It’s been almost a year since I first met David Diaz, the district manager for the Central Avenue Special Improvement District and since then we’ve made blogging magic. Our Lunches at Noodlefan, Rumba’s, Pizza Masters all pretty much broke the internet! and I had a blast exploring Central Ave with David. It was time for me to get the know the rest of the Central Ave. SID team, so David invited me to one of their board meetings (which is open to business owners and the public). Everyone on the board is a Jersey City business owner and it’s wonderful seeing these busy bees take the time to come together and talk about how they can improve their district.
I realized at this board meeting that people probably don’t know that the Central Ave. SID are the ones behind all the positive things happening on Central Avenue. This includes events on the avenue such as the Central Avenue Auto and Music Show and Heights Halloween Window Painting Contest. They are the one’s making sure streetscape concerns are reported to the City for maintenance and repairs, it’s clean and well kept, they decorate, they make sure the avenue is decorated during the holidays and they also constantly work on getting new murals from various artist (that are mostly local). There is even one of me, well sorta.
What are your names?
My name is David Diaz, I’m the District Manager for the Central Avenue SID (Special Improvement District).
Joe Nachbaur, I’m a State Farm Agent. I’m on Central Ave. 505, I’ve been here for about ten years.
I’m Gary Solomon from Hauptman Floor Carpeting on Central Avenue, 307.
Eddy Gallo, Angel Azul Bakery at 460 Central Avenue.
I love that bakery! That place is amazing. And you?
Grace Cutri from DC Travel located right around the corner at 2 Lincoln Street and a property owner at 341 Central Avenue.
I’m Sandy Fishman, I own, 371 Central Avenue and I’m best known as the pharmacist at Bond Drugs and I’ve been here for about 50 years.
I’m Gilbert Mendez from the Mendez Travel Agency at 263 Central Avenue. I’m an insurance agent, tax preparer, travel agent, I have many hats.
Sergio Ferreira, Eye Contact Vision Center at 368 Central Avenue.
Why are you guys a part of the board of trustees for the CASID?
Joe: We’re active in the business community [and] we make sure that the Avenue is represented correctly, we give back to the community, [and] support all the business owners around.
Eddy: Yeah, [to] help the community basically.
Gilbert: You’re giving back to the community. You want to know that what you’re doing is going to help the community grow and that the things that [happen] on the avenue are going to benefit the residents, the merchants, [and] everyone involved.
Gary: Not only is it good to give back but as business owners, we have to be involved with the community. As a group, we must be doing a good job because we keep getting elected to the board. Some of the faces on the board have changed over the years, but Gilbert and I are the only remaining founding members of the Central Avenue SID which was the first of five in Jersey City.
So what typically goes on in these meetings?
Sandy: We talk about affairs of the avenue. We talk about initially, the minutes of the last meeting, we approve them. We’re present with a budget and we have to approve and ask questions of the treasurer.
Gilbert: That’s the generality, that’s how we start our meetings, but what we actually do is we have issues that come up and affect the community and we make decisions on how to ensure that the best actions are taken to improve the quality of life along Central Avenue. In general everything from the marketing of the avenue as well as—
Joe: Our streetscape—
Gilbert: Anything that’s going to help improve the neighborhood and business community. We decide on everything from the programs we’re going to run, advertising we’re going to do, anything to strengthen the relationship between local residents and businesses.
David: One of the most important things that they do is provide a venue for stakeholders to come together at least once a month to have a discussion about what the needs of Central Avenue are. Without them, that wouldn’t happen and that’s very important for this avenue. If it wasn’t for them the Avenue wouldn’t have holiday decorations, there wouldn’t be a website dedicated to Central Avenue and The Heights among many things. In general, things wouldn’t get done on Central Avenue that you really expect done such as the maintenance of the street, reporting potholes, light outages, and things of that nature.
Gilbert: Many of the things that we actually do here people think it’s the city that’s doing it because in the old days, the city did everything. Fast-forward to now, the city is more reactive than proactive. They do the minimum and they let the neighborhoods try to fend for themselves and that’s why the Special Improvement District was created. By design, the SID is meant to supplement, not substitute, city services. It literally started with [the] Christmas lights issue or the lack thereof. SID members wanted to ensure that if the city no longer provided any funding or effort for it, the holiday lights tradition would continue. The people expect it, it’s a shopping district, and it lends to the feeling of community and it lends to the feeling of wanting to shop and be part of this neighborhood.
Joe: Believe it or not, it’s a resource for other businesses. When I came ten years ago, the first place that I came to was—
David: The CASID office.
Joe: A lot of people do that to get advice, where to go, how to deal with the government, that type of stuff.
