Springfield Avenue has had its ups and downs in the last few years — but while the district continues to face some tough challenges, there is some good news on the horizon.
On Thursday night, Feb. 17, the new manager of the Springfield Avenue Partnership explained what the Partnership is up to — and what it is — and announced two new businesses coming soon the Avenue, as well as a groundbreaking ceremony for Walgreen's on Feb. 21.
Partnership district manager Diana Vitrano — on the job for just two months — said the Partnership's main aim was "working to bring shoppers and new visitors to Springfeild Avenue." Vitano explained that the Partnership does this through a combination of events and promotions. She ran through a description of HarvestFest, a Passport program that ran last October, District Dollars and Black History Month.
Vitrano said the District Dollars program — in which shoppers can sign up online to win gift certificates redeemable at Springfield Avenue businesses — has been a success. "It gave people an opportunity to find out new things on Springfield Avenue." Registration for the current program runs through Feb. 28.
Vitrano also encouraged everyone to attend the culminating event of Black History Month — a performance by jazz legend James Spaulding at Astah's Art Gallery on Saturday, Feb. 26 at 8 p.m.
A new event coming to Springfield Avenue for the first time this March is "Restaurant Week." The event has run the past two year's in Maplewood Village. This year, the Maplewood Village Alliance, the Springfield Avenue Partnership and the Chamber of Commerce are working together for the first time to create a townwide event. Mayor Vic DeLuca said that 54 eating establishments had been invited and about 30 had agreed to participate. The final list is not yet available but should be shortly. Maplewood Restaurant Week will run from March 21-27, 2011.
MayFest is also a big — well, the biggest and most successful — event run by the Partnership. Vitrano said she had not yet experienced the event. "This will be my first MayFest," she said. But Vitrano explained that, although she is new to Maplewood, she has worked for many years in district management in towns throughout New Jersey.
The Partnership also covers beautification for the district—managing a pan-and-broom sidewalk sweeping contract with Time to Clean that runs spring through fall, a landscaping contract with Z.O. of Maplewood that includes planters, and organizing holiday decorations including garland, wreathes and window painting.
Vitrano concluded her presentation by inviting everyone to the Walgreen's groundbreaking at Springfield Avenue and Tuscan Road at 11:30 a.m. on Monday, Feb. 21.
Things got interesting when it got down to questions. Folks wanted to know what was happening with the Bank of America building at Springfield Avenue and Prospect Street—the bank is scheduled to close the branch on Feb. 25.
Mayor Vic DeLuca fielded that questions: "A couple of banks have expressed interest," said DeLuca. "But there's nothing definite yet."
How does the Partnership get its budget?
Mostly through an assessment on commercial properties, said Vitrano, plus a conrtribution from the Township ($20,000 in 2010 with a request for $30,000 in 2011). DeLuca explained that the current assessment was 26 cents for every $100 of assessed value.
HNA VP Melissa Hodgins wanted to know who Vitrano worked for and where they were located.
Vitrano is an employee of The Community Advocates based in Verona, NJ. The Springfield Avenue Partnership, which is run by a board comprised mostly commercial property owners and business owners, contracts management of the district to The Community Advocates.
Hodgins also wanted to know if the Partnership was involved in "trying to bring businesses to the area too?"
Vitrano said that there was a page of available properties listed on the district's website. When Hodgins asked, "But is there any solicitation on your part?" Vitrano explained, "We are involved in advocating for any business that wants to come to the Avenue. We don't have a program to recruit, but if you need help to deal with the township or permitting process, we can do that."
Ultimately, Vitrano said, "No, we are not actively marketing yet" — and did not rule out that role for the Partnership in the future.
Another audience member wanted to know about the progress of redevelopment in the area. DeLuca said, "It's going slow." The mayor cited the economy but then noted the Walgreen's groundbreaking (the store should open later this year) and the Daibes project across the street at the old Shell Station that will bring ground floor food uses and upper floor apartments. DeLuca said the food use would be a "bagel, cafe, ice cream" shop establishment. The project should also be underway this year.
The big news near the end of the presentation was the announcement by Vitrano that two new businesses will be opening on Springfield Avenue soon: A coffee shop called Kocafe will be coming to the old DinnerSmith location at 1908 Springfield Avenue; and a bakery will be opening at the former location of the Ricciardi Bros. design showroom at Indiana and Springfield Avenue.
Patch is working to find out more details now....