Jan 9, 2010

Allentown's Business Barrio

I believe I attended my first Gateway meeting at St. Lukes Church in 1990. I know I was there in 1994, because I dragged someone along, and she has yet to forgive me. Gateway was a slogan Allentown City Planners gave 7th St. I must say in the early 90's, it certainly could use a coat of lipstick. I can't tell you how many $millions the City spent. First they put in new sidewalks, then tore them up to make part of the sidewalk brick. Then they tore that out and reconfigured the brick and cement. They planted and replanted numerous types of tree's. They commissioned architectural renderings, showing block by block, how the Gateway should look from Hamilton to Liberty Street. When I attended in 2005, the meeting was still identical to the previous ones, even moderated by the same city personnel.

Meanwhile, totally unconnected to this planning and spending, a Hispanic business district started developing further out in the 500, 600, and 700 blocks of Seventh Street. This occurred because rents were more reasonable, and parking more available than on Hamilton Street. Despite the 15 year planning failure by the City, the succeeding dynamic in place was the growing Hispanic Community, cultivating their own merchants. The City Planners were now anxious to "help" this area, which had helped itself. Fortunately, instead they started a Main Street Program and eventually hired the right person.



Peter Lewnes has been doing an excellent job of filling in the gaps on 7th Street, and applying facade grants in a seemingly appropriate way. On Saturdays one is hard pressed to find a parking space. I believe that his enthusiasm, and a growing community's ambition, has finally awakened 7th Street from a long sleep.

11 comments:

Looking To Escape said...

On Saturdays one is hard pressed to find a parking space


This is due more to tight parking than business activity.
.
When 7th was going down the tubes parking was hard to come by. Parking is not an indication of cash crossing the counter.
.
As I said in the previous post, show me the money. How much in tax revenues does this area generate now?

petelewnes said...

Michael...I am completely humbled by this post...thank you for your kind words...we also have about 30 committed volunteers from the community behind me doing most of the heavy lifting...I woke up today and have done what i normally do which is work ha...before the coffee sets in I normally think...why am I working. Appreciation like this and making a difference with the community that I live in is the reason. Thank you for making my day a bit brighter not to mention focused.

petelewnes said...

looking to escape - the community here has gone from 40 percent vacancy to almost 100 percent occupied in the past 3 years. Merchants brought merchants since they filled what this neighborhood needed and business is booming. We have had about 4 closings in the past 3 years...the stores get rented right away. I'm not an economic expert but something is working if in this economy these are the results. Each business employs about 5 people on average...that's about 125 new jobs in 3 years created. What's happening now is we have merchants who want to open on 7th but not the location to put them in. All of this was done primarily through the market...our group efforts provided hope, technical assistance, business retention efforts and we just advocate for them that they made the right decision in locating here. I'm from immigrant parents who opened up and operated a restaurant for most of my life...what I consider has happened on 7th is the American dream of being able to come to this country, working hard and reaping the benefits of that hard work.

Looking To Escape said...

what I consider has happened on 7th is the American dream of being able to come to this country,


My grandfathers bought homes during the Great Depression while others were losing theirs. Not bad for two men who walked off the boat and who had to hustle from that moment on. I continue that tradition.
That story and $2.50 gets me a cup of coffee.
.
Tax revenues tell the tale, not heart warming stories of making the American dream.
.
Just so you know, America wasn't built by heart warming stories, it was built by work accomplished and results delivered.
.
7th Street as it is now maybe better than nothing, but if I may quote Joe Pesci from the movie My Cousin Vinnie: Show me the money.

michael molovinsky said...

escape, except for the business privilege tax, which i believe is .003% for retail in allentown, i'm not sure how you could be shown the money. sales tax goes to the state, income tax to the fed. i can tell you that the state is very aggressive about sales tax. property tax stays the same if property rented or vacant, and of course regardless of volume of business done. i have noticed no excessive amount of tax or sheriff sales on 7th street.

