“Our storefront vacancy in the village is at what I would term as historic lows,” said Ballston Spa Mayor John Romano, who said he believes there may only be one or two empty storefronts along the main section of town. “When my board and I assumed office a number of years ago, we made economic development and revitalization of our village a top priority. The question was: how do you get people interested in Ballston Spa? At one point we were a drive-thru community. Now, we’re a drive-to community.”
Ballston Spa’s transformation from drive-thru to drive-to took many years of careful planning, not to mention a communal effort to bring the village up to where it is today.
“We have the outstanding Ballston Spa Business and Professional Association (BSBPA), who work very hard hand in hand with the village to promote economic development and the revitalization of the community,” said Mayor Romano.
Together, the village and the BSBPA started hosting family-friendly events to attract out-of-town residents to the downtown district. Each event – the farmer’s market, First Fridays, outdoor movies, Thursday concerts in the park, the annual film festival and more – got bigger and better with each passing month, drawing consistently larger crowds.
“We also did a lot of work and revitalized one of our main and major business district streets – Front Street,” said Mayor Romano, who said Ballston Spa has successfully applied for over $2,025,000 in grants and funding for upgrades to properties. “We put in Victorian street lighting; we put in (what I call) simulated brick crosswalks; we repaved Front Street; we put all the wiring underground along the major business section on Front Street; we also worked with the Saratoga Economic Development Corporation to create Empire Zones that would help businesses and give them some tax breaks if they were part of those zones.”
The village has also seen businesses taking advantage of a private/public partnership that helps pay for half of the cost to upgrade or replace worn down sidewalks, and several businesses have taken advantage of the grant money available to renovate and upgrade their properties and store fronts.
With the revitalization effort well underway, longtime businesses in Ballston Spa are beginning to reap the rewards from their beautified village.
“We’ve been here for ten years now, and when I first came here, Ballston Spa was kind of in the beginning stages of revitalization,” said Clifford Baum, owner of Coffee Planet at 100 Milton Ave. in Ballston Spa, which recently underwent major renovations inside and out. “It’s grown enormously. There are a number of businesses here that have really sustained themselves that have been here for more than five years now. And the diversity in businesses that have come here has been tremendous.”
The kinds of businesses coming to Ballston Spa run from A to Z. From antique stores to fine jewelry and craft shops, The Whistling Kettle tea shop to the Sunset Café, the recently renovated Medbery Inn and Spa to new business like the Iron Roost waffle and coffee house, the downtown district has a lot to offer.
“I’m a seven-year resident of the village, so I’ve seen a lot of the efforts to beautify the village,” said Linnaea DiNallo, owner of the Iron Roost at 36 Front Street. “The flowers, the care that went into the actual streets and the parks has all really kind of stepped up over the last couple of years, and you see a lot of new businesses coming in too. It’s become more and more of a destination place, and I think things like what I’m doing at the restaurant add to that.”
Businesses in Ballston Spa, new and old, are also starting to see increased foot traffic and patronage at their stores.
“We’ve really been on an uptick,” said Baum. “We’ve come back very strong [after the 2008 recession] and we’ve gotten to the point where we were able to remodel the store.”
Speaking of Ballston Spa as a whole, Baum added, “I think right now we’re probably in the best position we’ve ever been in. A lot of businesses that have been here for more than five years – they’ve gained strength. They’ve got a clientele built up and they’re pretty well known.”
One of the biggest differences Baum has seen is the way in which Ballston Spa is now working with neighboring communities.
“We market the tourist trade in Saratoga very strongly now,” Baum said. “When I first came here, August was actually my worst month. Now it’s my best month of the year.”
Mayor Romano and the village of Ballston Spa came up with a strategic economic development and revitalization plan, with the input of community residents and leaders, shortly after coming into office. As budgets permit, the village has tried to accomplish a series of specific goals laid out by the plan to make the village more attractive and more sustainable. It’s a roadmap for the future, said the Mayor, but one that takes a lot of help and communal effort to make it work.
“I can’t emphasize this enough – I can attribute a lot of this to the efforts of the BSPBA,” said Mayor Romano. “They’re a significant and major player in our revitalization.”
For the Mayor, BSBPA, and Ballston Spa businesses alike, everyone is feeling bullish on downtown’s recent successes. “But you can’t rest on your past accomplishments. You’ve got to continue to promote your community and come up with new and creative ideas that will keep the interest alive in your community,” said Mayor Romano. “But if we can continue that momentum forward by continuing to have that interest, I think we will see more successes in the future.”