By Marco Cucchi, President of Thomas Sweet Chocolate
As a small business owner, I do not believe the creation of a Special Improvement District (SID) is a good idea for Princeton and may in fact be detrimental to small business owners, especially those in professional services. The feasibility study created by the municipality does not provide any justification to support the additional tax burden that will be levied on the residents or commercial tenants in the improvement district. Please take a moment to read the following concerns that I have regarding the creation of a SID in Princeton.
1. Lack of a “Call to Action” – The feasibility study contains no specific evidence showing that Princeton is in need of revitalization or a SID. A mere three paragraphs of page 9 of the report address the current situation and the only rationale provided to create a SID is that there is a risk that the existing organizations such as the Princeton Merchants Association and the Chamber of Commerce, which have done an excellent job over many years, are largely volunteer and as a result may not be ‘sustainable.’
The report contains no study to show any recent reduction in foot traffic, automobile traffic, consumer spending, tourism, retail vacancy rates, or any other measure that would indicate a business problem for our community. Moreover, if there is an undocumented problem, there is no indication that a SID would be the best solution.
Additionally, the report fails to address the impact a SID will have on actual problems the town is facing such as auto traffic and parking.
2. Redundancy – There are numerous redundancies between what the SID is claiming to address with efforts already being made by small-business owners, landlords such as Palmer Square, the Princeton Shopping Center, Princeton University, and other proactive landlords in town. The most notable examples of this have to do with marketing and beautification.
Many landlords already charge tenants fees to cover marketing and beautification efforts for their properties. For example, my landlord, Palmer Square Management, charges fees to their tenants to market their property in the media. They also use the funds in the marketing budget to provide for special town events such as the Christmas Tree Lighting, Ice Skating on the Square, and weekly music festivals to draw traffic to our businesses. The Princeton Shopping Center also holds events to promote their property and their tenants.
Implementing a SID will effectively require tenants of these forward-thinking landlords to pay twice for what is already being done in a highly effective manner.
3. Poor Timing– Small Business owners are currently under significant pressure. The cost of running our businesses has increased significantly due to increases in labor costs (minimum wage has risen over 25% in 3 years), cost of goods (inflation is at a 40-year high), supply chain issues, and the remnants of COVID-19. This is not a time to implement yet another financial burden on us. The reason for vacancies on Nassau Street is not due to a lack of marketing, but to our inability to increase our prices at the rate consistent with the cost of doing business.
4. Taxation with a Lack of Representation – The proponents for the SID and the proposed make-up of the steering committee to run the SID is heavily skewed toward commercial landlords and contains no private citizens. Commercial landlords will be the people deciding how to utilize and spend tax-payer dollars. While these individuals are accomplished business people, they are NOT elected officials and their decision-making contains little oversight. The risk of the SID becoming self-serving to those who oversee it is a likely outcome.
This ordinance is being rushed through the bureaucratic process without its proper due diligence and debate. It is my strong opinion that the proponents of the SID are the classic “wolves in sheep’s clothing.” The creation of a SID in Princeton is simply an additional tax that most small business owners and tenants will be forced to absorb and the primary beneficiaries of it will be a subset of commercial landlords who are probably the last people who need assistance during these challenging times.
I urge all residents and business owners to send a quick note to the mayor’s office to ask that this resolution is not passed.