2011 Big Year for Maplewood, Says Mayor
Tuesday, February 22, 2011 • 2:48pm
MAPLEWOOD, NJ - Maplewood's mayor has big plans for 2011.
Before the end of the year, Mayor Vic DeLuca expects his economic development dreams to be finished, or well on their way to completion.
They include having the new $6 million Walgreens at the corner of Springfeld and Burnett Avenues finished, and construction started on development at the old Shell Station opposite the police station.
He expects building to have begun on a 132 unit housing complex on Burnett Avenue, a contract signed with a developer for 32 condominiums where the old police station is at Dunnell Road - a project that sparked protest from town residents concerned about it's effect on neighboring Memorial Park - and a new 7/11 store on Springfield Avenue.
DeLuca, who has served on the Township Committee since 1998 and is now entering his third year as mayor of Maplewood, claims to have already achieved a lot in the town's development.
“We brought in new sidewalks, lights and new kinds of stores,” DeLuca said of Springfield Avenue during an interview with The Alternative Press.
“In Maplewood Village, the idea is to keep up the look and feel of that village. It’s a very nice place. It’s a very important place.”
Other areas being considered for economic development are Irvington Avenue and Valley Street. According to DeLuca, the most important aspect of that is figuring out how to support businesses there.
Part of economic development, DeLuca said, is working with individual businesses to help them improve, declaring areas in need of rehabilitation and working with developers.
“The reason to do economic development is threefold," he said.
"One is that a strong economic base compliments and supports a strong residential base. A weak business district impacts the residential area.
“Secondly, a strong vibrant business district brings in more tax money ."
People also are drawn to shops in local areas, especially where they live. This not only improves quality of life, DeLuca said, but it gives people the opportunity to stay local.
“People like to shop there they live,” DeLuca said. “If you can provide services that they need, they like that in their community as opposed to traveling out to the mall or on the highways.”
DeLuca feels while keeping the town clean, safe and with a good education system is important, the economic vitality of the town is just as important.
"Maplewood has already taken steps to assist local business, especially in today’s economic environment, “ he said.
"Just the other night, for example, we waived the $100 fee for restaurants to have an outdoor café from May to October.
“This was a way to help business because by having outdoor cafes, it’s a way to show the business district in more attractive ways. People like to see other people eating outside.”
Springfield Avenue has been a major area of focus for economic redevelopment.
Among other vacated areas, there is the old Shell station, opposite the new police station. According to DeLuca, the new building will be a first floor food store offering donuts, bagels and a café.
On the second floor, five apartments will be built.
The Bank of America branch on Springfield Avenue is slated to close on Feb. 25. However, there have already been “for rent” signs placed on the property.
“There’s been some conversation with a couple of banks, but nothing has been finalized yet,” DeLuca said.
While the landlord's first preference is to have another bank move in, DeLuca said they are not ruling out other tenants - though the decision is the owner's to make.
According to DeLuca, there is no specific budget for the economic development plan. He said the town has put “roughly” $50 or $60,000 in the budget to hire “various economic consultants” throughout the year. This is to replace the 2009 on-staff economic development consultant who retired.
DeLuca added that Maplewood currently has an Economic Development Committee which consists of 10 members, according to the Maplewood Township Committee website.
According to DeLuca, municipal budgets put a figure for certain aspects of township planning when the budget is approved. The township cannot go over that amount.
“We make our best estimate as to what our needs will be. If our needs are beyond that, we have to wait until the next year,” DeLuca said.
While many of the businesses are expected to do well, such as the Walgreens and 7/11, according to DeLuca, smaller businesses may have more problems turning a profit.
“That’s always the big question, because it’s more difficult for mom and pop stores. They find out they don’t have enough money to survive,” DeLuca said.
“If you can survive after five years, you’re doing pretty well. I think those are the things we’re looking at when someone wants to open a business. They need to be clear about the challenges they face as a business owner.”
Aesthetics have a lot to do with business survival. “A lot of it is our responsibility to keep up attractiveness so more people want to shop, visit, stroll, and eat there.
"If we let the place look like hell, it’s going to be even harder for the businesses to survive,” DeLuca said.
"We can do our part by keeping the area attractive and making it as viable as possible to survive.”