However, some local merchants believe this is a way for the city to ultimately pass along costs such as Washington Street trash collection to the businesses, in order to save money in the city budget.
Many longtime businesses have left Washington Street in the last two years due to rising rents, or due to the fact that the buildings containing the businesses were sold for a high price.
As a result, the city has brought in The Marketing Department, a firm says it that does grass roots marketing to help businesses "lure customers back from the big box raiders."
Mayor David Roberts said that The Marketing Department will consult businesses on a one-on-one basis and hold workshops to help retailers work together and grow their customer base.
"Our retail district has many challenges to overcome. There's the lack parking and the escalating rent structure, just to name two," Roberts said. "But this administration is committed to having an exciting downtown and an exciting main street."
Moving toward an SID
But some theorize that this step is a precursor by the Roberts administration toward establishing a Special Improvement District (SID) in the city's retail corridor.
An SID is a state-approved zone where the city can levy a special tax on business owners that goes to neighborhood improvements, advertising, and maintenance. A special SID organization is formed to come up with a budget each year. Jersey City has several SIDs.
Since taking office, Roberts has supported the idea of an SID because he said it will create more funding and services for Washington Street.
But a SID can be double-edged. On one hand, the extra tax can go to façade improvements, street signage, and a group marketing campaign for the businesses involved.
But once an SID is established, the assessment is mandatory, collected by the city like any other tax and used according to the SID board.
Some say that the city government can use an SID to palm off maintenance costs onto the business community. For example, the city currently pays for frequent trash collection on Washington Street. If a SID were established, it is possible that the retailers would pick up the cost.
Ultimately, the consumers might end up paying for that added cost, some merchants claim.
SID in the future
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the city attempted to create a SID, but that movement never got off the ground due to public opposition.
The city would have had to apply to the state of become an SID.
Roberts said Wednesday that an SID is something that Hoboken needs.
"I'm fully supportive of Hoboken having a Special Improvement District," Roberts
said. "[Our business district] needs a full- time staff and the benefits that [an SID] will create." He added that he hopes to build the trust of the retail community, and pledged that an SID will not be another level of government bureaucracy.
"This will be a separate agency that is managed and receives their direction directly from the retailers," Roberts said. "I have no intention to micromanaging the SID."
Sam Platt, a partner of The Marketing Department, said that professionally, he supports the concept of SIDs, but that his firm was not brought in for that purpose.
For now, he said, they are just participating in a workshop and one-on-one program with individual business.
He said that if the city goes in that direction in the future, his firm would certainly be willing to participate. Some of their current clients include the Ironbound Business Improvement District and the Bergenfield Special Improvement District.
The Chamber is watching
Hoboken Chamber of Commerce President Brian Battaglia said Friday morning that the chamber fully appreciates that City Hall is taking an interest in the retail district, and that its members are interested to see the mayor's SID proposal.
"We certainly support The Marketing Group's program," Battaglia said. "The city is paying for it, and it serves as confirmation that attention needs to be paid to the retail community in Hoboken." As for an SID, Battaglia said that there is not enough information about a Hoboken SID's possible structure for the Chamber to support or oppose it.
"The concern right now is that it's just too nebulous," he said. "How is it going to be enacted? How much will the tax be? Who will run it? All of those things are big question marks right now." He said that the Chamber is willing to listen to the mayor's proposal, but that he hopes an SID will not be a "means for the shipping of responsibility from the city to the SID."