Bettering Plainfield with the facts since 2005

Friday, February 25, 2011

What loss of UEZ would mean to Plainfield

Plainfield businesses were aware last year that warning shots about New Jersey's Urban Enterprise Zone program were being fired, shortly after Gov. Chris Christie took office. Now, the governor has received a report recommending the 37-town program, of which Plainfield's is one, be wound down on the grounds it is 'bureaucratically cumbersome' and success of projects is nearly impossible to measure.

Though Christie has not endorsed the report (yet), it gives him a handy excuse to drain the fund created by the setting aside of sales tax receipts collected by member businesses. (These funds are controlled by the state, and individual projects are approved after a defense before state watchdogs, the tone of which has changed decidedly under the Christie administration, I have been told.)

Over the years, Plainfield has benefited in a variety of ways from UEZ funded projects -- from hiring police officers to patrol the business districts to street sweeping equipment to be used in the UEZ to major projects such as the downtown streetscape improvement, which has been implemented in stages over the past six or seven years.

Though Plainfield's business participation rate is kept down by the cumbersomeness of the process (the statewide rate is 20%), those who do participate have benefited in two ways: the appeal to customers of paying half the sales tax (Appliance-arama swears by its allure to upscale appliance customers from out of the area), and the waiver of sales tax by participating members with regard to certain (capital) purchases.

On the other hand, there have also been essentially frivolous projects -- Music In The Plaza comes to mind -- which have been poorly designed, poorly promoted and with no way to measure any ECONOMIC impact.

Plainfield has run a relatively lean operation (two people), but it seems possible the Christie administration may take a baby-with-the-bathwater approach and eliminate staffing along with winding down the program.

One thing I can say from observation of Plainfield businesses over the years since Plainfield became one of the earliest UEZs, is that they are nothing if not resourceful.

Despite some still-empty storefronts, Plainfield is a far-busier (and hopefully, more profitable) place than it was in 1983.

And my hunch is that it will reinvent itself if it has to.

It's the lesson of Picasso's Guernica.

Even in destruction, Picasso saw irrepressible hope.

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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robert.bolmer said...

Plainfield downtown, though it is pretty shabby, is busier because of businesses run by people who are newer to Plainfield. Hopefully, the city can upgrade the down town, bring in slightly upscale businesses and fix the god-awful lighting. I think our brainless city planners need to look at nearby Westfield and Cranford for bright lighting that is also good looking. The lighting down town is so bad, I will no longer go down there at night. All the housing and night clubs that seem to be coming our way won't improve our shopping discricts and out city.