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SID Board Approves 1997 Budget of $226,000

Chamber of Commerce Objects

By PAUL J. PEYTON for The Westfield Leader

The Downtown Westfield Corporation, which manages the town’s Special Improvement District (SID), approved its proposed 1997 budget of $226,000 despite continued heavy opposition from the Westfield Area Chamber of Commerce. The budget is an increase of $10,000 over the plan announced in early January. The SID board approved the spending plan by a 4-1 tally, with Gerri Gildea as the dissenting vote. She wanted the board to spend more time looking over the budget.

Last month the Chamber presented an alternative budget which was $73,500 lower than the SID’s draft budget of $214,000.

The budget will now go to the Town Council which will have the final say on the spending plan. The plan includes an advancement from the town of $25,000 to help the SID in its start-up costs.

The board has also sought an additional $25,000 from the town as part of its renewal for the revitalization program previously administered by the Westfield MainStreet program.

The four-part program included in the SID program is design, promotions, economic restructuring, and organization. Joseph Spector, the SID Chairman, later told The Leader that in bringing the MainStreet program into the SID, the Executive Director of the SID, which has yet to be hired, also will run MainStreet.

Mr. Spector, operator of The Leader Store and a downtown property owner, said with the adoption of the SID’s by-laws and approval of the budget, "we can declare the SID ‘open for business’ and get ready to begin delivering the programs and services that this board was created to provide for the revitalization of downtown Westfield."

He said the board hopes to have an office in the downtown area by the end of next month. A line item was included in its budget in the amount of $18,000 for rental and utilities costs.

Among the programs outlined in the budget is a "clean sweep program" whereby the SID would fund the annual Cleanup Day, currently run by the Chamber, which would be expanded from past years with additional volunteers.

The Chamber, meanwhile, will be asked to expand its program of educating the public and downtown businesses concerning litter and other related issues.

An expenditure of $40,000 is included to reimburse the town for the purchase of seasonal lights in time for the holiday season. Promotional costs, amounting to an additional $43,000, include downtown and restaurant guides, and the Welcome Home to Westfield holiday program.

The organizational budget of $88,500 includes costs related to everything from grant writing, to program supervision, supplies and a quarterly newsletter.

In terms of expanding programs currently offered by the town, Mr. Spector noted that $15,200 has been included for this purpose, including adding more trash disposal pickups along with power washing of sidewalks.

Mr. Spector said MainStreet will be "instrumental" in helping get the SID program up and running.

Katherine L. Broihier, Executive Director for the Chamber, was critical of a number of line items in the budget. She questioned why no funds were included in the plan even as a goodwill gesture to help with the downtown’s parking problem.

Mr. Spector said he has been in contact with First Ward Councilwoman Gail S. Vernick, the Chairwoman of the council’s Transportation, Parking and Traffic Committee, to revitalize the Super Parking Committee, of which Mr. Spector is a member. A detailed parking report was submitted last year by a Parking Task Force created by former Mayor Garland C. "Bud" Boothe, Jr. The Super Parking Committee was created in order to follow through on the recommendations in the report.

He said the SID board is "looking at ways in which the SID can be instrumental in better managing the downtown parking situation." Mr. Spector said the SID does not have any control over the parking situation.

He said the recommendations in last year’s Parking Task Force report could be implemented "without a major expense" to the town. He said the SID does not have the funds "to fix the parking crisis."

Mrs. Broihier also questioned the need for hiring consultants to gather data. Board member Jennifer Carlson Jeruzelski explained the database, which would be collected and used to identify and track businesses by types and perform market analyses, would actually be less expensive in the long term.

Mrs. Broihier said the Chamber was concerned that the SID was more interested in bringing large corporations to Westfield "which is not necessarily what we are looking for" in developing the program of economic development.

The Chamber director said she felt the $15,000 included for market analysis, retention and recruitment consultants could be better spent in other areas. Mrs. Broihier said databases on economic restructuring are already available from large corporations.

Saul Drittel, a Chamber representative and realtor in town, said A&P surpermarkets has made available such information to the Chamber. This includes the population makeup, spending habits and other related demographic data.

Mr. Spector said the SID needs to have its own database which will include such information as the number of square feet available, and the types of businesses currently in town.

Dr. B. Carol Molnar, a member of the Board of Education and former member of the Planning Board, recommended that the SID consider putting together a manual to explain the permitting process in town for potential new businesses interested in opening up shop in Westfield.

Ms. Jeruzelski explained that such information was included within the budget under the $5,000 line item "economic restructuring."

When the program is further along, Mr. Spector explained, the goal is to make the town’s building department -- including the permit process -- more "user friendly."

Town Administrator Edward A. Gottko, an ex-officio member of the SID board, explained to Darryl Walker, a member of the Chamber’s Board of Directors, that the SID board will receive $113,000 of its total assessment this year.

It will receive 25 percent of the tax assessment on district properties on Friday, August 1. The remaining three-quarters will be received on Saturday, November 1; Sunday, February 1, and Friday, May 1 of next year.

