What is the Morristown Partnership?
The Morristown Partnership is a Special Improvement District (S.I.D.), a non-profit organization created by municipal ordinance for the purpose of revitalizing the downtown business district. In September of 1984, the State of New Jersey approved legislation enabling municipalities to create S.I.D.s as a means to address their declining downtown business centers. These organizations would be self-funded and would supplement the services provided by the municipality. In addition, the S.I.D.s would address such crucial issues as vacancies, aesthetics, infrastructure, parking, marketing, development, promotions, etc. The organizations would also serve as ombudsman of the downtown and its business community, offering direct assistance to business owners however possible. In general, special improvement districts were created to lead the charge towards downtown revitalization by producing a strong energy level leading to the development of private/public partnerships between business, government, civic and community, and in demonstrating a commitment to the future viability of the downtown.
In New Jersey, there are approximately 38 S.I.D.s with many more under consideration. Some have been in existence since 1986, others, like Westfield, are barely a year old. The Morristown Partnership was created in 1994 and began operating in January, 1995. Morristown's S.I.D. is one of the largest in the State both geographically and in total constituents (more than 480 commercial property owners and 1340 businesses).
Board of Trustees
The Partnership is governed by a District Management Corporation (DMC) created by the Town Council at the time the special improvement district was introduced and approved. The DMC is directed by a 17 member Board of Trustees - 15 business/commercial property owners in the district, a mayoral representative and a Town council representative. The 15 business/property owner Trustees are elected by the constituency for three year terms. An election is held annually with five seats available each year. Staff consists of three employees including the executive director and dozens of volunteer business owners and residents.
The Morristown Partnership is primarily funded through a special assessment on all commercial property owners within the designated boundaries. Morristown's assessment of $105 for every $100,000 of assessed property value is one of the lowest in the State. For their contribution, most of the business/property owners will receive some form of direct benefit such as a physical/capital improvement near their property, or perhaps a lead from the Partnership office that helps them fill their vacant space, or assistance that expedites a project or provides a solution to a problem, or increase business and recognition through the Partnership's comprehensive marketing plan and quality special events. One thing is certain, however, all the business/commercial property owners paying into the special improvement district will ultimately realize an increase in property value and business as the Town grows and becomes more vibrant through the efforts of the Partnership.
In addition to the special levy, the budget is augmented through the acquisition of grants and sponsorships. As an organized agency for an entire business community, S.I.D.s warrant a favorable status when applying for either State or Federal grants. They demonstrate a commitment by the business community (through the special assessment the businesses are investing in the downtown's future), a solid organization with strong leadership and a voice of many tax paying property owners. Meeting this criteria justifies investment by the government for the future success of downtown business districts. Since 1996, the Morristown Partnership has applied for and been awarded over $1.2 million. Most of this grant money has come from both the Federal and State Departments of Transportation and must be used exclusively for capital improvement projects. With a budget from special assessments fixed at $450,000 annually, the grants have enabled the Partnership to do more quicker.
Revitalizing a declining downtown business district is not an easy task. Before change can be effectuated, it is necessary to identify the problems. Some reasons why Morristown (and downtowns nationwide) suffered a decline include increase development of suburban malls in the '70s and '80s leading to a loss of retail base and subsequently, shopper base. National retailers grouping together in the malls offering virtually everything a shopper would need under one roof . In addition, more corporations were relocating from their downtown headquarters to sprawling suburban office complexes with ample parking and aesthetically pleasing amenities thus subtracting a workforce that was a captured audience in the business district. In addition to these problems, Morristown experienced a sewer ban for nearly a decade whereby no new development was permitted, creating a stagnation in economic growth. This ban was lifted in 1992. About the same time AT&T vacated an entire building on the Green and Macy's Department Store closed its doors in downtown Morristown. Through early 1995, the Town of Morristown experienced additional retail closings, mostly on the Green contiguous to the former Macy's building. While most of these closings were attributed to a change in retailing (big box retailers popping up on Routes 10 and 46 causing tremendous competition) a stretch of vacancies developed. To combat these problems, the Morristown Partnership Special Improvement District was created.
