Belleville Council Hires Downtown Improvement Consultant
Local firm will seek ways to bolster Washington Avenue's appeal
The Belleville Township Council voted Tuesday to hire a local consultant to perform a study on ways to improve the look of Washington Avenue, the latest attempt to boost the appeal of the township’s main commercial corridor.
Councilman Michael Nicosia, who had been advocating for such a study for several years, said it was necessary because individual businesses are each improving their small patch of the avenue, but not in a coordinated way.
“That’s the part that’s frustrating. We’re seeing little spurts of construction and it’s not consistent,” he said.
DM Bloom of Belleville was hired by a 4 to 1 vote at a rate of $150 an hour, for a total not to exceed $17,500, the threshold amount above which such contracts must be put out to competitive bid.
Dawson Bloom, the owner of the company and a former member of the Belleville Board of Education, said improving Washington Avenue was not merely a question of aesthetics.
“The entire purpose is to do this in conjunction with spurring economic development,” said Bloom, who has done similar “streetscape” work on Broad Street in Newark, another heavily trafficked commercial thoroughfare.
The process will involve assessing the needs of residents, merchants and landlords along the avenue, seeing what funding may be available for projects, and soliciting opinions from the entire community through a “charette,” or public forum.
A few members of the public Tuesday urged the council to vote against paying for another study. Resident Vincent Frantantoni said other studies performed in the past should be on file in town hall and can still serve as a guide.
He also noted at least a few blocks on the southern end of Washington have already been refurbished with decorative brickwork, wrought-iron benches and other features, and asked why that basic design could not simply be extended.
Bloom said that studies performed years ago may not account for present-day circumstances and needs, but also said all ideas will be considered.
“We’re not throwing anything away,” he said.