May 20, 2016

What Was The NIZ Meant To Do?

Molovinsky writing blog in early morning
If the NIZ was meant to revitalize center city Allentown, it has failed miserably. A simple walk down Hamilton Street shows less activity than before the $Billion dollar influx. I believe that its intention was only to enrich a few individuals. Although apologists for the subsidy say that anybody could have done what J.B. Reilly did, with courage, they are in fact only enablers for this scheme. In truth, Reilly was fronted the money before the ANIZ board formally existed,  and had agreements of sale for much of the NIZ property before the general public even had knowledge of the program's specifics.

One of the rules for retail success is the illusion of easy parking. Never mind that you're parked half a mile away in the mall parking lot, the stores are in your line of sight. In Allentown, the administration controlled Parking Authority offered and sold the line of sight surface parking lots. Furthermore, they are now charging $2 an hour to park, although the arena has very few events. There is nothing to indicate that revitalizing was really the goal, and there's less to indicate that the revitalization will succeed.

The mayor, waiting to be indicted, is going around cutting ribbons for the little people, and serving lunch to the poor people, of which there is no shortage. Prior to the air being left out of his ballon, he thought he was going to ride the revitalization to Harrisburg or Washington. His campaign fund is now his legal fund. The Morning Call has begun to begrudgingly tone down its cheerleading, realizing that their credibility was being jeopardized. Meanwhile, to keep up with all the shenanigans, I had to increase the blog staff.


Robert Trotner said...

Excellent primer on the NIZ, Pawlowski, and what went wrong. I learned a lot and greatly appreciate your effortsm

Unknown said...

I think the NIZ has to be understood in the overall narrative that was common at the time--but hardly ever cited now.

Many believed that suburban-oriented development policies had "subsidized" places like LMT and the Saucon Valley area to the detriment of the urban cores. The NIZ was seen as a way to "level the playing field" by lowering rents relative to the suburbs. Thus, the poaching of local businesses--while not openly advocated for by NIZ proponents--was certainly foreseen and accepted by them.

What seems to have failed the NIZ was 1) a poor business development plan that didn't really differentiate Allentown from any number of former urban centers or anticipate the real reasons companies move (or not) and 2) the fact that we have huge changes ongoing in our economy that are now convulsing the service industry along with the white collar workforce. Businesses are actively trying to cut their admin workforce and outsource every function possible, best of all to automated processes run by others. The NIZ is not designed with these changes in mind.

michael molovinsky said...

unknown@7:21, there is much more cronyism and less theory than you speculate. the NIZ was plain and simply written for J.B. Reilly. the relationships between pat brown and J.B. have been documented. what was surprising to me is the other entities and people willing to legitimize this sham, i.e. LVHN and Sy Taub, The NIZ is a testament to what a cesspool state government has become. you write common at the time. it was only a few years ago. every elected official is still in office. the concept of suburban-oriented development subsidizing places like LMT is a myth by the urbanists. the road system is nothing new, go back to eisenhower. try building something in SW, the zoning and process is burdensome. compare that with the rubber stamp committees in the city. however, the disposable dollars are in the suburbs, so that's where the marketplace goes.

don't cry for argentina or reilly, none of it was his money, and we're backing it, not him.

Jamie Kelton said...

Mr Molovinski

You're correct. Nothing about the NIZ ever made economic business sense. The hockey arena belonged out by Coca-Cola Park, NOT in the middle of the Central Business District. But Pawlowski wanted it downtown, and he got it downtown; to the chagrin of many retail business people that were deemed undesirable by the Mayor.

I can think of two things that the NIZ did do that were good. The Colonial Theater was a gravel lot thanks to Mark Mendleson. Today it's a modern office building. The same goes for the old First National Bank building. It was a hollow shell deteriorating and now it's also a modern office building. Now both ways they were financed are questionable. I don't think they would have been replaced without the cigarette tax money, as no one would have risked private capital to build those buildings on speculation. Which is what Reilly did, despite his denials. After all, it wasn't his money he was using.

The rest of it never should have been built. However we're stuck with it now. This entire scheme needs to be exposed as the fraud on the taxpayer it was, but I'm not holding my breath.

Unknown said...