When the Morristown Partnership began operations in 1995, the foundation of a great small city was already in place. Hundreds of quality retailers had shops in Town including national chains like The Gap, Pier One Imports and Square Luggage. Most of the first year was dedicated to establishing the goals and objectives of the S.I.D. by the volunteer Board of Trustees and committee members (made up of predominantly the business community). Effective ways to ensure that Morristown's business district remained vibrant and competitive needed to be developed and implemented. Seven categories were identified and seven committees were created to successfully begin the revitalization of Morristown: Promotions, Marketing, Safe & Clean, Streetscape Beautification, Business Recruitment & Retention, Community & Government Relations and Parking & Transportation.
In early 1995, the three areas of highest priority were Business Recruitment and Retention, Streetscape and Safe & Clean. All needed the highest concentration of effort. Today, these three areas remain extremely important, and the Partnership has broadened its efforts to achieve its goals and objectives. Below are some highlights of the Morristown Partnership's endeavors to revitalize the business district.
Highlights of the Revitalization Effort
In Business Recruitment and Retention, the first crucial task was to develop a marketing package that provided the information necessary to attract investors to Morristown. In addition, the materials also had to be relevant to retailers. Comprehensive data was compiled based on standards used by retailers e.g., demographics based on 3-, 5- and 10-mile radii. For the first time the number of employees and education levels of the population and workforce within the socioeconomic base were included. The marketing package also included information on new developments in housing, various newspaper articles and other related brochures and materials.
In three years the Morristown Partnership has solicited and met with hundreds of retailers, commercial real estate brokers and developers in an effort to attract new businesses and investors to Morristown. The office of the Partnership has become a central location for information on available space, market trends, rents, future developments and essentially, almost anything that has to do with the state of the Town of Morristown. Since 1995, Morristown has experienced a positive ratio of businesses opening versus closing. Dozens of new retailers, restaurants and service oriented businesses have located to Town over the past two years, many of which met with the Partnership first and were directed to the available spaces throughout Town. In addition, the first development of its kind in decades in Morristown is underway with the 131 unit Chancery Square apartment building. And, with the amount of current interest in future redevelopment projects, more will follow shortly. In a nut shell the Morristown Partnership has become the marketing agent for the Town of Morristown.
To help existing businesses promote themselves, the Partnership developed close relationships with the Daily Record, Star Ledger, Historic Morris Emporium and Recorder Publishing Company to cial advertising sections that focused strictly on Morristown. Editorial information is coordinated by the Partnership in the newspaper tabloids and special advertising rates for Partnership businesses were negotiated. In these and other media outlets, the Morristown Partnership regularly promotes the downtown business district with carefully developed generic advertisements.
Each year, the Partnership conducts its Business Expo and Networking Social at Headquarters Plaza for the purpose of providing a venue for local business people to meet other local business people in a social setting. The goal is to encourage local businesses to utilize each other for their various needs and services.
One of the first programs the Partnership initiated was a gift certificate program. These generic Morristown Gift Certificates were created to be a guaranteed revenue source for local businesses, both retail and professional. The Partnership reimburses the business 100 percent of the face value when a gift certificate is redeemed. The more we sell, the more dollars spent in downtown Morristown and its business community. The certificate can be redeemed at most Morristown Partnership businesses and can be purchased at the Partnership office.
In Streetscape, the Morristown Partnership identified two locations which would serve as demonstration projects for streetscape improvements that will ultimately adorn the Town's landscape. Washington Street was recently completed and construction on Morris Street from Pine Street to the train trestle including Blachley Place will begin in June. Features of these projects include attractive turn-of-the-century style lampposts, pavered crosswalks to better identify pedestrian rights of way, thereby increasing the safety of passersby, and new sidewalks to replace old, broken and unsafe ones. To help pay for the costs of such massive projects, the Partnership applied for and received over $1 million from the Department of Transportation. In addition, the Adopt-A-Light campaign was introduced offering businesses and individuals the opportunity to sponsor a new lamppost and be immortalized on a bronze plaque at the lamppost of their choice. The program has been successful, with more than half the lights on Washington Street sold to date.
