UNION – After nine months without a Special Improvement District Executive Director, the township recently hired a consultant to revitalize the center and build relationships with business owners.
Janice de Avila is focused, upbeat and has hit the ground running, according to township officials who believe the change is just what Union Center needs at this point in time.
As the new SID executive director, de Avila admitted last week that things are going to be different in the center and things that she has planned will be bringing changes that are needed both for business and property owners and residents.
“We are going to shake things up with re-branding, marketing, a new logo and getting the community to take a new look at the center,” said de Avila in an interview with LocalSource late last week.
Her focus is all about change and not in a small way either.
“What we need is everyone on the same page and that is my first priority right now,” the executive director explained, pointing out there has been “apathy” in the center and that is something she is going to change.
As the new executive director, de Avila did not waste any time kicking off things.
One of the first things she did after meeting with the SID board was to meet with business owners and create three committees that will focus on events, marketing, safety and cleaning. She also is busy zeroing in on grant programs that will help center business owners obtain new facades and power washing.
Meanwhile, the motivated and outgoing de Avila has another list of things she is targeting right out of the gate and one of them is getting to know business and property owners.
“I will be visiting every property and business owner in the next few months and ask them what their concerns have been about the center,” the executive director said, adding that the “people just want to be heard. As long as they are complaining, their talking and that is what is important – communication.”
The importance of approaching this new venture the right way has not eluded de Avila in any way. In fact, if anything, she confessed that it is an honor to be in this position and is more than aware how important the task ahead is and that she gets things off on the right foot.
There was no love lost between center business and property owners and the former SID director, Michael Minitelli, who held the position for 20 years and was not a visible presence in the downtown. Although township officials fiercely defended the former SID director, business owners claimed Minitelli did little to help bring shoppers to the center.
This raised the ire of center property owners who felt the SID tax they paid, in addition to regular property taxes, should go towards promoting the center. When that failed to materialize, many property and business owners simply retreated and became apathetic.
Since 1993 when the township decided that a SID should be part of the revitalization effort in the center, property owners there were required to pay a mandatory special assessment or tax. Not all property owners, though, felt this special tax was benefiting the center.
The fact Minitelli was not only the SID director but also the director of economic development raised the ire of property owners, who felt the $144,000 a year raised by the SID tax was not being used to its full advantage.
In 2011 LocalSource addressed the issue of whether center property owners and businesses were getting the best bang for their SID tax dollars, but Minitelli was not open to explaining where he had been spending these dollars.
SID budgets for 2005 through 2010 obtained by LocalSource using the Open Public Records Act, were unclear as to how SID dollars were allocated and what promotions actually took place.
Adding fuel to the fire was that business owners maintained Minitelli ran a tight ship and did not like input or anyone telling him how center SID dollars should be spent. Of particular concern to business and property owners was the continued lack of events that would bring local shoppers to the center.
Business owners also felt they were forced into participating in advertising campaigns in a daily state newspaper, rather than one that focused on local nearby towns.
The new SID executive director seemed very aware of what had transpired in the past and hoped to correct the issues that sparked apathy on the part of business and property owners, vowing to bring change in that particular area also.
“I will strive to build new and strong relationships between merchants, property owners, residents, town hall and the center,” she said, adding the SID board of directors and staff were “dedicated to serving the community through capital and economic improvements.”
For instance, de Avila mentioned mixed use communities that will bring foot traffic to the center and directly benefit both the center and township.
Even though de Avila will only be working 20 to 25 hours a week, she has a full agenda planned, including recruiting desirable businesses for strategic locations, and implementing business recruitment and business retention programs.
“We will promote business and development opportunities while increasing existing business and capture new growth opportunities in the center,” she explained, adding she is committed to Union and proud of the center.
“Together we will build a thriving center for our community,” said de Avila, adding “our vision is to preserve the center’s prominent history while embracing the future.”
Township Administrator Ron Manzella praised the efforts of de Avila so far, while pointing out that the center has much to offer residents. As for the need for a full time SID director, the administrator felt there was no need for that “at this point.”
“We have a lot planned and we have confidence that Janice will do what is needed to bring vitality back to the center,” the township administrator said last week.