Nov 30, 2015

Allentown's Revitalization and Our Frame Of Reference

I suspect that the millennials are most enthused about the changes in Allentown, while the baby boomers are the least. How you feel about what is new there now, is probably based on your frame of reference.  We who experienced Hamilton Street in it's heyday are not so impressed with current developments.  Although the Whitehall Mall opened in the mid 1960's, Hamilton Street continued on for another 30 years. When the Lehigh Valley Mall opened in the late 1970's, Hamilton Street's decline as a destination was swift. Although the former Hess Brothers store would stay open through Christmas of 1995, most of it's shoppers entered and left via it's own parking deck, never stepping foot on Hamilton Street.

During the next 15 years, the downtown survived by serving the neighboring demographic, which was becoming poorer every year. Five years ago, when I debated about the coming NIZ on Business Matters, one of the NIZ board members actually referred to the stores being displaced and their clientele as a cancer. The same merchants and customers are now considered part of 7th Streets' success, what a difference a few blocks make.

Despite one promotional article after another by The Morning Call, the verdict is still out on the success of the new revitalized center city. Because it is being financed exclusively by public funds, and will be for at least the next 30 years, normal barometers of success cannot be used. I spend a lot of time there, but have yet to feel the buzz.


Jamie Kelton said...

Favorite memories of Hamilton Street.

McCrorys (later Greens).
The Upper Story
Hess Brothers
The various movie theaters. The first movie that was at the Eric as "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" I saw my first R-Rated movie at the Colonial

Basically a place to hang out on Saturdays

The NIZ "Allentown" has nothing of interest to attract me going there.

Anonymous said...

I am from the burbs, "going to Allentown" was a very big deal in my youth.

New school shoes at Wetherhold & Metzger
Boy Scout uniforms and equipment at Leh's
Sporting goods at Witwer Jones
A chili dog at Hess's(while my parents went to the Patio for strawberry pie)
Going with my dad Christmas shopping for mom at Salomon's Jewelers
Christmas shopping in general at Hess's
Best breakfast in the valley at the 7th Street Deli
Hi Fi Pizza Pie

Great memories...

The Banker

Anonymous said...

I suspect the occupancy of the Strata building is exaggerated. Drove around there the other evening after dark. Most of the building, including the entire side of windows on Linden Street was totally dark. This was about 6:30pm. Even if everyone was downstairs dining at Shula's, there had to be at least 'someone' who left a light on in their unit!

Bottom line, Allentown continues to have an image problem. That's going to take a very long time to overcome. I don't think a realistic effort here will come from the present administration.

Fred Windish

michael molovinsky said...

jamie@5:24 and banker@10:03, although i'm always glad to host your comments, i rephrased my post, it was not my intention to request favorite memories.

Jamie Kelton said...

I apologize if I read your post incorrectly :(

The Promenade Shops at Saucon Valley is the closest there is, I suppose to the "Old Hamilton Street". There is just nothing there on Hamilton Street now that interests me to go there.

Full disclosure, I grew up in Allentown and took the bus to Hamilton Street on Saturdays for shopping and maybe some pizza and a movie. I don't live in the City any longer and Saucon Valley is a lot closer to where I live. Even the Lehigh Valley Mall, which is a lot further away has more to do and places to go than Hamilton Street does today.

Something else you forgot to mention was all the construction work there when they built that stupid "Mall" thing. It wasn't the same afterward as it was before all that.

But I don't think honestly that the way it was developed was for shopping and movies and the way it was before. They want downtown to be businesses and office buildings mostly I think.

michael molovinsky said...

jamie@12:14, my original version did sound like i was asking for your best memories, but that wasn't my intention. yes, the canopy project in the early 70's was a failed attempt to make hamilton street more mall like. it was an enormous investment, and i therefore opposed it's demolition during heydt's term. i would have preferred that they instead installed art deco type lighting, and went for the european industrial look. i agree that reilly, (i don't think that there is a they) isn't trying to emulate the old hamilton street.

doug_b said...

What's happening in A-Town is happening in other parts of the country also.

Public funds and tax breaks are being used to 'revitalize' cites. The revitalization consists of sports / entertainment venues and dining out, with a sprinkle of apartment construction.

How entertainment / sports / dining out / makes an economy is beyond me. The Millennials (the navel gazers - as my wife likes to call them) seem to eat this up.

The NIZ reminds me of the Chinese Ghost Cities (give that a google).

Anonymous said...

I have a question maybe someone can answer.

As I understand all of this, The NIZ essentially diverts all non-property state and local taxes generated within a designated 130-acre zone to fund development within that zone.
Under the NIZ, instead of going into Pennsylvania’s treasury, tax dollars from the special downtown zone go to the developers to finance their costs of building within the zone. The developer can use that money to service debt.

