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Executive Director Hired for Downtown Westfield Corp.

Michael La Place, a certified planner from Gaithersburg, Maryland, has been named as the Executive Director of the Downtown Westfield Corporation (DWC), the governing body for Westfield’s Special Improvement District (SID). He will begin his new position on Tuesday, September 2.


The SID was created through an ordinance adopted by the Town Council in June of last year. The SID board was appointed the following September. The SID was given a budget for this year of $184,000. The budget for 1997 was based on an eight-month program.

Mr. La Place will receive a salary of $50,000.

The council approved a bridge loan of $59,000 in March to help get the program off the ground. The DWC will be required to pay back the loan by the end of the year.

DWC Chairman Joseph Spector, the proprietor of The Leader Store in town, said among those persons considered for the job were corporate board of directors, retired executives, downtown management persons, one person with a real estate background, Chamber of Commerce executive directors and applicants with national Main Street program experience.

One applicant had experience in banking, finance and government; another had background in the recruitment of large shopping centers.

"It’s a job where you have to juggle as many as 12 things at once," explained Mr. Spector.

Mr. La Place has 10 years of experience working on community planning, urban design, and economic development issues, with special expertise in downtown revitalization.

He is currently Director of Long Range Planning for the City of Gaithersburg, which has a population of 50,000, where he has been responsible for revision of the city's Master Plan for development involving issues such as the revitalization of the "Olde Towne" central business district.

He serves on the community’s Economic Development Committee and urban design review group and is involved in special projects such as improving entrance and visitor orientation signs.

Prior to moving to Maryland, Mr. La Place was for six years, the Assistant Planner for Montclair where he reviewed development issues for the Planning Board, Board of Adjustment, and Historic Preservation Commission. He managed the central business district facade renovation program and garnered streetscape and other urban design grants for the township.

In Montclair, Mr. La Place was actively involved in design and economic development initiatives, including the installation of brick sidewalks, shade trees and vintage street lamps in the central business district. He is credited with helping to recruit several new businesses to the township, including the Fresh Fields specialty food store.

Mr. La Place received the 1995 Montclair Chamber of Commerce Community Service Award for his efforts toward improving Montclair's business climate and overall image.

From 1988 to 1990, Mr. La Place worked with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, first in the agency's management training program and subsequently as a Legislative Assistant in their Government, Community and Public Affairs Department.

He was involved in regional transportation and economic development issues and assisted in developing strategies on public policy affecting the Authority.

Mr. La Place holds a bachelor's degree and a Master of Urban and Regional Planning Degree from George Washington University in Washington, D.C. As a graduate student, he received a National Project Award from the American Institute of Certified Planners and a Washington, D.C. Mayor's Award for Urban Design Research.

A New Jersey native, Mr. La Place was born and raised in Piscataway. He cites fond memories of childhood shopping excursions to Westfield and other historic downtowns as a major factor in seeking the DWC position. He is a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners, the American Planning Association, the Newark Preservation and Landmarks Committee and the New Jersey Historical Society.

"Michael's demonstrated successes in downtown revitalization and economic development, combined with his tremendous enthusiasm and familiarity with this region, made him a stellar candidate for the position," said Mr. Spector.

"His planning skills were viewed as especially beneficial at a time when the central business district is undergoing significant changes. We are confident he has what it takes to help make Westfield's downtown a first-class shopping and entertainment destination while retaining its distinctive, ‘small-town’ character," he added.

As Executive Director of the Downtown Westfield Corporation, Mr. La Place will be responsible for managing the SID’s comprehensive downtown revitalization program, which includes design, economic development and promotion projects.

He also will oversee Westfield's continued participation in the national Main Street program, a division of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. He will work out of the new DWC office at 125 Elm Street, situated above Taylor Hardware.

The appointment of Mr. La Place concludes a three-month national search targeted specifically at individuals working in downtown management capacities. Approximately 20 candidates were considered for the position, with four semifinalists called back for second interviews.

The first SID- sponsored program, a series of jazz performances, will begin tonight, July 31, in the downtown. Last week’s initial performance had to be canceled due to rain.

Copyright 1997
TheWestfield Leader.
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