Looking To Escape said...

escape, except for the business privilege tax, which i believe is .003% for retail in allentown, i'm not sure how you could be shown the money


City income tax if the merchants live within the city.
.
The city should have some sort of tracking mechanism to see what is going on financially. By tracking income you can see which neighborhoods are going into decline (long before they start looking like decline) or see what neighborhoods maybe on their way up because the income is going up. The city can then prepare policies that aid declining neighborhoods before they look the part or enhance development of neighborhoods on their way up.
.
i can tell you that the state is very aggressive about sales tax.
.
I can tell you that too. Two months ago a quarterly return from 1996 was kicked back at me for being $18.26 short. Since I destroyed the records long ago, I payed it instead of arguing.
.
I called about the $18.26 owed and afterwards I asked if there were any other problems. I was told no, that's the only problem with your account.
.
2 weeks later I got a license revocation notice because I failed to file another return (the following quarter). I had periods where I had no tax to collect so I just sent in a zero amount due return which meant there was no check that was cashed to prove I sent it in.
.
It had taken 4 calls and conversations with 5 different people to get that matter cleaned up. I never realized how much time can be spent over nothing.
.
Back to local tax income. With the economy the way it has been, the city can expect much less from me this year.

Anonymous said...

'His larger claim—7th Street thrives because it doesn’t go up-market; the up-market types will never again stroll on 7th nor Hamilton; the city should therefore stop catering to would-be yuppie no-shows on Hamilton—isn’t wrong but it’s too simple. Both streets, Hamilton and 7th, could very well evolve into genuine, mixed-income urban shopping strips, surrounded by diverse, mixed-income neighborhoods. It’s a long-way off, and there are flaws with the city’s current strategy. But it might happen, and it has happened elsewhere '

That actually is going to be key when it comes to rejuvenating Hamilton and all other locations in Downtown Allentown. We have to stop looking outside for help and start paying attention to those who are in the communities around us. It may not be a pretty sight in your eyes, but income is income whether low, moderate, or high. It seems the "powers that be" are tirelessly trying to go upscale with places like COSMOPOLITAN and the other new restaurant in the BUTZ building when Made In Brazil and Allentown Brewworks are, seemingly, barely getting the crowds expected. This is not a scenario where "if you build it THEY will come." All you have to do is look at the 9th Street Plaza and vacant state of the art business buildings and see this is truly not the case.

Alfonso Todd

www.lehighvalleyflavor.piczo.com

michael molovinsky said...

alfonso, i'm pleased to host your knowledgeable opinion of this subject, but first, i must clarify that pooley inadvertently put words in my mouth, which he has since acknowledged. i believe 7th st. is thriving because is has become a Hispanic business district; Hispanic merchants serving Hispanic customers. It is not upscale, it will not attract the emmaus crowd, but as you say income is income, actually there are many more quarters than dollars around.

i also agree with you that the city shoot itself in the foot on hamilton st. removal of the lanta transfer stops created a ghost town. i suppose an upscale restaurant district is possible, but then even that market is becoming saturated

Anonymous said...

"I suppose an upscale restaurant district is possible, but then even that market is becoming saturated"

My only question is WHO will it cater to ? When you are in the middle of a community where 40% - 60% of the populace is either low to moderate income, then do you think dining out at an upscale restaurant is EVEN an option or a true business need for the downtown area ? But I could be wrong. The Bay Leaf is still going strong.
I guess my only concern is that these restaurants are being given KOZ benefits and tax breaks while alot of self investing smaller businesses are on their own in this tumultuous economy.
My fear is that the "powers that be" seems to have the Marie Antoinette, 'Let them eat cake" attitude.
It will not be a funny sight to see "the haves", looking out of the window while dining, at the "have nots" walking by and returning their glances....


Alfonso Todd

www.5minutes2shine.blogspot.com

michael molovinsky said...

alfonso, we agree that the playing field have not been fair in allentown business wise. while the brew works received millions, administration and lanta deprived self financed merchants in the 700 block their customer base. on the other hand, about ten probably unqualified (the cookie lady) startups were given about 25k.

my first preference would be for the city to be out of the development and real estate business, they were never very good at it. the city instead should provide enchantments to help merchants, such as clean streets, police security, fair parking policy

michael molovinsky said...

i should add that in my previous post i was referring to hamilton street.

on 7th st. the Main Street Program, administered by lewnes, has successfully organized and spruced up that area with money distributed in an appropriate way. i differ with lewnes that hamilton street could benefit from a Main Street Program. Hamilton could benefit from an administration with more experience in business.