May 28, 2010

The Latinization of Hamilton Street



Neither this blog or myself are known for political correctness, and this post will be blunt. Allentown has hired a Main Street Manager for Hamilton Street. She has two choices; either subsidize or Latinize the street. With enough subsidization, businesses will indulge temporarily in the free ride; However, I do not believe it is possible to achieve self sustaining gentrification on Hamilton Street. The urbanists must accept the fact that the valley is a suburban orientated community.

A Hispanic business district developed on 7th Street. The was a natural evolution over the last decade, resulting from the Puerto Rican population explosion, and cheap rents on Allentown's traditional secondary shopping venue. The Main Street manager, who was later hired for that street, Peter Lewnes, could not have created that success. Mr. Lewnes has done an outstanding job bringing order and finesse to what would otherwise be a chaotic venue, but he did not create the Hispanic merchant class. The success of 7th Street was governed by market forces; likewise, there are limits as to what can happen on Hamilton Street. Hopefully, the taxpayer funded grants will be spend more wisely on Hamilton Street than in the past.

The article in today's Morning Call does not state Ms. Suhr's specific objectives for Hamilton Street. It mentions that she has a background in Main Street Program promotion, but not commercial real estate recruitment. She does speaks Spanish and was a Democratic organizer.

Under Construction

19 comments:

Looking To Escape said...

The success of 7th Street was governed by market forces;
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There is no reson Allentown couldn't be a shopping mecca in the LV again. It certainly can not be done using traditional thinking. Latinizing is a continuation of traditional thinking. If ethnic chic' is the key, attract a group with far higher earnings like the Asians.
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One must look at the tax revenue generated before shouting "success" about 7th street.
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Allentown has lost major employers and a collection of small shops would have great difficulty replacing that lost tax revenue.
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I had seen a news report on how Marion, Indiana has made an economic rebound by attracting new employers to the city. Since Allentown lacks the ability to do it on it's own, maybe the city can ask those who have done it, how they did it. Our Mayor, Mr. Low Income Housing needs to pick up the phone and give the Mayor of Marion a call.

Anonymous said...

As a long term supporter and resident of the city of Allentown I agree with your analysis.

It is evident that if there is to be any sustainability at all it will need to include The latinization of Hamilton St.

It is only the next step in the the natural progression of the inevitable changes that are visiting this region.

Other than for the presence of PPL I think Allentown would be a ghost town.

Mr Lewness has been successful, I believe, because he has done what so many other community leaders and well intentioned social types fail to do, he has become a part of the community.

Not just by living in the community but also by being a sustaining influence in the ebb and flow of the daily life of the area.

If other areas of Allentown are going to change those working to change are going to have to be a part of that change 24 X 7.

Not only will they need to live in the communities they will need to become intimately involved with their neighbors and the culture.

This often does not occur. Many well intentioned projects become the fodder for someones PhD. Or. at their very best, a temporary laboratory to meet the goals of some sort of short sighted business plan to prove mostly to themselves, they are doing good.

Hopefully the new director will look at the successes and failures of the past and take what she can from them as she directs Hamilton St into the future.

Perchance the proverbial cloud of denial that seems to have been hovering over this city since the 70's will dissipate and reality will shine through.

Anonymous said...

Democratic organizer?

Oh heavens.

Help!

Anonymous said...

I'm not so sure a large enough "Latin market" exists to sustain Hamilton St.

Hamilton St is made up of large buildings with large overhead that translates to higher rents. Dollar stores are not sustainable if buildings are going to be kept up to code.

The problem is there is no market for Hamilton St anymore. The neighborhoods to the north/northeast have little spending power and the downtown has been cut of from the neighborhoods/townships that do have it by the I-178 opponents years ago.

The first question needs to be how can we reestablish or connect with the markets that will allow the downtown's large infrastructure to maintain itself and flourish.

The American Parkway needs to be completed and we need to encourage the continued development of market rate living units on the upper floors of underused downtown buildings. There has been success with this so far. Then new retail will support the built in market and have access to local and regional markets with spending power.

michael molovinsky said...

some clarifications are in order.

i believe the Latinization of Hamilton Street would be for a large part at he expense of the continued revitalization of 7th Street. the purpose of this post was to explore realistic options available, if any.

the upper floors of Hamilton Street have been virtually unused since the late 1940's. I opposed the removal of the canopies because the buildings were already bisected architecturally, and the removal would emphasize the upper floor vacancies.

Looking To Escape said...


Anon 8.16
If other areas of Allentown are going to change those working to change are going to have to be a part of that change 24 X 7.

Not only will they need to live in the communities they will need to become intimately involved with their neighbors and the culture.

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My hunch is the owners of Mall Of America do not live next door. A viable retail district sustains itself if it is neat, clean and easy to use.
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Anon 9:19:
The problem is there is no market for Hamilton St anymore. The neighborhoods to the north/northeast have little spending power and the downtown has been cut of from the neighborhoods/townships that do have it by the I-178 opponents years ago.

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You get the essential problem, Allentown's customer base is broke.
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On occasion I take the bus to the LV mall and it is filled with Allentown citizens. My return trip usually has these same people with boxes and bags to bring home. While the average income of many of these people maybe low, what they do have to spend, they spend it outside of the city.
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I agree with Michael Molovinsky the change in Lanta routes did not help the city. A Mayor that wants to bring in more low income people compounds the problem. Lack of variety on Hamilton creates little customer interest or excitement. I try to shop downtown but the sad truth is, there is little for me to buy and I rarely need notary services.
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From a business perspective, the smartest move would be to get a Walmart on Hamilton (the Commerce lot). The huge traffic generation a store like WalMart creates would do wonders for Allentown.

