At its May 1st meeting, Collegeville Borough Council voted 4 to 3 to hire downtown revitalization and development consultant Barth Consulting Group. The hiring of a consultant was advocated by the Borough’s Business Development Committee (BDC) at the April 3rd meeting.
About Barth Consulting Group
Steve Barth, president and founder, presented a slideshow which cited the revitalization benefits gained by New Britain, Perkasie, New Hope and Hatboro Boroughs by working with his firm.
Together Barth has produced for them:
- $300+ million in development
- 2000+ new jobs
- 250+ new businesses
- $2+ million in grants and funding
- 772 new homes
- Increases to their coffers through a surge in real estate transfer taxes and earned income taxes from new residents
Through a formal agreement on collaborative projects with the community, Barth Consulting creates a comprehensive plan and executes it with multiple partners.
Steve and his marketing partner Michelle Shire provide what Steve calls diplomatic immunity. “Businesses can talk to us about everything. Our focus is on what the residents’ and businesses’ vision is for Collegeville, not what we want for them.” he said.
Consulting work of this kind is done on a multi-year contract but Council did not want to commit to multiple years at this time, just one year. Barth stated that in one year he can set some things up—build relationships and connections, and begin plan development, for example—but several years are needed to implement a plan.
Steve asked “Why did Kimberton Whole Foods come (to your community)? Through a years’ long relationship with a national marketing agency.” But he emphasized that communities can craft the consulting relationship however they see fit.
When asked by Councilwoman Terri Stagliano “Why would taxpayers pay for a building owner or business to get these services? Why shouldn’t they do it themselves?” Barth replied “If that could have occured it would have happened already.”
Barth emphasized that “there are only two ways (for a community) to generate money: raise taxes or create economic activity.” He also pointed out that we are in a constant battle between businesses that are desired versus what we can get. “If you see all the communities around you revitalize or grow their businesses and not you, you have to decide to invest.”
Council President Marion McKinney pointed out that she would like at this time for Barth to focus on all the business districts—including the shopping centers and Collegeville Station—and not just Main Street.
The presentation and Q & A between Barth and Council and additional questions to both from about 90 residents lasted for more than an hour and a half. Questions and comments ran the gamut on topics such as past efforts, “spot” zoning, how the community was notified, the effectiveness of the CEDC survey, and how Ursinus College will benefit.
Barth, politely responded to every question and cited anecdotes from his experience. One was a story about “Development by Design” and the lack of it in two communities he worked with recently. One community had a vision for a coffee shop on a certain corner. By design they worked toward it and were able to attract the Dunkin Donuts that they wanted and were happy with it. A Wawa wants to locate in another town and the community doesn’t want it. But they have no design and so cannot prevent it.
Brian Dubas, a former president of the Collegeville Economic Development Corporation (CEDC), spoke of efforts by the group to encourage business development and bring restaurants into the borough during his term. “The issue we had is there is not a lot of property inventory … food businesses were not interested.” Barth said his group knows businesses who want a type of property and can connect them, the community and property owners. “We have contacts with people who do all sorts of development.”
Alex Tweedie, a resident who supports the consultant, said “Someone has to take the 10,000 foot view. Businesses and shopping centers can only deal with their own. This consultant or another must (take that view for us).
Resident and former Councilwoman Andrea Baptiste encouraged the council to support the hiring saying “In the face of (regional) development, we pride ourselves on our demographics but remain stagnant. Take advantage of this synergy.”
Origin of the Advocacy
The impetus for the BDC’s advocacy for business development in the borough came from the Collegeville Revitalization Plan. The Plan was developed by the Montgomery County Planning Commission in 2010 at the direction of then Councilwoman Andrea Baptiste. At the May 1 Council meeting she put the plan in context: “… people in this room were on the steering committee, (we) formed a committee, got input from the community, and Council voted (to approve) the plan. (But) it was shelved for eight years.”
Since 2018, the BDC has based its work on this plan, and adopted its Project Implementation Schedule as its starting point. But they quickly realized that as an all volunteer Committee, they lacked the experience and connections with businesses and developers to jump start a plan for Collegeville. For this reason they recommended that Barth Consulting Group be hired.
Created in January 2018, the Borough of Collegeville Business Development Committee oversees economic development and business recruitment in the borough. It is made up of volunteers from the borough and administered by a Borough Council member.