Region’s Choice: Reap the Benefits or Bear the Burden?

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“A rising tide lifts all boats.” This was spoken by John F. Kennedy in a 1963 speech at the dedication of a dam in Heber Springs, Arkansas.  He explained that the Greers Ferry project, and others like it, were investments not only in Arkansas, but in the nation’s future.   After the dam was built and the lake filled, tourism boomed, businesses opened, and Greers Ferry Lake became one of Arkansas’ leading destinations creating a broad economic impact in that region for decades to follow.

I tell this story because as was the case in 1963, I feel that we in the Lehigh Valley are at a similar turning point in the development of our region.

Allentown’s Neighborhood Improvement Zone (NIZ), provides a tremendous opportunity for the entire Lehigh Valley.  Some see this legislation in a positive light, others in a negative.  Some Lehigh Valley municipalities are concerned about the effects of this new program. While we are trying to attend to those concerns quickly and fairly, I don’t want us to lose sight of the big picture.  The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has given the Lehigh Valley a chance to reinvigorate our largest urban core.  As a region, we can either reap the benefits of this opportunity to renew Allentown or we can bear the burden of squandering it.

Will everyone reap the benefits?  My answer is yes, because Allentown’s success is critical to the entire region. It is estimated that over 55,000 people work in the city every day and more than ONE BILLION dollars of annual earned income is generated by individuals who work in Allentown and live elsewhere. Allentown is an economic driver for our regional economy. If Allentown prospers, the entire region prospers, if it declines, the region will decline and our economy will stagnate.

Allentown officials have presented a plan ensuring that our surrounding municipalities and school districts will not lose their current Earned Income Tax (EIT) from their residents working within the NIZ area. The City’s latest proposal not only addresses concerns about current tax income but also shares the city’s success with the surrounding municipalities and school districts. The City will develop a Baseline Payment Fund to assure that every taxing body in the region receives its current EIT payments for the life of the NIZ.

In addition, to make sure the surrounding municipalities share in the upside of future development projects within the zone, all NIZ developers of commercial office projects will be charged $1 per square foot for occupied office space created in the zone. This fee will be assessed on a yearly basis to create a Regional Development Fund. That fund will share revenue with municipalities and school districts annually (much like the casino-revenue-sharing arrangement in Northampton County) and will be distributed according to the percentage of each municipality’s residents working within the NIZ area. The creation of this fund will also help address the concern that there would be an unusual movement of office tenants from neighboring communities. It will apply to all of the municipalities, regardless of their position in or outside of any lawsuit.

Finally, let us remember the main intent of the Neighborhood Improvement Zone is to generate new economic development and increase regional employment opportunities.  It is estimated that the arena project alone will create more than 1750 construction jobs and 240 permanent jobs upon completion. Kevin Lott, a construction worker from Hellertown representing 470 Lehigh Valley carpenters, told the Salisbury Township Board of Commissioners last week: “It’s been three years that have been very, very difficult. We really need this work…I have guys losing their homes. It destroys families.” The NIZ offers a tremendous opportunity to help reverse this trend.  If we as a region can collaborate and strike a mutually beneficial agreement, we can get down to the business of offering thousands of desperately needed construction jobs to the Valley’s unemployed workers.

Beyond job creation, there are other economic benefits to the Valley if this project succeeds: new commerce, increased tourism, and the ability to attract educated workers as well as new companies to the area.  An 8,500 seat multi-purpose arena will improve the quality of life in the region by increasing our options for leisure activities, our pride in the Lehigh Valley and, ultimately all of our property values.

Will the city’s offer of collaboration to share in the benefits of the NIZ be accepted or will the redevelopment of Allentown be delayed indefinitely and the benefits of the NIZ wasted?  No one wins if no one is talking. If Allentown declines, many of the downtown jobs held by non-City residents will cease to exist.

If this region is to succeed, we must come together, pursue our common interests, and invoke the necessary changes that will benefit us now and for generations to come.

The Valley’s tide has come in, let us not cling to the shore and miss our opportunity to rise to greater heights as a region.

Coming Soon: Arena Opening Day!

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Arena Pre-Construction Work Underway

The Allentown Commercial and Industrial Development Authority (ACIDA) and the Brooks Family, owners of the Flyers AAA minor league hockey team, the Phantoms, announced they have executed the master lease for the Multi-Purpose Community Arena being built in downtown Allentown.  Under the master lease, an Authority of the City (currently ACIDA) will own the Multi-Purpose Community Arena and the Brooks will operate the facility.

The Brooks will bring the Phantoms back to Pennsylvania as the arena’s main tenant and are also considering other potential indoor sports teams as tenants.  In addition to the Phantoms home games, the Arena will also host concerts, family shows, other sporting events, conferences and trade shows, meetings, musical and stage performances and other events.

Said Jim Brooks, “While this signing marks a significant step in the process, it’s really only the beginning of a great, long partnership between the City and us, and for the continued development of Allentown.”

The modern, state of the art Multi-Purpose Community Arena will serve as the catalyst to the master planned redevelopment of downtown Allentown.  The arena is at the heart of the 130 acre Neighborhood Improvement Zone (NIZ) and it is estimated that the arena will bring over 120 events and over 400,000 people to downtown each year.