Anonymous said...

We agree. Wall Mart would work downtown. We recently visited the Trexlertown Wall Mart for the first time, and it is huge, clean, orderly, some good prices, some about average, excellent check out and lots of parking. We would definitely go downtown to shop at Wall Mart.

Anonymous said...

A Democrat Organizer won't fail the city of Allentown.

Why, just look at the wonderful example that is our magnificent President Obama!

If only the nay-sayers and obstructionists would only shut up and get out of his way...

Anonymous said...

Retailers look at income data (by zip code) from the US census, access to four lane roads, and spending power within a 10 minute drive when deciding where to locate.

Downtown Allentown, as nice as some of its attributes may be, does not look attractive from any of these perspectives.

Anon is right. Infrastructure and more market rate housing downtown is the only answer to anything down there.

dick nepon said...

In my short lived campaign, I put forward just this concept, that Allentown has the potential to become the destination for Latin culture. We could draw from a 300 mile radius, with better real estate prices than the large cities. We would outdraw the Bethlehem casinos, actually augment them. Yes, the city would change, but it will change anyway. We could have every 'flavor' of Latin culture represented through art, theatre, food and retail such as furniture and textiles. There are enough variations of latin culture to fill both 7th street and Hamilton Street, and create sales and taxes and employment that could restore solvency to Allentown.

I spoke to lots of people about this. Glad to see some others coming to the same conclusion.

Has anyone got a better idea?

michael molovinsky said...

dick nepon writes;

"I spoke to lots of people about this. Glad to see some others coming to the same conclusion.
Has anyone got a better idea?"

just for the record dick, i am NOT advocating for the Latinization of Hamilton Street (although with the population shift it will assume more of a Latin favor) and i do have a better idea! my idea was spelled out during the lanta controversy. actually, the 800 block of hamilton street was quite viable before pawlowski's engineering, not glamorous or upscale, but viable. rite aide was doing fine. (first time, before they moved and then moved back because of code issues on 7th st.). family dollar, a national chain, had one of it's most successful stores. rainbow jeans also did very well. the lanta changes cost the merchants 40% of their volume and hamilton street eight businesses, which this blog has documented. hamilton street could have been improved, building on WHAT WAS THERE. i will not do our new main street managers job, but she will have her hands full just to get us back to 2006

Looking To Escape said...

Dick Nepon said:
Has anyone got a better idea?

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I offered many ideas over several postings and I think they were far better than yours.
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I have seen several towns and cities do similar to what you suggest and things didn't work out to well.
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If ethnic is your thing, turn Allentown into China/Japan/KoreaTown as Asian/oriental is a far more desirable income demographic.
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The city would change but it will change anyway is a grabbing at straws approach, something that has not served Allentown very well to date.

Anonymous said...

LTE

Malls of America is a destination retail venue not a community. If the community does not develop neither will the retail space on Hamilton St.

If social issues are not addressed concurrently, economic development will be difficult. It is just not about commerce, it is about creating a quality of life in and around the Hamilton St business district.

Our uniqueness comes from our relationship with the 222 corridor and immigration / emmigration patterns characteristic of the people who move between the NY MSA and York.

While I mentioned above Latinization is highly probable that is not mean it the best alternative. It may be the easiest but what we may see is the repetition of the 7th Street style of commercial development on Hamilton St.

Anonymous said...

Michael:

You are absolutelty correct re the bus terminal. It devistated Hamilton Sts businesses.

While it may have looked good from a development perspective regionally, it was absolutely cruel to many of the fine citizens of the city Allentown.

Poor planning based on the wants of a few, balanced against the needs of the many. Problem
is the many had little if any economic and / or political voice.

michael molovinsky said...

anon 9:26, although i will not reveal my source, the administration encouraged lanta to remove the "bus people" from hamilton. they thought the "atmosphere" would be more inductive to gentrification; instead they virtually killed the commerce there. of course the parking authority is another negative.

Anonymous said...

Looking to Escape said:

"Our Mayor, Mr. Low Income Housing needs to pick up the phone and give the Mayor of Marion a call."

*******************************

If our Mayor wants to see success, he only needs to take a 10-minute drive to Bethlehem.

Anonymous said...

I own commercial property right off of Hamilton Street and frankly Allentown is weighed down by people who discuss race and don't look beyond it. If you don't own property or operate a business here, aren't an urban planner, economic development professional or something similar - PLEASE SHUT-UP! The last thing we need is another damn Wal-Mart. What has made Hamilton Street great always, even now, is the variety and originality of it's businesses and architecture; not the suburban sameness that big box stores like Wal-Mart bring. Stay the hell away from us particularly if you are nothing more than a blabbermouth who knows nothing of the community. Once you invest your time, money and life here, like me, you will have a right to talk. I wish the new Main Street Manager the best of luck too. She deserves a shot...remember she chose the job just as much as they chose her. Your cynicism will be your downfall, not hers.

Anonymous said...

Main Street Programs have been transformational for thousands of communities, including Allentown's 7th Street and Emmaus' Main/Chestnut Streets. You really need the ongoing focus of one person being a cheerleader for a commercial district. Hamilton Street needs a lot of help. I wish the new Main Street Manager good luck in her endeavor. Everyone should jump on this band wagon and be supportive (verbally and financially) of this effort. We can't afford to have it fail.

Anonymous said...

Regarding 7th Street, I find it troubling that we spent $2M to replace pavements, functional street lights with new period lighting only to have property owners to paint their facades in bright colors. These are contrasting efforts.

I find it even more troubling to find litter thrown on sidewalks and curbside. I guess folks have no pride or have become to dependant on public works. I feel bad for the good natured folk who tried but have given up.