Main Street Moorestown is hurting, and according to at least one businessman, the town’s not doing enough to support it.
Property owner/developer Joe Ventresca owns 11 properties on Main Street and two of those are vacant, he said, not counting the , which will be replaced by a frozen yogurt shop in April—the fourth tenant at the property in the last four years.
Several other businesses in the downtown are struggling too, according to Ventresca—owner of JVS Properties—and he believes part of the reason is there’s not enough of a support system in Moorestown for the downtown business community.
“If you want to keep a downtown Main Street, you’ve got to want to keep it,” he said. “The importance is not placed on downtown.”
Though he was somewhat diplomatic in his comments—“I’m not dumping on council. I love those guys. They’re working their asses off”—Ventresca made it clear he doesn’t think the town as a whole is doing as much as it needs to to help the downtown.
He mentioned specifically the need for a full-time downtown manager—an idea that’s been discussed for years and for which the township Economic Development Advisory Committee (EDAC) has requested $50,000 in its 2012 budget.
Moorestown needs a person who wakes up in the morning and goes to bed at night with the goal of helping downtown, Ventresca said. “All these things need full-time attention and no one’s paying attention … They’re relying on us (business owners) to do it individually, and that’s OK. But there’s a lot of empty units and it looks like hell.”
‘We look at this as an investment’
EDAC chair Jake DerHagopian said the role of the downtown manager, or town coordinator, would be to work with businesses on marketing themselves, as well as marketing and managing the town as a whole.
He described the committee’s request as “seed money,” a start-up budget, with the goal of eventually funding the position at least partially by having businesses pay a fee.
Another possibility is the township could chip in some money to cover the salary, said Deputy Mayor Greg Gallo, liaison to EDAC.
“There’s never a good time for budget requests, but I think we need to reinvest (in the downtown),” said DerHagopian. “We don’t look at this as an expense item. We look at this as an investment.”
owner Robert Minniti was undecided on the value of a downtown manager, saying it would ultimately depend on what the person actually does.
“It couldn’t hurt,” he added.
Phoebe Dennis, owner of on Main Street, said the idea of a downtown manager has been batted around for years. And she, like Minniti, was unsure whether it would help.
“I don’t know if there’s enough to manage,” she said.
La-Di-Da manager Bonnie Strainic said, “Personally, I think it’s a good idea.”
Both Dennis and Minniti placed a higher priority on parking. Dennis said would-be shoppers roll right through Main Street if they can’t find parking on Main since the other parking options (the municipal lot behind , side streets) aren’t clearly marked.
Minniti said he doesn’t rely as much on foot traffic, so the parking issues don’t worry him.
“If I relied on foot traffic, I absolutely would be concerned,” he said. “If I needed foot traffic, I’d be in a strip center.”
EDAC recently submitted a to town council, with designs drawn up by Taylor Design Group, said Gallo. The plan, among other things, calls for new signage and restructuring of the various lots between Chester Avenue and Mill Street and the municipal lot along Second Street.
Of course, the township doesn’t own a lot of this property, so the merchants and property owners have to be brought on board for any kind of alternations, Gallo said. And then there’s the inevitable dollars-and-cents discussion.
“It’s not going to be cheap. So even if everybody wants it, we still need to have the conversation about how do we pay for it,” he said.
‘We don’t have the formula in place’
Gallo and Mayor John Button conceded Main Street has slipped down council’s priority list of late, with municipal complex, open space/recreation and other issues taking precedence.
“Some of the oxygen has been taken up by other activities, but that doesn’t mean things haven’t been ongoing,” said Gallo, referring to the parking plan and various other behind-the-scenes machinations by EDAC, including picking the brain of the business improvement district coordinator for King of Prussia, who happens to be a Moorestown resident.
Button said downtown is definitely a priority for council and supported, in spirit anyway, the concept of a downtown manager. But, he added, “The timing hasn’t been right to have a full-time downtown manager, from a budget perspective … It’ll boil down to a matter of priorities.”
Though they took a more glass-half-full approach, Gallo and Button also acknowledged downtown Moorestown’s flaws.
“We’ve got some good restaurants, some good merchants … but we do not have the formula in place to have Main Street be all it can be,” said the mayor. “We need more vibrance down there.”
Ventresca mentioned various other strategies the township could employ to improve downtown: better Christmas decorations, the implementation of a council’s discussed lately. Now’s the time for them, because once the mall starts to add restaurants, new retail and the , Main Street’s struggles will become even more pronounced, he said.
“I pushed for (the referendums). I understood we needed to help (the mall) so they don’t go under,” said Ventresca. “We helped them. Now what are we doing downtown?”
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