Local Leaders to Aid Reopening of Economy
By FRED T. ROSSI
Specially Written for The Westfield Leader
AREA — Two local officials overseeing revitalization efforts in their own downtowns also will be involved in advising the state government as New Jersey begins to reopen businesses and its economy in the weeks and months ahead.
Earlier this month, Governor Phil Murphy established the Restart and Recovery Advisory Council that will provide state officials with input and counsel as the state slowly begins to restart business activity that has been mostly shut since mid-March due to the coronavirus pandemic that has claimed nearly 11,000 lives in the Garden State. The council will have nine subcommittees, including one devoted to “Main Street” issues.
Robert Zuckerman, executive director of the Downtown Westfield Corporation (DWC), and Thomas Strowe, downtown redevelopment coordinator in Scotch Plains, will be among those serving on that subcommittee and also advising the full Restart and Recovery Advisory Council.
Mr. Zuckerman and Mr. Strowe are members of the board of directors of Downtown New Jersey (DNJ), a non-profit organization that describes itself as a group of individuals, businesses, developers, government agencies and local and regional entities that are “passionate about downtowns.”
DNJ itself will be heavily involved with the council’s efforts, and DNJ’s executive director, Courtenay Mercer, said last week that, “the key to a successful reopening is that consumers feel confident that the businesses they patronize are clean and safe, and that employees and fellow customers are able to practice proper social-distancing safety protocols to minimize the possibility of transmitting infection.”
Mr. Strowe, who has overseen Scotch Plains’ downtown redevelopment efforts since mid-2017, told The Westfield Leader that he wants, “to ensure that the voice of Main Street New Jersey, our downtowns and all small businesses are being heard and incorporated” into the state’s strategy for reopening. “The economic needs of small businesses and towns like Scotch Plains must be incorporated into reopening recommendations,” he stated. He said reopening plans are needed not only for big businesses, shopping malls, casinos and boardwalks, but also “for our yoga studios, microbreweries, gyms and barber shops. We need reopening plans for our smaller retailers.”
Mr. Strowe added that he also wants to be “a line of communication between Scotch Plains, DNJ and the state on reopening ideas.” He said he will “pass along ideas from Scotch Plains’ leadership and our business community to DNJ” to be added to the recovery council’s plan.
Mr. Zuckerman, who has headed the DWC since March and also is president of DNJ, told The Leader that it is “critically important” to have DNJ on the recovery council, “because we are the voice of our special improvement districts that represent mom-and-pop businesses and landlords in our state’s downtown districts.” He said the goals, “are to actively represent the views of the Main Streets of New Jersey because their collective voices need to be heard. We want to safely remove as many barriers as possible as our businesses seek to reopen so that they can survive and continue to play an integral role in their communities.”
DNJ has already put forth several ideas the state can implement, before full reopening begins, to ease small business strains, including letting certain non-essential retail establishments open by appointment while adhering to social distancing and other protocols meant to limit direct contacts; limiting fees charged by online ordering and delivery services; giving more flexibility to restaurants to expand outdoor dining and alcohol consumption; enacting eviction protections for commercial properties; extending business-interruption insurance coverage to pandemic-related losses; and creating a commercial rent assistance program for tenants.