Jul 28, 2016

The Artless Walk

When J.B. Reilly built his Strata Flats 1,  he named the walkway along side it,  the ArtsWalk.  You may recall that they arrested the hapless street singer serenading the diners at Shula's,  which folded anyway.  We now learn that despite objections from the art institutions,  the Allentown Parking Authority is going to give the surface lot to J.B. Reilly.  Without the convenience of this lot for pick up and drop off, the Community Music School will leave Symphony Hall.  Why doesn't Reilly just build his new apartment house somewhere else?  He owns the square block between 7th and 8th, Hamilton and Walnut Streets.  Parking Authority board member and city council member Daryl Hendricks thinks that this problem represents success. The Morning Call keeps referring to a booming downtown, with new stores. The town is neither booming, or are the couple new stores doing any business.  What's in play here is simple greed.  Greed by Reilly, and greed by the Parking Authority, a partner in the deal.

Here would be an opportunity for still Mayor Pawlowski to make a contribution to the city, that he refuses to leave.  He should speak out against this plan, and advocate for that surface lot to remain.


Geoff said...

The Morning Call's framing of events in the NIZ is problematic at best. Just today, the headline is "will Allentown's rise sink its arts community?" This presupposes that there is a "rise" (undefined) and takes at face value the comments of leaders that somehow a neighborhood is better because you have to pay for parking that used to be free.

A lot of folks would like to see a fairer cost-benefit analysis of the NIZ. Are the new buildings actually increasing foot traffic downtown? Why aren't more businesses announcing a relocation? Do tax subsidized apartments bought by absentee corporate owners have the kind of impact they were announced to have? All of these could at least begin to be addressed with a couple information requests and some math.

The music school owner seems a bit hyperbolic, on the other hand.

George Ruth said...

Is there ever a photo of the mayor without Pete Schweyer in the background?

Jamie Kelton said...

A clash between the "Old" and "New" Allentowns.

You have to remember that this lot was created in the first place by the old Park & Shop company. They tore down the old State (Orpheum) Theater in 1954 which was on the site for many years to provide parking for the then booming retail shopping district. The Lyric Theater (now Sympathy Hall) by happenstance was next door to the lot, which used it for their orchestra performances (and also burlesque shows) and it also benefited the Americus Hotel. The Baum School was on Fifth Street, so was the Art Museum and they also benefited from the parking ot.

So when the stores moved out or closed on Hamilton Street, the city took over the Park & Shop lots and formed the Allentown Parking Authority to manage all of the parking lots (along with the parking meters). Over the years, the Arts people began to acquire the lot in their minds as "theirs", as they used the parking to support their activities in the area.

Now the NIZ comes along and O'Reilly wants to use the lot to build more phony apartments. He wants to make money on it, the city wants to make money on it, but the Arts people now feel screwed (and lets not forget the Americus, but they're the black sheep in the NIZ as no one wants to talk about it).

Problem is, that the Arts people don't own the lot, but they feel "entitled" to it and now threaten to move out of the city if they can't keep using it.

Well, the problem is that they don't own the lot. They just use the lot. They're like renters who have lived in their apartment for the past 30 years and the property was sold and the new owner wants them out so they can re-build the property.

Sorry Arts people. Do yourselves a favor, move out of town and into a better neighborhood. It may cost you in the short term, but in the long term, you'll be much better off.

Jamie Kelton said...

Geoff @3:41 "A lot of folks would like to see a fairer cost-benefit analysis of the NIZ."

Browne, nor O'Reilly will never let that happen. The entire scheme from the beginning was never about revitalizing Allentown. The scheme was to siphon tax money, millions, into Browne and O'Reilly's pocket (and let's not forget the Turkey Farmer at Front and Tilghman).

The tearing down and rebuilding of Hamilton Street was also a way to get some into Butz's pockets also. Big Ed is befitting from this also, He thought he could ride this to the U.S. Senate or the Governor's mansion in Harrisburg, but his Chicago roots undermined him with his manner of governing like Mayor Dayley.

Geoff said...

I don't think there's any need for the school to move out of the city. There is plenty of parking in Allentown that patrons could use.

I bet they get a better deal on rent than they lose in parking anyway.

While I don't really agree with how the NIZ works, surface parking lots are some of the least productive uses of land in a city center.

Geoff said...

The NIZ process is highly flawed but it basically condenses what many people seem to think "works" for urban development and renewal. The blindness of this theory is that it replaces economic activity with multiple layers of tax and commercial impact with a much simpler and less productive.

I don't personally believe that a city like Allentown benefits much from the kind of economy that the NIZ promotes, but it seems a real leap to be fully cynical about the motivations and goals of the project.

The NIZ is with us, and it would be improved if the legislation weren't changed on the fly by its creator and if its governance structure promoted more competition for development rights. I agree that it is unlikely to happen in the current climate.

michael molovinsky said...

geoff@10:03, you wrote, , surface parking lots are some of the least productive uses of land in a city center.. I assume you meant a center city, and not the name of reilly's real estate business. in a city like allentown, for these institutions to lose the convenience of an adjoining surface lot, so that reilly doesn't have demolition costs, is obscene. this isn't NYC. when you factor in how much vacant, unproductive property he owns in the NIZ zone, it becomes more absurd. these institutions shouldn't say that they "support the progress," they should cry foul LOUD AND CLEAR.

I criticized the Parking Authority when they offered the former Farr lot to Butz. this deal is worse for the public good. they have compromised themselves beyond defense.

it is my blogging preference to NOT engage in the comment portion, however, occasionally i feel compelled to express disagreement

your informed comments remain most welcome

Geoff said...


To clarify, I don't like the way the project is structured.

If the project were on the level (i.e. "privately" funded), I wouldn't hold up a building project that would improve the city's tax position because a music school wanted a surface parking lot right across the street. Given the amount of parking in Allentown, that argument doesn't make much sense.

The bigger concern is how things are being framed in the press. There are some obvious questions about the financing of the project and the assumption of risk by the PA. Yet the press stories focus on whether all this "rejuvenation" will hurt the music school. In the end, Mr. O'Reilly can "generously" allocate spots to the school or the garage and "problem solved"--with no need to discuss the more sticky financial aspects. For that reason--a focus less on the music school and more on the property transfer would be in the interests of residents.

michael molovinsky said...

geoff@5:45, we disagree about the significance of surface lots. one of the reasons that the suburban malls prospered was the illusion of close parking. although you may be a 1/4 mile away on a large parking lot, the mall entrance was within your line of sight. while consumers will accept a parking deck in large metro areas like nyc, it's not marketable for allentown.. the Parking Authority willingness to sell it's surface lots is just part of it losing it's direction, same with $2 an hour parking.