That's all fine and dandy, but what makes Allentown so special, that they alone benefit from this "law". How long does this scheme last?

What about cities like Chester, Reading and Altoona? How about small towns like Catasauqua, Braddock, etc? Or don't they count?

If it turns out that the NIZ scheme actually helps a downtrodden town to get off the mat, how about placing a time limit, say three years. After that, the town must stand on its own.

Allentown's "rebirth" has a big asterisk next to it; the entrepreneurs are not betting with their money. Something stinks to high heaven.


Anonymous said...

As to Michael's frame of reference for evaluating success, he's mine.

The NIZ legislation was written with a certain population requirement that created a program that ONLY Allentown could satisfy. Hard to believe, but your state legislature approved of all of this. It needs to be stopped!

I can understand local state legislators jumping all over this. It was an offer they couldn't refuse! But, how does anyone respect the performance of all OTHER legislators? It should have been very clear, this program is a lavish gifting of precious state tax dollars. For state taxpayers, this plan is already WAY underwater and I personally don't believe enough NEW dollars can ever be generated to return state taxpayers to the same position they were before the program.

The key here in justifying such a plan is NEW incoming dollars. That's what the 'man behind the curtain' doesn't want you to understand. This program, so far, has mostly just produced the same EXISTING dollars. The revenue is just recycled and taken in at a different Pennsylvania location. No actual gain for all state taxpayers, just a deficit.

YES, Allentown does look better!

Fred Windish

michael molovinsky said...

some clarification for those just tuning in. yes, only allentown initially qualified under the guidelines, but they have since tweaked them a bit, but it's certain that pennsylvania cannot afford more NIZ's, nor will more will be approved. they instead then created the CRIZ, under which more towns will qualify, but it's much less lucrative for the developer(s). the NIZ is good for 30 years, or reilly's projected career, for which it was created, imo.. for it's creation and approval, i call ALL the state reps and senators, midgets. no state out does pennsylvania in corruption.

Anonymous said...

VOR is spot on. If lowering the cost of doing business is good for a community then why won't PA just lower the cost of doing business for all?

Mike McIntyre said...

Hey Michael, Count this Baby Boomer as one of the impressed. Obviously, the jury is not in yet, but hope springs eternal. There are clouds in the sky in regard to the select few who are profiting and the corruption of the present city administration. Hopefully, all will end well.

Anonymous said...

"...One of the NIZ board members..." Jeff Barber is the one who made that comment. He has never been on ANIZDA, you know that!

michael molovinsky said...

anonymous@7:20, if i knew that, i would not have written that he was on the board. although i didn't know at the time of the debate, since then, i had heard that he was a member.

Anonymous said...

As a baby boomer from the suburbs, I have hope that Allentown will be able to leverage this and bring in the next level of items needed for livability to improve. A real supermarket, movie theaters, and some more reasonable restaurants, would be further reasons to be downtown. The downtown has walkability, and reasonable housing stock, that can be rehabbed. This may feed gentrification, but that beats decay. If this whole thing starts to catalyze itself, and the downtown gets popular, lots of farmland that would have been more suburbs, stay farmland. Next the millennialist will want a train to Philly and/or New York..

Phil from Coopersburg

Anonymous said...

As a boomer from Bethlehem, I am torn about what is happening.

On the one hand, I am grateful that the city is being lifted up from its former position, taking a standing eight count, to use a boxing term. It appears Allentown is at least back on its feet now, but wobbling.

Why "wobbling"?

Because as we are all taught at an early age, when something seems too good to be true, it usually is too good to be true, and I hope that I am wrong here.

The elixir tonic that has caused this success (NIZ) in a specific area looks suspiciously like a scheme. "Scheme" is a word that comes up increasingly whenever the Mayor is mentioned. The NIZ "law" is at best, an artificial shot in the arm. It is designed to do exactly what it has done- jump start a moribund city that was down and almost out.

Problem is, unlike the renaissance in Easton or in Bethlehem, it's all orchestrated. It is not happening for any natural reason. It is happening because certain developers are being given a rare, unusual, unnatural opportunity to invest and to succeed, with guarantees. Of course they're investing" in Allentown's zone, they'd be foolish not to. They are the opposite of most entrepreneurs in that they aren't really gambling with their money. I can tell you as a non-gambler that I would seriously consider gambling at the Sands Casino if I received an assurance that I could wager someone else's money.

At the heart of this is a Mayor who is also taking a standing eight count himself. In his case, I see no reprieve.


Anonymous said...

sorry guys, Max Hess aint coming back.
It's over. No more strawberry pies and Mexican hot dogs in the Oasis at Hess's or Hi-fi pizza.
Move to Florida, Arizona or North Carolina and you'll be much happier. "Nostalgia aint what it used to be" as a wise man once said ... GET OVER IT!