To further beautify the Town of Morristown, the Partnership began a landscape improvement program designed to improve the appearance of key locations throughout the business district. Seven have been completed to date and five new sites are scheduled for 1998. At one site (in front of the Midtown Shopping Center), the Morristown Partnership received a generous donation of $14,500 from the Garden Club of Morristown. All of the locations are regularly maintained by the Morristown Partnership.
Other highlights from the Streetscape Committee include a Facade Loan and Grant Program designed to help business and commercial property owners improve their building fronts. This program is currently being retooled. The development of design guidelines to set standards for commercial facade improvements including signage, materials, colors, etc. Historic "Welcome" signs were installed at various entrances into Morristown. In addition, new and improved holiday decorations were added to the streets of Town.
The Safe and Clean program focuses on the physical attractiveness of Morristown as well as the real and perceived safety issues and the overall well being of the Town. To address cleanliness issues, the Partnership instituted a sidewalk cleaning program (one of its very first) for the entire special improvement district. It has since been refined in terms of scheduling, timing and locations. The three man crew, clients of the Occupational Training Center, work Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
To help business owners with State mandated recycling laws, the Partnership, in cooperation with the Morris County Municipal Utilities Authority, developed a recycling program that offers significant savings and ultimately will increase the efficiency of recycling in Morristown.
Other important highlights include the Annual Town-Wide Cleanup which the Partnership organized from 1995 through 1997, and continues to be a sponsor. The forming of a partnership with the Sheriff's Labor Assistance Program (S.L.A.P.) to schedule additional cleanups throughout the Town. The purchase of an additional bicycle for the Morristown Police Department to augment its Bicycle Patrol Program.
The Partnership has also coordinated a uniform news rack program by assembling support from the major newspapers with boxes in downtown Morristown. News racks consisting of six units will be installed at the most heavily congested sidewalks (e.g. South and DeHart, Speedwell Ave., South and Elm). In addition, the newspapers (Daily Record, Star Ledger, New York Times, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, Bergen Record, Recorder Publishing and most of the many free publications) have agreed to reduce the number of boxes they have in Town and will paint the remaining news racks black to present a uniform appearance.
Community and Government Relations is a crucial element to achieving the objectives of the Morristown Partnership. Anytime the public/private sector can be united towards a common goal, the sky is the limit. Over the years the Partnership has evolved into a prominent role as liaison between the business community, residential community, market base and government entities. The Morristown Partnership has been fortunate to have forged such strong partners in its goal to revitalize the business district. The Mayor and the Town Council have been extremely supportive and cooperative in the Partnership's efforts, as have the various department heads, and planning and zoning boards. In addition, the County of Morris has been a regular supporter of the Partnership's endeavors, as well as elected district and federal representatives, New Jersey Transit, the Department of Transportation, Department of Community Affairs and other State departments.
Moreover, the Morristown Partnership has developed important and necessary relationships with other civic and community-minded organizations including the Morristown Parking Authority, the South Street Theatre Company (the group which runs the Community Theatre), Morristown Memorial Hospital, Morris County Chamber of Commerce, the Morris School District and many other significant groups and agencies. The Partnership is also represented on the Boards of Directors and Committees of additional organizations such as First Night Morris, Historic Speedwell Village and Historic Morris Visitors Center.
Furthermore, the Partnership is almost always represented on Mayoral or Town Council appointed subcommittees that address important concerns that face the business community and the Town of Morristown as a whole including Town property disposition (e.g. Vail Mansion), traffic control, code enforcement, public safety, etc. The Partnership also frequently supports other non-profit organizations through advertising journal sponsorships and joint efforts. Lastly, the Morristown Partnership has served as guest speaker at numerous functions for area organizations and churches, outlining its goals and objectives, accomplishments and the bright outlook for the Town of Morristown and its business community.
Parking and Transportation have a major impact on the vitality of the business district. Between the Morristown Parking Authority's (MPA) municipal lots and on-street spaces, Epstein's Department Store and Headquarters Plaza there are over 6,000 parking spaces in the Town. In addition, the Parking Authority's 700 car garage behind the former Macy's Department Store will be under construction this summer. The nearly 7,000 available spaces the Town will have to offer is more than some cities that are double the size of Morristown.
