Claiming that the city could no longer afford to have duplicate services for the business district, the City Council voted on April 18 to move operations for the city’s Special Improvement District under the auspices of the Urban Enterprise Zone.
The Bayonne Town Center Management Corp (BTCM) is a Special Improvement District (SID) that was established in the 1990s to cover properties in an area from 17th to 30th Streets, and was designed to help revive aging commercial districts devastated by the loss of customers to shopping malls throughout the state.
An SID raises funds through special assessments on property owners, which finance improvements to the district provide for promotions to bring customers into the area, and offer other benefits like street and sidewalk cleaning operations and various projects that promote economic development.
City Business Administrator Steve Gallo said the purpose of the ordinance is to reduce overhead connected with the SID – which includes salaries and rent for the BTC office on East 22nd Street – and to run operations from an office in City Hall.
While the Town Center Management Corporation covers an area along Broadway from 17th Street to 30th, city officials said the UEZ also oversees that area as well as other parts of the city, and that the UEZ has in the past augmented many of the operations done by the BTMC, and the UEZ Coordinator, Terrence Malloy, is someone who had worked hand in hand with the BTMC in the past and so is well equipped to oversee its operations.
Business owners speak out
Although many business owners came out to object, not all of the two dozen merchants were against the move, saying that BTMC has not kept up with the times and that there is a need for a change.
Diane Brennan, who formerly owned a business in the district, said she resigned from the BTMC when she believed the group started going in the wrong direction.
“Things have to change,” she said. “The new businesses being brought in are not the kind of businesses that attract young people, and there are young people choosing to live here.”
Bernie Golomb, a trustee for BTMC, argued that the money belongs to the merchants and if the city is seeking to dissolve the BTMC, the merchants should be allowed to use the funds to establish a merchant’s board of trade.
He argued, too, that the current executive director has been working 60 hours a week with the merchants, something he believed the UEZ director will not have time to do.
“If anything, Town Center should be taking over the UEZ,” he said, noting that trustees and others give hundreds of hours in volunteer time and thousands of dollars in sponsorships, none of which will likely take place if the UEZ board has no merchant representation.
Consultant Robert L. Benecke, of Benecke Economics, argued that under the BTMC, 35 new business were brought into the district over 24 months, which equates to an economic investment of about $10 million. With other factors, he said, the amount could be as much as $12.5 million. As with other merchants, he questioned how much time UEZ coordinator Terrence Malloy can dedicate to cultivating new businesses when he also serves other jobs in the city.
“I was assured that all the money collected from the business district will be used in the business district.” – Ray Greaves.
Councilman Joseph Hurley said he greatly admired the work that the staff of the BTMC has done since the group’s foundation in the early 1990s, but said the city needs to consolidate services and the overhead for operating the BTMC gobbles up too much of the annual budget, with too little of the $295,000 going towards programs.
In addressing the merchants and board members of the BTMC, Hurley said they should have been warned by concerns he’d raised in the council in the past over the apparent duplication. He also said this isn’t the first time the city has chosen to do away with independent agencies. Recently the city abolished the Bayonne Parking Authority to run its operations under the Department of Public Safety.
Councilman Raymond Greaves said he worked with the Town Center; he was concerned about the high overhead.
“When this was first proposed, I asked a lot of questions,” he said. Hurley said the overhead of the BTMC was one of the key reasons for the change, noting that out of the annual budget $209,000 goes towards salaries and rent on the office. This includes $85,000 for the executive director, $22,000 for a planner, $6,000 for an aide, and $30,000 in rent.
“From the start, this move will save $140,000,” Hurley noted.
Several merchants were concerned about the funding since SID money comes from an assessment of businesses in the area. They raised concerns about the funding not being directed to helping the business under the new system.
Hurley, however, said the city is very concerned about where the money goes, and promised that the funds would be used in the SID area as in the past, but with the reduction of overhead, more money will be available for programs. This will include more exposure on cable TV and more newspaper advertisements. Special events will be reviewed and maintained. A new brochure on the district will be developed, as well a website, and the funding will help provide a walking police patrol for the SID.
“Terrence Malloy has worked with the Town Center for ten years, so he knows the operations,” Hurley said, noting that in addition to its own money, the BTMC has been supplemented with UEZ funds in the past, such as $100,000 to clean the streets, and $15,000 for newspaper, radio and other advertisement. The UEZ has also paid for holiday lighting for Broadway.
“I was assured that all the money collected from the business district will be used in the business district,” Greaves said.
Council President Terrance Ruane said that the BTMC hasn’t done a bad job.
“It’s simply time for a change,” he said. “We all had questions regarding the overhead. But we all want to see Broadway prosper and grow. We simply think that by moving the operations to City Hall, these can be done more efficiently. This is a business decision, nothing personal.”
Business owners were also concerned about the makeup of the UEZ board, noting that currently, the board does not have members of the local business community.
“We have people who are not in the district making decisions on how to spend our money,” Golomb said.
But Business Administrator Steve Gallo said the board will be changed and business people added to help reflect the interests of the district merchants.