Friday, September 16, 2005

Ballard Fox cuts back on city development work

The city’s economic development director, Pat Ballard Fox, has launched a consulting company and is only working 21 hours a week at City Hall, she said Thursday (Sept. 15, 2005).

Ballard Fox was hired in June 1998 as deputy city administrator in charge of economic development. She remained on the job through both terms of Mayor Albert T. McWilliams, but her tenure ends Dec. 31 when McWilliams leaves office.

Ballard Fox said her firm, PBF Consulting, specializes in project management for transit and economic development projects.

“I have a major consulting contract working for two state agencies, but I wanted to continue the Plainfield work to the best of my ability for the rest of the year,” she said.

She declined to name the agencies, but said one is affiliated with Rutgers University.

When Ballard Fox came to the city, the downtown Park-Madison and Tepper’s sites were the main focus of redevelopment. An office building, stores and a parking deck have since been built on the Park-Madison site and the former Tepper’s department store has been converted to 75 apartments with stores and a day care center at ground level.

Ballard Fox said she was also pleased that the city has set up a Special Improvement District to fund improvements downtown and in the South Avenue business district. In addition, she has helped foster a new Plainfield Chamber of Commerce.

The first phase of a Downtown Streetscape project is being completed, bringing new sidewalks, trees and benches to the central business district. Her office has also developed new marketing materials, she said.

"We've done a lot with a small crew," she said.

Currently, there are more than a dozen redevelopment projects in various phases.

“Were I to leave Economic Development now, there would be only one staff person,” she said. “There is too much work for one person.” Ballard Fox said she hopes several projects can progress before the end of the year.

Some of her goals:
  • Amend a plan covering 197 properties to allow the sale of some parcels for commercial purposes.
  • Seek City Council adoption of a redevelopment plan for the downtown block that includes the Strand Theater.
  • Amend a plan for the Tepper’s block to allow sale of two city-owned properties.
  • Seek adoption of the Downtown Station South redevelopment study that covers 23 blocks south of the main train station.
A couple of major projects went through all the study and planning steps of the redevelopment process, only to be rejected by the City Council. Ballard Fox said the $25 million mixed use project for the North Avenue Historic District and the $15 million Marino’s project, which would have brought a supermarket to the West Front Street tract, failed to win council approval.

Asked whether she would serve as a consultant to the next administration, Ballard Fox said, “Absolutely. I would be glad to continue on a project by project basis,“ she said.
--Bernice Paglia
KEYWORDS: development, planning