Archive for December, 2012

Embrace and Extend: Revitalizing Trenton’s S. Broad St.

This last week, a meeting was held of building owners and stakeholders representing a stretch of Trenton’s busy S. Broad Street from downtown to the Sun Bank arena. I’m one of those building owners.  If you’re familiar with Trenton at all, you know that this is an extremely visible and potentially important stretch of road.

There were around 40 people at the meeting and it’s the first time I’ve ever been in the same room with so many of my fellow S. Broad owners.  It was an important first step in the conversation to revitalize this part of Trenton.  I was skeptical of the meeting at first as I’ve been to a few failed attempts in the past and haven’t been able to get myself organized enough to hold a similar event.

The Old Mill Hill Society gets credit for getting this ball rolling and in particular Kari Brookhouse, Phil DeRose, Pete Kasabach and Craig Shofed.  They got the Mercer County Improvement Authority (MCIA) to fund an architectural firm to do some visioning work.  This was the impetus for the meeting.

To be honest I suspect some of the owners were there because they thought someone was handing out façade grants, but nonetheless they were there.  At the meeting we all got a visual overview of the area and then talked about what would make it better.

If you’ve driven or walked on S. Broad recently you’ll be able to guess that the #1 topic of discussion was trash.  Yep, somehow this busy commercial street has become a dumping ground.  We don’t know why but the architects pointed out that there wasn’t a trash can on the 300 block of S. Broad and yet that’s where all the restaurants are.  This is a problem.

Parking was the other big issue.  We’re a commercial area with no access to off street parking.  One of MCIA’s drivers for being involved in the meeting is that workers and visitors to the new county courthouse near S. Broad and Market St. will have to walk 2 blocks on S. Broad from parking lots at the arena.

Other issues such as crime and Mercer County’s nebulous plans for the “old” county courthouse also weighed on the group.  However, I’m hopeful.

The meeting got me thinking about what would make a difference in these 5 blocks of Trenton.  Together they represent $58M in assessed value but only $12 M of it is taxable.  So, as well trafficked and important as these 5 blocks are, they generate only $600 K in tax revenue.  That’s a problem.

My hope is that if we can continue to get ourselves organized, we can turn this around.

Keeping this part of Trenton clean should not be beyond our grasp.   Dumping enforcement, trash cans, street sweeping, public education about trash pick-up times and maybe some anti-litter marketing could help.  We discussed several small street-calming tactics that should be within our reach  such as trees and decorating the Rt. 1 bridge.   Furthermore, if we’re talking as a group, we’re also sharing business ideas and helping each other attract investment to the corridor.  That’s a good thing.

But what I really want to see happen is that we organize ourselves just enough so we can set a goal to grow from $12 M in value to $18 M over the next 2 years.    It’s not unattainable.  We’re not dependent on the city to grow, though the city could certainly do several things to avoid being in the way.  And, it would help us all.

If you know this corridor, then you know that it has an interesting mix of stakeholders.  On one side is one of Trenton’s nicest neighborhoods, Mill Hill.  On the other is a public works project, Kingsbury. Mercer County owns large buildings on either end of the corridor and there are large regional churches in the middle.

My attitude towards revitalization in this corridor is to “embrace and extend”.  As building owners we need to find business tenants that can embrace both Kingsbury and Mill Hill.  This might not be easy as the demographics are radically different.  This happens to an extent already but as we think about marketing our corridor we need to know more about the buying trends of the two neighborhoods.  Furthermore, why not create an environment in which churchgoers and arena visitors would like to linger. Most of the churchgoers on this block do NOT live in Trenton. Let’s make them feel welcome.

Secondly, we need to aid the extension of the corridor.  My hope is that Mercer County does NOT hold on to the old courthouse and instead sells it to private developers.  Also in the works are development of the former Hill Motel site, a plot of empty land near the arena and an infill lot in the middle of the 300 block.  As a group we will need to support these developments and help them succeed.

By embracing what we have now and then extending through new development, we can meet a goal of increasing values on S. Broad St. and doing our part to revitalize the city.