently has.

I have been told that the approvals for the rides must be given prior to the festival opening:

Parking lot 8 needs a lot of maintenance and code enforcement:




These scenes will be in plain sight during the festival.  I expect the incoming administration will take aggressive action.