Trenton Symposium, Nov 27, 2017
Freddie’s Tavern, Railroad Ave., Ewing
Gilmour, Director, Trenton Downtown Association
Joe Teti called the meeting
to order at 12:45, after the usual fine lunch.
We had 22 people in attendance, including new member Stephen
Fitzpatrick. Stephen noted that he was
glad to be among us, had lived 37 years in New Jersey, and loved the Scottish
connection to be Trent and Mercer. He
works at UIH Family Partners, an organization that helps fathers rebuilt their
lives so that they can be positive presences in their children’s lives and
We also welcomed Liz Ewell,
Director of the Salvation Army. She has
lived 40 years in Trenton, after a stint in the service. She is particularly interested in Trenton’s
Joe asked for a treasurer’s
report, and George reported that we had $1415 in the bank. Joe reminded everyone that annual dues are
payable now. The report was accepted by
voice vote. One member suggested that
the Symposium consider donating some of its funds to the Rescue Mission, or
Orchid House, or to a Trenton historical nonprofit. That will need to be discussed at a later
meeting, but there was a general murmur of approval for the idea.
Joe called upon Shan Holt to
introduce speaker Tom Gilmour. He
applauded the Symposium’s focus on Trenton’s needs and the people who are
meeting them, and indicated that he was well acquainted, even in a short time, with
some of our speakers, including Elijah Dixon at Orchid House.
Gilmour came to Trenton
Downtown Association (TDA) from Asbury Park.
He had a great run there, helping to put that community back on its feet
culturally and economically. He sees
parallels, the most important being that he hit Asbury Park at what was “its
time,” and he thinks that Trenton’s time is also now. TDA wants to help re-position Trenton for
sizable growth and is happy that there is momentum to build on. The Roebling Lofts development, now 60%
leased, is encouraging people to move back to Trenton, using the new
transportation resource of the RiverLine and expects to continue developing
additional Roebling properties once the Lofts are fully leased this spring.
TDA’s mission as a special
services district is business recruitment and retention. One key piece of that puzzle in settling
people in Trenton to patronize local businesses, which is why he is so pleased
with the Roebling Lofts project. Safety
is a big part of attracting people back, and Tom is confident that, with basic
urban smarts, people can be safe in this city.
Eight new businesses have opened up downtown this year, including
Maestro technologies in the old Wells Fargo building. They currently have 140 people on staff and
expect to hire another 70 in 2018. They
only use 30% of the building, so there is room for more comparable companies to
He’s excited about the new
Starbucks on Warren Str, not just because of its retail operation but because
it is a regional training center for the company. It also offers community meeting space, so it
looks to be a multi-dimensional positive for downtown. All Starbucks regional staff will begin by
experiencing Trenton, and then fan out to outlets around the region. They are also willing to create internships
in entrepreneurship for local residents, continuing to build the small business
base for the city.
He sees other powerful
resources already in place.
Art is first (he built a lot of the Asbury Park work on its great
music traditions). Artworks, Art All
Night, Art All Day all bring visitors to Trenton and support artists and
studios in city neighborhoods. AAD has
grown from 22 to 38 sites this year.
Trenton is so cheap to live in that hundreds of
artists can settle here. TDA has the
bank building and is looking to convert it to studio space and a
Trenton-centric art gallery.
TDA also does façade
improvements, and with a grant from TDA, Orchid House hired signage from a
local artist, a three-level win. He also
sees impact from the Levitt-Amp concerts in Mill Hill Park, which mobilize
Trentonians to vote for their city in the competition each winter, and then
brings people in to experience the city again during the summer. (ED update:
Trenton won the concert series again for 2018, so that will continue to
resources are another aspect of
Gilmour is impressed by how
hard Boston works its resources … why can’t Trenton do as much with its
own? He thinks that Trenton actually has
better Revolutionary History than Boston and cited Patriots Week and its many
facets as the sound foundation. He wants
to create a marketing plan to follow up the PW events and strengthen year-round
promotion of Trenton’s history. He sees
possibilities of partnership with, for instance, the new Museum of the American
Revolution in Philadelphia.
Parking revenue is an untapped resource for cultural development in
Trenton. In Asbury Park, he was able to
secure a bond issue to install a new system that boosted revenue by $4.9
million. Not through ticketing, but just
by metering parking effectively.
Gilmour sees the safety issue
as a media problem, and again was familiar with the same problem in Asbury
Park. He recounted how his mother called
him every day after he began working there, to make sure that he was safe. Media have a taste for the negative. His plan is just to keep making positive
things happen, knowing the media will eventually pay attention.
He has also won a special
projects grant from the Princeton Area Community Foundation to create an
unarmed foot patrol force for the downtown area. The goal is to beef up official presence, and
keep steady eyes on what needs maintenance, investment or law enforcement
Gilmour is also excited about
the group Greater Trenton, which is offering tech help to developers and to
City Hall to attract large businesses to the city. George Sowa (a recent Symposium speaker), has
made a bid to Amazon noting 5 areas within the city that the city owns and
could be turned over for their HQ.
Trenton has powerful location and transportation advantages, and the Greater
Trenton proposal showcases what could be done here. The proposal can also be shared with other
large concerns that might be attracted here.
Gilmour has made efforts to
increase TDA’s political clout at the state level. By conferring with both gubernatorial
candidates, TDA won the ear of Gov-elect Phil Murphy. Gilmour’s plan is to engage the state in
reanimating the War Memorial. It used to
have almost constant bookings, which supported the hotel and downtown
eateries. That stopped under Christie,
but can be re-started. Gilmour is also
imagining a production company with its base at the War Memorial, so that film
work could be brought to and coordinated within Trenton.
Gilmour is very
optimistic. He likes Trenton people and
finds it easy to get connected here.
That open, welcoming attitude, he says, is the best thing a city can
have going for it in undertaking revitalization.
Several folks had questions
and suggestions, including Lolly O’Brien who asked about encouraging our
restaurant scene through somethink like Top Chef or Restaurant Week. Gilmour mentioned Tastes of Trenton, which
has been successful in the Burg and is now reaching downtown.
There was also a question
about the future of the hotel. Gilmour
indicated that the situation was complicated by family ownership and an estate
wrangle within the family. He thinks
that city and state incentives can make a resale attractive, and that
revitalizing the calendar at the War Memorial will make the hotel a paying
proposition once again. Jane affirmed
that, back in the day, the War Memorial attracted big name acts that brought
thousands of people downtown. She
likened it to the Count Basie theatre in Red Bank, NJ.
George brought up the problem
of voter apathy in Trenton, noting only 25% turnout in recent election. Gilmour responded that they are trying to
make voter registration one of the things offered at the Levitt-Amp concerts in
Steve also mentioned
Detroits’ Slow Roll, a bicycle tour effort that brought people back downtown
and slowly gained momentum.
The meeting adjourned at 1:30,
with the announcement that we will meet again on Monday, January 22.
Shan Holt, Secretary