Town hears pep talk on nav­i­gat­ing eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment

The Advance of Bucks County - - BRISTOL AREA - By El­iz­a­beth Fisher

Ad­vance cor­re­spon­dent

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.

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