“This is about so much more than just hockey, this is about a vision to grow the downtown core,” added Rob Brooks.  “In the past 6 years working on this project, there hasn’t been a more exciting time than now.”

Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski agrees.  “We are already seeing how the NIZ and Arena as its catalyst are working.  Several other private investments have already been made in downtown and jobs added since this project has begun.  I believe we are merely seeing the tip of the iceberg, as it relates to investment and jobs coming to downtown Allentown.”

The Phantoms are currently playing in upstate New York.   After buying the team 3 years ago, rather than keeping the team on the sidelines, the Brooks set out on the mission to grow hockey in the USA by agreeing to help the Glens Falls/Saratoga/Adirondack region put together a financial model to keep pro hockey after the Phantoms arena is built in Allentown. The Brooks have met with and will continue to discuss several options for secondary and tertiary tenants for the arena, such as NBDL (the NBA’s development league), indoor soccer, indoor lacrosse, and indoor football.

Keeping Allentown Safe: New Police Officers Take Oath

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Mayor Ed Pawlowski and Police Chief Roger MacLean recently introduced four new police officers during a ceremony in City Council chambers.  Pawlowski administered the oath of office to officers Richard Seltzer and Ryan Murray of Breinigsville, Eric Stauffer of Mertztown, and Christina Villacis of Whitehall.

Pawlowski advised the officers to pay close attention to their mentors. “Police work is an extremely rewarding profession, but it is also inherently dangerous.  I can’t tell you how much I admire your bravery and your courage.  The people of Allentown, our business owners and workers, and our hundreds of thousands of visitors appreciate your efforts every single minute of every single day.”

“We are confident that our increasing manpower will have a tremendous impact on public safety across the City,” said MacLean.  “We hold our department in high regard.  I appreciate the commitment and dedication exhibited daily by my officers and supervisors.  I want to welcome these new officers to the department.”

The four additions increase the department compliment to 204 officers.  Retirements at the end of 2005 had reduced the police force to 164 officers over the next few months.  The City plans to hire 12 additional officers thanks to two federal COPS Program grants.

250th Anniversary Parade & Festival Announced

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The City of Allentown will mark its 250th Anniversary with a parade and festival on Saturday, September 29.  Mayor Ed Pawlowski and other city officials were joined by a variety of community partners to make the announcement during a news conference at PPL Plaza at Ninth & Hamilton streets.  The audience included a number of individuals who have been donating their time and creative energies serving on a committee to shape the celebratory event.

Chairman of the committee, pastor of Zion’s “Liberty Bell” UCC, the Reverend Bob Stevens, officially announced the 250th Anniversary City Without Limits: Points of Pride Parade and Community Festival.  ”The parade will be a colorful and creative journey-through-time where those on the sidelines will literally see Allentown’s history pass by them,” Stevens said.  The parade is organized in six divisions, each representing a 50-year period in Allentown’s history, beginning with the city’s founding in 1762.  The sixth division will represent “The Future.”

The announcement also serves as an invitation for the Allentown community to sign-up to showcase their Allentown pride, talent and creativity and march from the Fairgrounds to Ninth and Hamilton streets.  Floats from the parade will park in lay by’s on Hamilton Street, and parade participants, marching groups and spectators will join in a Community Festival in the neighborhood around the PPL Plaza.  The Parade will step-off at 11:00 a.m. and is expected to end at 1:00 p.m., but the Festival will continue until 7:00 p.m.  “We’re planning a fantastic day,” said Pawlowski.  “Mark September 29th on your calendar because you won’t want to miss it.”

Those interested in participating in the parade will be given a list of suggested historical milestones which they could choose to represent, or it may be fitting for a group or business to stake their own place in Allentown’s history.  Or, perhaps a group would rather perform on-stage or sell ethnic food at a booth at the festival – the committee is searching for those who want to participate in that manner too.

The goal of the event is to showcase the many brilliant facets of Allentown’s tapestry.  Allentown is comprised of a rich history, diverse cultures, delicious tastes, proud neighborhoods, talented artists, promising students, faithful worship communities, thriving businesses, treasured destinations, dedicated community groups and more.  The committee hopes the Parade and Community Festival will be an opportunity for one to experience just how much Allentown has to offer.  The parade will be a living timeline and the community festival will be an exciting interactive experience where one can taste, see, hear and create throughout the day.

Partners who are already on-board include the Allentown Public Library, the Allen High School Alumni Association, the Hamilton District Main Street Program, America on Wheels and Zion’s Liberty Bell Church and Museum.

Events like the City Without Limits: Points of Pride Parade and Community Festival would not be possible without the support of generous sponsors.  Alvin H. Butz, Capital Blue Cross, PPL, UGI, Mack Trucks, Bennett Automotive Group, and Pepsi are already committed to supporting this event among other Allentown 250 Celebrations.