David: The Trustees share their knowledge with the new business owners that are coming here. About 54% percent of that avenue that’s here today was not here ten years ago. A lot of knowledge and experiences shared in this boardroom is put on our website and we have a section dedicated to “Doing business on Central Avenue.” We actually get a lot of people like Joe to come here because of that. They say, “Oh, I saw the website, I saw these things going on. I wanted to learn more.” It’s a starting point for them because right now there’s no other starting point for entrepreneurs coming into Jersey City especially if they want to come into the Central Avenue shopping district.
So how do you determine your agenda?
Joe: David does a lot of it honestly. He’s basically the ears of people coming and talking to them so he’ll address a lot of the issues. He’s definitely active when it comes to parking meters or the streetscape, potholes, [and] keeping the corners clean when it snows. This SID has to have a certain respectability with the government and with the community, I think David does a great job with that. The amount of contacts he’s developed throughout the years, how could you develop those contacts without a good reputation?
David: Thank you guys for the kind words, but I think you’re giving me more credit than I deserve.
David: What it really is, is that these guys make decisions and then hire someone like me to follow through with those decisions. Really the credit goes to them because without them I wouldn’t be here and things wouldn’t get done.
Aw, I feel the love in this room!
Sandy: We give him guidance, but he gets it done.
Sergio: Jersey City continues to grow and as business people on the main street, we see the changes and the needs of the neighborhood. The SID is a vehicle for us to come together and do our part as a group. We like to be part of the solution instead of belly aching about what is not being done. Whether it is through David, one of us, or any CASID member, new things get added to our regular meeting agenda as things come up that affect the Heights. It could be something like new legislation from City Hall affecting our neighborhood or working with other SID members and civic groups to address common community concerns such as the homeless and sanitation.
Do you guys ever get into heated discussions?
Gilbert: Sometimes. That’s why we’re a board, we don’t always agree and the greatest number of votes wins. However, no one screams or yells because they didn’t get their way. Whether it comes to an agreement or a disagreement, we do things in a democratic way by putting it to a vote and that’s the end of it.
If you guys could get whatever you wanted for the avenue and the budget was not an issue, what would it be?
Gilbert: Clean streets. Getting funding from the city would allow us to manage the cleanliness of the district in partnership with municipal government. We believe that we would do a better job because we know the needs and we’d be able to make sure it gets done. You wait for the city to get anything done and it sits and waits forever.
Gary: A municipal parking garage and return the Everything Jersey City Festival. Long term parking is an issue for everyone along the main street and a well-designed and managed parking garage would alleviate a lot of the issues. The Everything Jersey City Festival was such a great event for our neighborhood. Residents and businesses would love to have the resources to host and bring back one of New Jersey’s largest main street events.
Where do you guys see Central Avenue going in the next couple of years?
Gilbert: It’s evident how things are slowly improving. People can’t live in Hoboken, people can’t live Downtown so people are moving up here. The gentrification is happening of this area and you know even the past couple of years it’s gone up tremendously, I think so. The people that are living here, the income levels are better.
Eddy: And you can see the new construction happening here.
Gilbert: The Heights is really going to come along very quickly now. As such, we are doing our part to help guide growth.
Sergio: There is investment happening in other parts of the City but more needs to be done in this neighborhood to keep up with the growth the City is experiencing. It feels as if the Heights is being left behind in terms of [the] development Jersey City has experienced in the last decade. We are very optimistic about our future but a lot of work has to be done so Central Avenue can reach its potential. Along with our residents and shoppers, we take pride in our main street community.
What are your favorite hangout spots?
Gilbert: I love going to Renato’s.
Are you guys excited about the changes?
Gilbert: I’m truly excited. I live in The Heights.
How many of you guys live here in Jersey City?
Eddy: I live here.
Grace: I live here.
Gilbert: I live here. Almost half of us, but that’s why I’m excited. I see my property values going up; I see the neighborhood’s improving so I’ve got nothing but smiles for the Heights, man.
Let’s say I’m Central Avenue business owner and I have an issue, what do I do?
Sandy: Call David.
Gilbert: Call David and he’ll direct you to the right place. You can’t just call City Hall.
David: And we know this because business owners have shared their experiences with this office which makes it a knowledgebase of everything that happens here. We say, “Well, based on the last guy who tried to do what you’re doing, this is the way to go,” and that’s how SID really helps new businesses and other businesses on the avenue.
Can anybody come to these meetings?
Gilbert: They’re generally open to the public, but we do have some closed meetings at times.
And there will be coffee and donuts! Anything else you’d like to let people know about this group?
Sandy: We’re here for anybody to come to us for help, whatever it is. There is a lot we can do forming public/private partnerships.
David: These are the most informed property and business owners on Central Avenue because they meet, discuss, and share ideas as a group at least once a month.
Central Avenue feels different from the Downtown area, I feel like all the business owners know each other and it feels like one big family.
For more information on the Central Avenue Special Improvement District http://www.centralavesid.org