To help identify all this parking, the MPA and the Partnership installed more easily recognizable directional signs to better guide visitors to the ample parking. In addition, as a thank you to its customers, the Morristown Partnership provides free parking at the on-street meters the two weeks prior to Christmas. Another cooperative effort of the Parking Authority and Partnership is the increase in the maximum time permitted at on-street meters from 60 to 90 minutes and the addition of on-street parking spaces in the business district.
The Partnership also offers a monthly parking stamp program at a reduced rate for its business members interested in subsidizing the cost of parking for their customers. The participating businesses receive a 20 percent discount on the cost of the parking in the three attended lots in Morristown (the Partnership subsidizes the 20 percent). The eligible municipal lots are located at Maple Avenue, Ann/Bank Streets and Cattano Avenue.
Regarding transportation, the Partnership has worked closely with the Town administration and Council representative Theresa Needham to address traffic signalization throughout Morristown. After meetings with the Department of Transportation, signalization at Early and Spring Streets and Market and South Streets were adjusted. Further planning is necessary to completely eradicate Morristown's traffic problems.
In addition, the Partnership has explored the possibility of providing trolley service throughout the business district. The continued ongoing development of the Town and the future development of the property along North Park Place have impacted timing. One thing is certain, Morristown will have trolley service in the not too distant future.
Promotions and Marketing have taken on significant roles within the planning of the Morristown Partnership. One way to dispel perceptions and to bring people back into Town is through a complete schedule of events. Throughout the year the Partnership sponsors and presents its Business Expo and Networking Social (May), Summer Block Party (June), Sidewalk Sale (July), Farmer's Market (June - November), Fall Festival on the Green (September), Halloween Trick-or-Treat (October) and Free Photos with Santa Claus (December). The purpose of these events is to promote the viability and vitality of the Town and its business district. The various year-round activities provide a cost-effective way to showcase Morristown's finest, attract new visitors and tourism to Morristown, and also contribute to an improved quality of life for our local business owners and residents.
A new comprehensive and aggressive sponsorship campaign has enabled the Partnership to review additional special events and could possibly lead to Morristown's first Winter Wonderland featuring an ice skating rink at Pioneer Park between Headquarters Plaza and the 1776 Building on the Green from November through February. In addition, the Partnership is studying the feasibility of featuring a "Haunted House" at the Vail Mansion on South Street two weeks in October prior to Halloween. More details about both events will be announced in the future.
Marketing the Town of Morristown becomes increasingly rewarding as it steam rolls towards the title as the best small city in the State of New Jersey. The Partnership name and logo continues to gain regional visibility and promotes a positive image of the Town. Businesses located within the district are the direct beneficiaries of a comprehensive marketing plan which positions Morristown's downtown as a thriving retail and business center and tourist destination with unique historic charm. In addition, a thorough imaging campaign is being developed with the intention that a branding of the Town will enable the Partnership to favorably position Morristown in the marketplace. It is important and necessary to understand and appreciate these attributes to most effectively market Morristown as a product. Ultimately common themes will be continuously generated to reflect an ever changing Town in a multimedia campaign that will include print, radio, television and outdoor advertising.
In its marketing efforts, the Partnership promotes the business district through generic advertisements in various media outlets. In addition, the Partnership generates its own quarterly newsletter for its business constituents, interested followers and supporters. It has also developed this web site
Also new for 1998 is the Partnership's Friends of Morristown Initiative. This affinity program offers opportunities for individuals, groups and corporations to get involved in Partnership projects through volunteerism or financial contributions. An offspring of this program is the soon to be introduced Friends of Morristown Visa Card. This credit card will contribute to the Partnership's programs by generating revenue through a percentage of purchases.
Morristown's historic stock features a unique blend of attractions that draw a significant number of people to the area. This results in a positive impact on the economics of the Town. The Partnership's role in further developing local tourism is apparent through its investment in products such as the Historic Morristown Walking Tour brochure and in creating future opportunities with other stakeholders in the tourism industry.