The talk around town on the North Shore revolves around two large-scale projects: the Wheel and the Empire Outlets in St. George.
These enormous projects are grabbing the attention of Staten Islanders and other New Yorkers, and even that of people outside the region.
With the projections of tourists to these attractions reaching the millions, local small businesses are organizing so they can be ready to take advantage of the runoff.
Councilwoman Deborah Rose is helping to lead that charge in New Brighton. A native Staten Islander, Rose remembers when all of Staten Island’s neighborhoods had town centers, and Jersey Street was the action-packed commercial strip of New Brighton.
“It was very vibrant and vital, and it had the resources that the neighborhood needed. There was a hardware store, a supermarket and a bank,” said Rose, who represents District 49, which includes New Brighton. “But all that changed. It’s been a hope of mine to try to revitalize our town centers, which are the heart of our communities.”
When Rose entered office in 2010, she said she immediately wanted to figure out how to revitalize the Jersey Street commercial strip, and the need for doing so became even more apparent when the Wheel and Empire Outlets came on board.
“It was very apparent that Jersey Street was the backdoor of the Wheel and the Empire Outlets,” she said.
“The route that people will take is straight down Jersey Street. I wanted Jersey Street to benefit from the economic development that was going on at the waterfront.”
So Rose began meeting with local bankers, trying to get them interested in opening a branch on Jersey Street. She, along with others, is also hard at work to have the Department of Sanitation garage located at the top of the street removed, because she sees it as an eyesore and impediment to further progress in the middle of two commercial strips — Jersey Street and Victory Boulevard.
“I sort of saw that as our lynchpin for what would connect Victory Boulevard to Jersey Street so that there would be a continuum,” she said.
Beyond those efforts, Rose held discussions with the city’s Economic Development Corporation and requested $75,000 in start-up funds to formally organize the merchants in the neighborhood with a Local Development Corporation, so there would be “structured and concerted efforts” to bring about the resources the community needs.
Now, Rose and Small Business Services have been working on putting the elements together that are needed to start an LDC. To start a successful LDC, Rose said there needs to be community engagement, stakeholders and buy-in from the merchants already present on the commercial strip. There has to be a non-profit entity willing to take on the detail and administrative functions required.
On Jersey Street, those stakeholders are SBS, the New Brighton Coalition of Concerned Citizens and the West Brighton LDC, “because they have a track record and they’ve done this,” Rose said.
The Concerned Citizens, a group of residents and some merchants and civic leaders, are playing a primary role getting the merchants together and having these conversations.
The LDC here would cover Jersey Street with Richmond Terrace as the northernmost border, with Victory Boulevard as the south border and also including Brook Street, because it is cradled between the two major roads.
An LDC’s function is to develop funding to bring programming to the community and also to help with economic development.
“I think the outcome could be the establishment of a BID (Business Improvement District),” Rose said. “The LDC is probably the first step, because you have to get the businesses engaged. You have to get them to the point where they see the value of being in a BID, because being a BID member…has a cost attached to it.”
Rose said the LDC is in the “very rudimentary stages,” so there is no timeline as to when it could get off the ground. For now, they are trying to organize the merchants and have them buy in that there is a need for what Rose called a “commonality” among merchants on Jersey Street, and how it will be beneficial for all.
“Right now, we’re trying to build collaborative efforts, so that we can progress to not only the LDC but to more than likely become a BID,” Rose said. “We’re talking about a community that hasn’t had any support, and the merchants there are in survival mode. They’ve been pretty much left to their own devices and abilities.
“We have to develop the area so that they will want to be a part of that strip.”
Rose believes the community desperately needs commercial development to bring all the services that should be available in a walkable environment. As of now, residents in the neighborhood have to hop in their vehicles to do their banking, to go to a supermarket. What they have on Jersey Street is limited.
“My personal vision is to restore the town centers in each of our little communities, but also to make sure that the resources and the infrastructure exist in these communities so that the economic development opportunities are there, that they can continue to grow, and that people won’t have to leave their home community to do the day-to-day shopping,” Rose said. “We want our businesses to thrive. I want these communities to benefit from all of the development that’s going on.”
“This is really an opportunity for Jersey Street,” she said. “I want my entire district to benefit from the development we see, the larger development.