FANWOOD, NJ -- Each month, the Fanwood Borough Council receives an update on the progress of downtown redevelopment from Liz Jeffery, a consultant in urban planning and development for decades. While working on a project in Jersey City in the 1990s, she crossed paths with Colleen Mahr.
Fast forward two decades, Mayor Mahr and Jeffrey reconnected in early 2016 and discussed the redevelopment needs in Fanwood. Shortly thereafter Jeffrey began working on its redevelopment efforts, which include Station Square, China Moon strip mall, South Avenue zoning, and the Fanwood Plaza behind the retail stores on Martine Ave.
TAPintoSPF sat down with Liz Jeffrey to discuss her background in business development and the future of downtown Fanwood.
Tell us about your background
I was born and raised in Rockville Centre, New York, a small incorporated village on Long Island. My parents both worked in the city and I am one of three children with two older brothers. We had a pretty typical middle class suburban upbringing. I graduated from Sacred Heart Academy in 1982 and went on to attend Sweet Briar College. Sweet Briar College is a small, women’s liberal arts college nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains of central Virginia. I graduated with a BA in economics in 1986.
How did you get into the redevelopment business?
My interest has always been in macroeconomic elements such as supply & demand principles, the movements of goods and services, the birth of America’s industry & cities and thereafter, the sustainable cities movement.
I spent 15 years advancing the rebirth of Jersey City, initially as a project manager and then as Director of the Division of Economic Development. I was responsible for creating policy, promoting planning and advancing the multi-faceted development and investment which enabled the city to re-emerge as a center of commerce and vibrant living after the decline of the shipping industry in the 60s and 70s had resulted in a dilapidated and largely vacant waterfront.
After my tenure in Jersey City, I spent 10 years advancing plans to restore and re-purpose the long vacant, former hospital complex on Ellis Island. As Vice President for Planning and Capital Projects for Save Ellis Island, Inc., I spearheaded the capital planning, oversaw all restoration and acted as chief liaison between the numerous local, state, and federal government entities for the adaptive reuse of the 29 building complex as the Ellis Island Institute.
I currently focus my efforts closer to home and assist local Union County townships in their efforts to attract investment and development, create sustainable suburban towns, revitalize downtowns and initiate transit oriented development projects where possible.
When did you first meet and work with Colleen Mahr?
I met Mayor Mahr in the early 1990’s working in Jersey City. We worked on several economic development initiatives including; creating Special Improvements Districts, advancing multiple office and residential development projects and the implementation of the Hudson Bergen Light Rail System.
How did you wind up working with her again here in Fanwood?
I started working with Fanwood after a conversation in February 2016 with Mayor Mahr and Fred Tomkins about the significant redevelopment and business needs in the Borough.
Is it a permanent position or just a project?
The position is permanent in nature in that there will always be economic development needs in the Borough. Growth and stability are organic and move with the times and trends. Some individual projects or initiatives may be completed but others are in initial phases or will be conceived proactively or reactively to enhance Fanwood’s success as an affordable place to live and raise a family, own a business, be an artist, or just visit for the day. In other words, there will always be room for improvement and smart economic decisions and actions in Fanwood.
What are the biggest challenges of Fanwood's Redevelopment?
The biggest challenge to Fanwood is probably its size. The pure market factors limit growth and investment such as small land area with minimal development parcels, no industrial or office space opportunities, low foot traffic downtown. New investment helps defray operational and other costs so it is always nice to have room for growth. The vision and sustainable growth principles put in place by Mayor Mahr and the Borough Council have resulted in significant investment in Downtown Fanwood. The new revenue and the new residents living there have added to the stability and fiscal health of Fanwood. New zoning for the South Avenue commercial corridor will continue that momentum and create additional opportunities for development and investment there as well.
What are Fanwood's biggest assets for downtown redevelopment?
Fanwood’s biggest assets are a healthy residential environment, location on the Raritan Valley train line, an attractive “main street” Downtown, its safety and its strong schools and recreation opportunities.
What are your goals? What do you want to accomplish overall?
My goal is to continue the Administration’s vision of a vibrant work-live-play Fanwood. I want to assist and unite the business community to make it stronger. I want to create a center of place in Downtown Fanwood for bringing the community together by making attractive public spaces and new public programming. I want to fold in the amazing arts community and the children with the economic initiatives. Our residents and families and businesses want to connect. They want to gather and to support and energize each other. Most of all they want to have pride in “Their Place.”
How did you wind up being the liaison for Greater Westfield Area Chamber of Commerce (GWACC)? Are the benefits for members worth the price of admission?
The GWACC is an important part of the Fanwood business landscape; therefore it is natural that in my role as business liaison, I would be the liaison to the Chamber. I think the benefits of being a part of the Chamber are already apparent in Fanwood. The Shop Small Saturday and Ladies Night Out events have both become much more successful because the Chamber co-sponsors them. The first annual GWACC-sponsored event, The Summer Fan Jam, was a huge success enjoyed by both our residents and thousands of attendees from out of town. For individual businesses, membership is worth it because the exposure, networking and member rates for events alone cover the annual membership cost.