LINDEN, NJ — The Downtown Special Improvement District interviewed two architects regarding the redevelopment of a stretch of commercial properties along Wood Avenue.
The six-member SID board interviewed representatives from Mountainside-based Musial Group, and LAN Associates, of Midland Park, at an April 12 meeting. The SID plans to redevelop the area with uniform storefronts, orange and black colors, flower pots, lamp post flags, outdoor seating and other changes.
“What we tried to do years ago, because the area was so different, was create something that had a consistent look,” SID Director Mike Bono said in an April 10 interview. “About 25 years ago it looked good, but now it’s starting to look worn.”
The SID collects a tax from property owners within the district, which spans Wood Avenue between Munselle and East St. Georges avenues, and uses its own budget and grants to aid businesses within its boundaries.
Certain storefronts on Wood Avenue already have some conformity — with concrete facades, blue awnings and flush store signs — while others do not. The plan is to remove neon signage and logos that extend from the buildings, Councilman and SID Chairman Peter Brown Jr. said.
The SID plans to hire an architect to develop a revitalization concept to present to city council and community members, Brown said. Ultimately, the SID hopes the city will use bonds to pay for the project, and in turn, the SID would repay the city, Brown said.
“What we need to create in the downtown area is a better sense of community,” Brown said. “So one (way) is the way it looks and to give you a reason to come down, whether it’s events or different type of things that are happening.”
The SID invited four architects to the April 12 meeting to discuss their previous work in other public spaces, Brown said, but only two attended. The SID will put out a request for proposals or qualifications to hire an architect to devise a plan for the project.
Brown said an interlocal services agreement with the city may be utilized to pay for major improvements within the plan, and the SID could possibly use its own money to pay for smaller aspects of the project, such as plants.
The project will also have to comply with city construction codes and ordinances, Brown said.
Meanwhile, Dennis Valvano, who owns property within the SID, was more concerned with a lack of parking rather than the outer facades of the businesses along Wood Avenue.
“If we’re spending $60,000 — or whatever these numbers of yours you’re talking about are — to make fronts of the buildings pretty, you’re not making the business district functional,” Valvano said at the SID meeting. “I think that might be shortsighted. It’s like putting a Band-Aid where you need plastic surgery. It doesn’t mean that it’s not necessary, but it’s more than just fixing facades. … Functionality brings me tenants.”
Brown said at the meeting that a traffic study was conducted about two years ago, but the plan was put on hold due to a conflict of interest with the company doing the research. Parking issues are ultimately a city matter and not decided by the SID, he said.
The first phase of the city’s streetscape redevelopment project along Wood Avenue was recently completed, expanding and repaving sidewalks. The city is looking for grants to help fund the second phase of the project, Brown said.
The SID board did not vote to hire an architect at the April 12 meeting, Brown said, and he was unsure as to when one will be approved.
EDITOR’S NOTE: A previous version incorrectly noted the time frame of the latest traffic study.