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Special Report: Business Owners Divided Over Collingswood Partners

Some business owners maintain that Collingswood Partners helps boost economic development; others take a different stance. The second installment of a two-part series.

Shoppers walking down Haddon Avenue in December are treated to and played over the public address system.

Visitors and residents can spend —offered once a year —or show up at monthly events to enjoy live entertainment and sales.

Collingswood Partners, the nonprofit corporation funded in part by a business tax, makes all of these events possible. These kind of projects have helped contribute to a Collingswood renaissance, and the borough's reputation as a quintessential American downtown.

But in the midst of promoting business growth in town, Collingswood Partners also has been , thanks to a taken out in 2005 to redevelop the LumberYard property.

Click to read Patch's earlier story about the LumberYard loan.

Taking out the loan helped Collingswood businesses, because the LumberYard—a mix of condos and retail space—brought new residents to town, created new storefronts, and transformed an eyesore, , the borough’s former director of community development. (Collingswood Partners Director Terry Seeley deferred comments on Collingswood Partners to Kane.)

Plus, Collingswood Borough is the entity actually making loan payments, so while debt is on the books of Collingswood Partners, local government pays for it—meaning it’s local taxpayers’ responsibility.

But whether businesses embrace Kane’s belief may depend largely on where those businesses are located in Collingswood.

Selective promotion?

Collingswood Partners oversees the borough’s (BID)—Haddon Avenue; the Collings Avenue Theatre District; and Route 130. Of these, Haddon Avenue the biggest district by far, with the largest number of businesses and the most visitors.

And according to one Collings Avenue business owner, Haddon Avenue also gets all of the attention. This owner requested anonymity, out of fear of repercussions for speaking out against borough operations and officials.

“The world thinks Collingswood begins and ends on Haddon Avenue,” the owner said. “We pay into the BID, and Collingswood Partners too, but we don’t get the same level of service down here (on Collings Avenue).”

The owner’s complaints ranged from the tangible—only a few trees dressed in holiday lights this year, compared to the glow of —to broader gripes, like feeling as though only Haddon Avenue businesses are discussed during Collingswood Partners meetings, and that the other two business districts get little attention.

What benefits one part of Collingswood benefits all, Mayor James Maley countered.

“Probably the (BID) area that is the least-served is the Route 130 district. Though I can’t say we put money into it, even there, a big chunk of our BID advertising—called image advertising, which advertises all of Collingswood—definitely helps them, for their property values, for creating a Collingswood identity at their address,” he said. “On the west side (the Collings Avenue Theatre District), we do decorations, planting, lights; they get banners. But there aren’t very many stores down there. Downtown is where most businesses are.”

The Collings Avenue owner said this way of thinking is typical, and the is yet another example of how Haddon Avenue is favored. The project does nothing to bring shoppers to Collings Avenue, the owner said, and therefore doesn’t benefit the entire business community.

Sandra Fortuna, who owns on Route 130, agrees that non-Haddon Avenue businesses don’t get as much support or attention, or benefit from, Collingswood Partners.

“We pay the tax too, so it would be nice to have the full advantages of that,” said Fortuna.

But Fortuna is quick to assume part of the responsibility.

“The Main Street business area should be concentrated on; it’s where the majority of the businesses are,” Fortuna said. “I’m bordered on two sides of my building by Camden; there’s just no way I could be included in downtown events the way businesses over there are.”

Fortuna said she’s made some attempts to get involved in Collingswood Partners, but stopped trying after she didn’t see a payoff.

“It’s not their fault; it’s my fault,” she said.

In business here for nearly 20 years, Fortuna said she loves Collingswood and operating a business here. But, she added, most of her clientele aren’t borough residents. Like the Collings Avenue business owner, Fortuna said the doesn’t attract more people to her business.

Meanwhile, Haddon Avenue business owner Steven Kreh is a new kid on the block. , Kreh's business, and sits just a few blocks from the LumberYard.

“I haven’t really followed the LumberYard project much, since it was (already) so far along when we came to town,” Kreh said. “I don’t get the sense that a lot of people come from there to shop over here, but it’s hard to tell.”

Kreh said his focus is not on Collingswood Partners or on the LumberYard loan, but in creating a successful business on Haddon Avenue. Kreh gets involved in townwide events, like and the , and promotes his business as much as possible at special events.

And that’s what businesses should be doing, said Kane of Collingswood Partners.

“It’s not our job to bring people into specific businesses,” said Kane. “Collingswood Partners works to bring people into Collingswood. It’s up to business owners to get them through the door.”

(Associate Regional Editor Lauren Burgoon and Regional Editor Tim Zatzariny Jr. contributed to this report.)

Suzanne Cloud January 21, 2012 at 05:02 PM
I think it's wonderful to have a nonprofit entity like Collingswood partners to act as a booster for the town and to organize ways to bring folks in to patronize the businesses. I know they have been very supportive of my efforts with the First Thursday Jazz in the Wood concerts, lo, these past eight years. If Partners hadn't been here for my nonprofit (Jazz Bridge), the idea NEVER would have gotten off the ground. Now the concerts bring in lots of people who have dinner prior to the concert. As far as the Lumberyard...that venture will pay off eventually. It was bad luck that the national financial ceiling fell in when it did. And I remember what that lot looked like before - an eyesore! Thanks to everyone who has helped build this town - I've lived here since 1984 and I love it!
One road town January 21, 2012 at 06:49 PM
I would love to see Knight Park be utilized much more from November-March. Just throwing some ideas against the wall, but lighting it up just like Haddon Ave, maybe have the horse n carriage rides on particular nights, and have outdoor activities such as setting up 2 or three synthetic ice rinks. It's very frustrating to see how we have aligned ourselves with this 'tourist' aspect with just restaurants. I would love not only for out of towners to see the beauty of Collingswood and its history but also I think to build a better community with our citizens. There are only so many nights we can eat out downtown with friends and family,,, and I just feel that there are lots of ideas that can still be reasonably accomplished drawing in families to benefit the town
Anne Carroll January 21, 2012 at 07:30 PM
And a special shout out to Suzanne Cloud for bringing the First Thursday Jazz concert series to our town. The performances are excellent with top of the line jazz musicians from New Jersey and the Philadelphia area. I try to make every concert. Friends of mine from Narberth, PA travel here for the concerts They make the event even better for us all by dining in one of our wonderful restaurants. Thanks to Suzanne and people like her who are making a substantive effort to keep our town great!

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