Any business or individual interested in sponsoring should contact Tara Craig at 610-437-7530 or tara.craig@allentownpa.gov.  Signing-up for the Points of Pride Parade and Community Festival is simple.  Interested persons can download a form at www.allentown250.com or request registration materials by contacting Wendie at 610-433-7777 (extension 25). Registration forms must be received no later than June 30.

Allentown is Business Friendly

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City Offers Guide to Doing Business

The City of Allentown is offering a printed guide for those interested in starting or bringing a business to the City.  Mayor Ed Pawlowski unveiled the guide during a recent Allentown Chamber of Commerce Breakfast with the Mayor Seminar at The Cosmopolitan.

Produced by the city’s Department of Community & Economic Development, the guide includes information on planning a business, understanding the requirements and necessary steps to be taken while preparing to open.

“Launching a business, no matter the size or level of an owner’s previous experience, is no small undertaking,” Pawlowski said.  “From opportunity to opening, we hope this guide helps owners transform their business vision into reality with greater efficiency.”

The booklet is designed to help business owners follow the most basic steps to plan their business, understand general licensing and permitting requirements, manage the pre-opening process and know which city staff members to contact for assistance.

“In the Department of Community & Economic Development and throughout the City we feel it is our role to assist and protect business owners and the general public, not frustrate them,” said Business Development manager Todd Collins.  “In the business development office we strive to be easily accessible and provide useful information to the Allentown business community to support and empower them in their endeavors.  Business owners can schedule an appointment with us anytime, or just pick-up the phone and call.  We are happy to consult and advise with owners on any business related matter.”  The booklet includes telephone numbers and email addresses for departments and bureaus where potential business owners can get answers and support.  It also contains phone numbers for information on various financing opportunities and how to reach certain public utilities.

The guide is available at Allentown City Hall and on the city website as a pdf.

Golf with Mayor Pawlowski

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The Mayor’s 6th Annual Charity Golf Classic

The Mayor’s 6th Annual Charity Golf Tournament and Dinner, to benefit the Lehigh County Senior Center, will be held on Friday, June 1, 2012, starting at 9:00 a.m. at the Allentown Municipal Golf Course, which is at 3400 Tilghman Street.   Hole-in-one prizes will be awarded including a Sea Mist golf trip, a $500 zero restriction gift, a set of Callaway Diablo Irons, and more.  Also, the winning team’s name will be engraved on the “Mayor’s Cup.”  Come out and enjoy a fun day of golfing, games and prizes for a great cause.  For more information, please contact Diane Nolan at 610-437-3700, or dndod@aol.com or http://www.LehighSeniors.org

City Parks Get 625K in Upgrades

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Jordan Creek Greenway and Stevens Community Park in the City of Allentown and Lehigh Mountain Park will benefit from a combined $625,000 in matching grants recently awarded from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.  The money comes from the Keystone Fund Community Conservation Partnerships Program administered by the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR).  The City of Allentown received one of the largest allotments of development grant awards in the state.

“The City is very pleased to receive this crucial funding,” said Mayor Ed Pawlowski.  “It will help implement our development plans for Stevens Park, the regional Lehigh Mountain Park and our portion of the Jordan Creek Greenway.”

Lehigh Mountain Park is a regional park providing surrounding communities with a place to walk, hike, run, hunt and bike in a beautiful natural setting.  The park also contains an astounding diversity of native trees, shrubs and herbaceous plants as well as an exceptionally healthy, relatively undisturbed second growth forest.  The Department of Parks and Recreation partnered with Salisbury Township and Lehigh County to secure $25,000 to protect Lehigh Mountain Park from illegal dumping, unauthorized motor vehicle use and invasive plant species.  This project will assist in protecting the essential natural resources within the park, provide new identity, way finding and environmental education signage, and help to secure the future of this beautiful place for all residents and visitors of the Lehigh Valley.

Stevens Park is a unique pocket park located at the intersection of Tilghman and Sixth streets.  The park serves the core areas of north Allentown and downtown as well Seventh Street, Pratt Street, Fifth Street and Washington Street.  The opportunity to renovate this heavily-used park within this densely populated area of the City will provide multiple short and long-term individual, community, economic and environmental benefits.

Over the last several years, neighborhood residents, consultants, architects and city staff held multiple meetings to develop conceptual designs for the Stevens Community Park Project.  Installing a new playground and rubber safety surfacing in the area, increasing lighting and adding security cameras, building a new larger pavilion, adding a new basketball court, water fountain, game tables and landscaping are among the many enhancements proposed for the park.

The Jordan Creek Greenway trail project will complete a 2-mile segment of trail that will connect up to 30 existing city, county and township parks, two state game lands and two nationally significant greenways all while protecting significant green space in the heart of Allentown.  This project is part of the Jordan Creek Greenway Plan and the City’s active transportation plan, Connecting Our Community, which seeks to connect visitors and area residents to Allentown’s expansive park system through a network of pedestrian and bicycle trails.

According to Pawlowski, “The Greenway is an important part of our city-wide trail network that will establish safe, continuous corridors throughout the community and will help promote outdoor recreation, assist in fostering a culture of active living, facilitate non-motorized transportation and assist in marketing and promoting Allentown as a destination for trail users.”