Apologies for the reply (and not sure why my name appears as "unknown")

I should have said better--when the NIZ was being discussed, the line that the NIZ would level the playing field was common among politicians (as you point out, some still in office), journalists, and commentators. You were right in your commentary at the time against this view--not least because this is a complete historical misunderstanding of what happened to Allentown and many similar cities. I only say "at the time" because these same politicians are not so daft today as to claim the NIZ has done much to level anything.

While I put nothing beneath Harrisburg, at the least the NIZ is poor public policy, because it attempted to "transform" a city by substituting an impossible outcome for what had organically grown there. Why ethnic diversity would be a strength or a draw in Pittsburgh or Bethlehem but in Allentown has never been really explained. Building on that with moderately priced restaurants might have worked out a bit better than the "hail mary" of bringing Shula's steakhouse in.

Suburban Dad said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Dave said...

@8:24 $15 hamburgers and $75 steaks never made sense to me either. The cheerleaders think nothing of it however. Sorry I'm a Dutchman and money matters to me. Renting $1,000 or more apartments at Strata Flats is also a frivolous waste of money.

When I come into Allentown, its places like the Liberty Lunch at 7th & Liberty or Yoccos. There are lots of other good restraints that don't empty my wallet to give me a dining 'experience' either.

@8:50. The best way to improve it is to let anyone rent the buildings and space in them for any business they think is viable; not need approval by Reilly or the NIZ to insure they meet their 'criteria'. But then, that might let the 'undesirable' businesses back in that the wrecking ball chased out.

Dave said...

Oh one other thing. I suspect the Renaissance hotel won't last out the year. Who is staying at a hotel that has no purpose ?

michael molovinsky said...

unknown@8:24, no apology needed, you're welcome to comment multiple times.

suburban dad@8:50,, as number 1 to visit your profile, i see that you just created this identity, to apologize for the NIZ and try to marginalize me. i have deleted your comment, and will continue to do so, i have no patience for troll nonsense

dave@9:05, I suspect it will turn into long term stays, ie. a boarding house, i.e. strata 3

George Ruth said...

MM is right to correct the assessment that the suburbs were built at the expense of the cities. The suburbs were built by private contractors who bought old farms and vacant properties. Most roads were already there. In fact, Lower Macungie Township built up despite horrible access to to its subdivisions. True to form PennDOT built the 'by-pass' about 40 years after it was needed. The Schnecksville area was built up long before Route 309 was widened; and areas north of Whitehall still have their main artery, Rt 145, narrow to one lane just north of Egypt. So the evil suburbs just limped along for 40 years or more with little or not help from the sainted urbanites. Those suburbs are an expression of people, particularly in the post-war years, wanting to gain some freedom from the cramped quarters of our cities; when the little house with the white picket fence was a symbol of 'making it' not cause for disdain.

Suburban Dad said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
michael molovinsky said...

deleted@11:16&11:26, considering $1Billion dollars of taxpayer backed money was used, and almost $100 million of direct state income tax for debt service, and many more $millions on bureaucrats, consultants and advisors, yes, we should have more for our money.

Atown Assassin said...

Wealthy people do not create jobs, consumers create jobs. When you remove the local consumer from the matket place you no longer have a business nor a job. Good luck Hamilton Street..the only business booming is the court house and the 4 story jail.

Jamie Kelton said...

George Ruth@6:17pm

When my husband and I graduated from college, before we were married we both lived in small apartments in Philadelphia where we were employed. After getting married and saving some money, the first home we had was in Bryn Mawr, as we found an older home there and we commuted into center city.

But when we wanted to move nearer our parents in Allentown, we really didn't want to move into the city, primarily because of the deterioration of the School District along with the taxes and crime. Our daughter was attending a fine elementary school in Lower Merion. That was the major reason why we moved here to Upper Perkiomen which gives her a similar experience to what my husband and I had both in middle school (Trexler) and at Allen, but without the issues that seem to overwhelm the school district now.

Jamie Kelton said...

Atwon Assassin @7:03pm

When was the last time a poor person offered you a job ?

Atown Assassin said...

I will break MM's rules and reply to your question. I did not state poor people create jobs. Jobs are created by consumers spending money in an economy. When you remove consumers you have no business, I dont care how much money you have, that's business 101.

Dave said...

@ AA

One word: NIZ