New hope for economic development in Ballston Spa

ERICA MILLER/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Ballston Spa Mayor Larry Woolbright cheers with constituents after turning on the water for the recently restored Wiswall Park fountain on Wednesday. Ballston Spa and Saratoga County Prosperity Partnership held a press conference at the park to discuss efforts to boost economic development in the village.

ERICA MILLER/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
Ballston Spa Mayor Larry Woolbright cheers with constituents after turning on the water for the recently restored Wiswall Park fountain on Wednesday. Ballston Spa and Saratoga County Prosperity Partnership held a press conference at the park to discuss efforts to boost economic development in the village.

Categories: Business, News, Saratoga County

BALLSTON SPA

The Sans Souci Spring fountain is flowing again in Wiswall Park.

The repair of the piping for the mineral water spring, which was once — more than two centuries ago — the central feature of the nation’s largest resort hotel, was highlighted Wednesday, as Ballston Spa village leaders unveiled a new economic development plan for the community, following a year of work.

“This is an exciting day for the village, one that symbolizes new beginnings for the village and signifies to the world that we are open for business,” Mayor Larry Woolbright said during a ceremony in the park, an acre in the heart of the downtown Front Street district of restaurants and shops.

The 72-page plan, developed by the Saratoga County Prosperity Partnership with extensive public input, lays out a series of actions for the village, including organizing downtown businesses into a special improvement district, updating the village master plan and zoning, providing support for small businesses, and creating a marketing brand for the village.

“We want to create a thriving village for our children and their children,” said Woolbright, who became mayor in April 2019, and said he spent much of his first year dealing with the village’s troubled financial position, which is now improved. “We have character, we have charm, and we are a quaint and friendly place.”

Ballston Spa, the Saratoga County seat, has about 5,600 residents. It has been through the down and up cycles of many village downtowns in the Northeast. In recent years it has been on an upswing, with new restaurants and cafes opening and more storefronts occupied. Among antique enthusiasts, Ballston Spa has become a regional destination.

The village nevertheless decided to develop a longer-range plan with the Prosperity Partnership, the county economic development organization. There was no direct cost to the village.

“This is the time to be pro-active and prepare for a promising future,” Woolbright said.

Shelby Schneider, president and CEO of the Prosperity Partnership, said the plan establishes four main goals:

— Enhance the central business district, seeking to attract complimentary businesses. It recommends forming a business improvement district to fund infrastructure improvements and consider solutions to downtown issues like parking needs.

— Update the village land use master plan, which hasn’t been changed since 1994, seek funding for facade and walkability improvements, and pursue funding for redeveloping brownfields.

— Provide support for small businesses. “The businesses we have right now are struggling because of COVID, but we need to do everything we can to support them,” said state Assemblywoman Mary Beth Walsh, R-Ballston, who has a law office and a district office in the village. “This plan will help to move the village forward.”

— Create an economic development and community brand for the village, which could showcase the village’s assets while targeting vacant and underutilized properties for redevelopment, and evaluating zoning and land use ordinances to determine if they support economic development.

One key property whose future remains unknown is the historic former tannery property at 125 Bath St., most recently occupied by an Angelica Healthcare hospital laundry facility, which closed in 2010. The site has gone through a series of environmental cleanups since then. It was purchased by James J. Beaudoin of Malta in 2018, and he has continued the cleanup work, but still has no definite plans for the six-acre property.

“This economic development plan articulates a clear and exciting vision for the village’s future, and I look forward to playing a role in making it a reality,” Beaudoin said.

“Anything you need, we’re here to help,” Woolbright publicly told him.

The village is also working to help Nafeesa Koslik, who is on the verge of opening the village’s first Indian restaurant at 256 Milton Ave. “The village has welcomed me with open arms,” she said.

The next step in implementing the plan will be organizing efforts to put the plan’s recommendations in action.

“This plan is both comprehensive and flexible; it will guide us toward the goal of maintaining our unique village, while improving our ability to attract new residents and businesses to join us in the opportunities our community offers,” said Rory O’Connor, chairman of the village Planning Board, who also chaired the steering committee that helped guide the plan’s development.

History could be something the village will highlight. Ballston Spa was founded around 1771 with the discovery of mineral springs, which were thought to be good for health in the late 18th century. The San Souci Hotel, which was eventually destroyed by fire, was the largest hotel in the U.S. when it opened in 1803.

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