Town hears pep talk on navigating economic development
BRISTOL BOROUGH - The mayor of Collingswood, N.J. played to a packed house at the Bristol Riverside Theater in Bristol Borough Tuesday night; his presentation was no act. Instead, Mayor James Maley offered advice and a pep talk to Bristol Borough officials and residents about navigating the waters of economic development.
The program, “Sharing Success,” was hosted by the Bristol Borough Economic Development Strategic Planning Committee, which formed in May with the goal of setting the borough’s course toward revitalization. That effort comes on the heels of the borough council’s accomplishments over the past few years, including repaving borough streets, renovating the municipal building at Pond and Mulberry streets, installing new street lights, and constructing a new municipal maintenance building.
Maley has been instrumental
in transforming Collingswood’s image from a blighted, depressed area to a prosperous town that Forbes Magazine last year dubbed one of the top 10 transformed communities in the nation, and a Charter Classic Town of Greater Philadelphia.
Bristol could well compete for such accolades through development of its business community and promotion of its geographic location along the Delaware River, and - like Collingswood - its rich historical
significance. In fact, when the council started making major improvements in the town several years ago, Philadelphia Magazine included it in its list of towns that would be among the most desirable places to live.
During his talk, Maley ticked off the list of priorities set by Colling- swood officials, and suggested that Bristol, like Collingswood, work toward a “big picture” while not being afraid to take baby steps.
“Bristol has great bones and, unlike our town, access to the Delaware River. There are many towns that would like to have that asset,” Maley said. “The hardest thing on the road to redevelopment is convincing people that change is possible.”
Collingswood invested millions of dollars to transform a 1,000-unit, fourtower apartment building into a renovated condo. An old school building in the center of town was restored and is currently used for offices for an architectural firm. Another major prong of redevelopment was what Maley called, the “Glad to be Single” program that aimed toward turning duplexes and apartment buildings into single homes, with the help of the owners and town volunteers who labored to restore the structures.
“We helped with the interest [on loans] to enable the property owners to make the conversions. For the borough investing about $1,000 to $2,000 per property, 200 houses have been renovated,” he said.
At the end of Tuesday night’s pro- gram, the audience attended a wine and cheese reception and discussed excitedly the prospects that Bristol could follow in Collingswood’s footsteps.
“This is what I’ve been saying for a long time,” said Bob White, executive director of the Bucks County Redevelopment Authority. “You’ve got to have the vision and you’ve got to think positive.”
Lynn Bush, director of the Bucks County Planning Commission, said she’s been keeping tabs on communities like Bristol that are trying to improve its business and residential environment.
“This event was great. This was absolutely the right thing to do, to look to towns that have succeeded,” Bush said.
In his remarks before the program began, Bill Pezza, project coordinator for Bristol’s economic development committee, said that, although the town “never looked better,” there was still a long way to go.
“The day we stop moving forward, we start moving backward,” he said.