Each payment, which will be collected by the town and sent to the SID board, will be in the amount of about $56,000.

In terms of promotional events, Mr. Spector plans to do at least four events this year with the first slated for late spring. A summer event is also expected, as well. A total of $25,000 has been set aside to implement these events.

Mrs. Broihier said the Spring Fling and FestiFall promotional events have generated "a huge profit each year" for the Chamber. She said each event nets $5,000 in profits.

Under questioning from Mr. Gottko, Chamber representatives said that Advertising Alliance, which recruits vendors for the promotional events, receives 75 percent of the revenues from each event with the Chamber garnering the rest.

Ms. Jeruzelski questioned whether town merchants actually benefit from Chamber events which attract vendors from outside of Westfield. She said Westfield SID events will be geared for downtown businesses such as the possibility of a children’s fashion show.

Mr. Drittel questioned several areas of the budget including the facilities cost for rent and utilities. He said there is space available in the business district at $700 a month and under.

He said he sees the SID spending plan has almost the same as that of the MainStreet budget.

His biggest criticism was of the promotional budget of $25,000 which he called "inadequate." Mr. Drittel said $88,000 is a more realistic number. He said the cost for one mailing of 40,000 homes is $13,000.

Mr. Drittel said promotions also should include advertising billboards, and newspaper advertising.

Mr. Spector said the SID’s budget is not intended to replace but rather supplement the existing promotions of the Chamber.

Mr. Drittel said the $15,000 included for facade renovations was not necessary, adding that the only thing that is needed is "people on the street" to shop at town stores.

"Move more money into marketing. That is our number one need," he told the SID board.

Mr. Drittel said the town now has a chance to take the money it will get from the large retailers in town such as Lord & Taylor and The Gap and use it to market the town.

He said due to the lack of funds the Chamber has not been able to accomplish this feat.

Mr. Drittel and W. Jubb Corbet, Jr., a former town councilman who chaired the Town Council’s Finance Committee, said he is strongly opposed to the inclusion of monies for facade renovations. A total of $5,000 is included in the budget for this expense.

Mayor Thomas C. Jardim said he believes the facade program, previously done through a grant obtained by MainStreet, has attracted customers to downtown stores such as The Gap.

Mr. Corbet was highly critical of the budget and relationship between the MainStreet and the SID. He said the Chamber should be the group directly involved in the process. He said the Chamber represents 250 businesses which pay between $250 and $500 in annual membership dues.

He said the MainStreet program "does not have an organizational structure and has done nothing as far as credibility except the spending of $450,000 over three and a half years."

Michelle Picou, Manager of the MainStreet program, defended the program by stating it had managed to raise through volunteer fundraising over $300,000.

"Never in our wildest dreams did we ever enjoy $450,000," she shot back in responding to Mr. Corbet’s accusation.

She said 17 building facades were renovated through the MainStreet program. Mrs. Picou said 11 grants amounting to some $15,000 were obtained for the program. She added that the grants actually wound up generating over $1 million in building improvements as landlords put many of their own dollars in the renovations.

Mrs. Picou said MainStreet’s success is what generated the creation of the SID program. She said critics of MainStreet may come to the office and look at the paperwork detailing the projects it worked on the past few years. She said over 300 volunteers have also lent their support to the effort.

Mr. Spector said that while serving on the council, Mr. Corbet wasn’t available when it came to downtown issues "when we (downtown merchants) needed you most." He said Mr. Corbet’s statements were not factual and "not based in the real world," adding that his comments over the past 18 years, when the SID was considered and than created, were never based on "substance."

Mr. Corbet accused the SID board of having two purposes: One to approve a parking deck and the second of approving appointments who vote in favor of the board’s priorities.

The facade program in essence takes money from "the little guy" or merchants and uses to fund improvements to buildings he said are owned by millionaires. He said he can not understand why such a program is needed in a town "which essentially is not run down." He said taxpayers should not have to fund improvements for privately owned buildings.

He suggested the SID could work out of the Municipal Building or perhaps the public works building in order to save the $18,000 budget for such costs.

The main changes in the draft budget and that approved by the town was a reduction in the program supervision (paid staff including benefits). This number was reduced from $60,000 to $40,000 in the budget. Mr. Spector noted that administrative salaries are for two people, not just a director.

Also, the power washing of sidewalks, included in the draft budget at $4,000, has been combined under a line item listed as "downtown services." The $15,200 will include such areas as the power washing and increased trash disposal services.

Board member Anthony Annese, a downtown property owner who formerly operated Tony Dennis clothing stores, said each speaker before the board showed a "rage" toward the SID plan. He was critical of Mr. Corbet, who accused the board of "fraud" over its budget and organizational process.

He said each board member was serving because they want to help the downtown. Mr. Annese said he was serving to help form a long-range plan for the SID district.

In terms of facade renovations, he said as strange as it may seem, when a property owned is given a $500 grant for facade improvements, they wind up spending $5,000. He said improved store fronts benefit the town and not the landlord.

He said the Chamber’s promotions actually benefit outside vendors more than town merchants.

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