Jan 2, 2017

The Reality Of Revitalization In Allentown

The Morning Call reported that the proprietor of Sage is closing his two stores on the ArtsWalk to concentrate  on internet sales. Although it's true that online sales have deeply affected brick and mortar retail,  that is not a new revelation.  What is not discussed in the article is the reality of downtown's demographic; It's the same poor crowd walking among the new buildings.  Just as Shula's couldn't serve enough $50 steaks in that environment, nor can Sage sell $75 designer jeans.  Although J.B. Reilly induced his upscale merchants with discount rents,  he can't  upgrade the shoppers;  He can't put money in the their pockets.

Reilly is hoping that his Strata Loft buildings eventually house enough millennials to support upscale commerce.  However, until and unless that happens,  both the stores and restaurants will have to adapt to market realities to survive.  The new Rite-Aid is doing well,  as it did on Hamilton Street, before the revitalization.  Just as Shula's was replaced with a lower price point eatery,  we will see Sage replaced with a downgrade.

I don't have faith that Reilly's millennial migration will succeed. I don't have faith that Allentown is a candidate for gentrification. I think that all too soon he will be renting to the same demographic that lived there before his new buildings.  At that point,  the Morning Call will be promoting that reality as diversity.  Now don't feel bad for Reilly,  either way, he has a new real estate portfolio, paid for by the taxpayers.


Jamie Kelton said...

Happy New Year Mr Molovinsky

Mr Reilly can build buildings, but he has no idea of urban planning. Downtown Allentown is not Downtown Philadelphia. He's trying to make it like Liberty Place or The Bellevue. But what he's built are nice office buildings in a low-income area. This isn't 1977, it's 2017.

He needs to work with the city to get rid of the Allentown Parking authority (I know that won't happen) and turn the parking downstairs into Park and Shop type lots where you get your parking validated if you shop. Get rid of the $2 parking meters. Two stores that would work would be a big office supply store like Office Depot and something like at Super Target or Super Wal-Mart. The kind that also sell groceries.

These would be the retail type stores that would build a shopping district, as well as service all of the offices that are in the new buildings. There are plenty of restraints and bars there already.

Also the Millennial aren't stupid. Maybe some will rent in downtown, but that's wasting their money. Rent for a few years then move to something you bought. Places like Shulas and the other expensive boutique stores don't sell what you need to live. That's why they don't stay in business.

If he wants to get rid of the lower classes, isn't that the Commonwealth supporting Racism and Discrimination by purposely assisting Reilly in discriminating against people? He can use his own money to discriminate legally, but not public money.

Luiz Garcia said...

The question we do something and see what happens or do nothing and be left with more of the same?! Many can predict what the market will do but unless someone tries we would know the outcome. The setbacks we see now are learning lessions and will help with future planning. I pray we embrace both sides of the spectrum because at the end of the day our downtown had 0 movement. You could see the excitement on New Years eve 7th and Hamilton it was electric and the more we do events like that it will entice all types not just millennials to work, live and raise their families here. I loved growing up here it has taught me so much about life and I know if people just give a chance they will feel the same. Take care!

Suburban Dad said...

I agree fully on the parking. The downtown needs a marketing message that focuses on parking. It needs to sound easy to park, and free, if you get validated by a merchant. We went to Brew Works on a night there was a hockey game. The nearby garages all said Event Parking. WTF, does that mean you can't park there to go to Brew Works? We parked on a meter and nowhere nearby did it indicate if you had to pay at night, or how much. So, what, do you just start feeding quarters and pray?

It would have been easier to go to the Bethelehem BrewWorks, where the garage across the street does validate parking.

Sage and Shula's had a business at the Promenade, where the demographics support the price. Neither was a fan of the Promenade rents, so both are learning that low rent is low for a reason sometimes...

Suburban Dad said...

Bethlehem, sorry for bad spelling...

Dave said...

Mr Garcia. I know you mean well, but you're not solving the problem by central planning of Allentown. The Allentown you and I grew up in wasn't planned by government bureaucrats. It sprung up as a central marketplace for business and commerce by the residents who grew up here, went to school here, started businesses here and enjoyed the opportunities that were in Allentown (3.0 as the mayor likes to version the history).

It grew and was planned by the PRIVATE SECTOR businessmen who made their fortunes here. not by faceless "urban planners" deciding wha the city needed and what it didn't need. They don't plan places Like Speedy's records or Claude's Tobacco Shops. They don't take a chance and start a Hess Brothers. They don't see a need for clothing stores, They don't start banks, and hotels due to urban planning. Bushiness fun on the law of supply and demand. The government's role is to provide public safety, maintain the infrastructure of the streets and utilities. That's what makes a community work.

Those are the things that the NIZ LACKS TOTALLY. When a business is dependent on the government or a developer approving which types of businesses exist, that's not our capitalistic society. That's not how the United States works. That's why socialist economies have failed and failed and failed again around the world. History has shown that centralized planned economies are a failure, over and over again.

If Allentown is to have a vibrant, successful economy that attracts people, then it needs to be rebuilt using the capitalist economic model that has produced more wealth than any other economic system ever devised by man Not the planned development that Reilly is doing which is approved by ANIZDA. The economic method of development one that Allentown 3.0. The worst exmaple of the failure of central planning in the downtown to date is the PPL Arena, which was put where the mayor wanted it. Not where it made economic sense, IMHO.

But that's another discussion entirely.

Monkey Momma said...

I believe Shula's and Sage were on the edge of decline prior to their move to Allentown, and their relocation to the NIZ was a last gasp attempt at resurrecting bad businesses. Either way, the NIZ has proven itself to be a death sentence to many operations. Retail is simply a very risky proposition, and it is not a solid foundation for a city to rest upon.

But, in terms of millennials moving to downtown....maybe they'll live there for a year or two, but once they have kids, they'll leave. The biggest problem in Allentown, as you know, is the school system. Most people will do anything and everything to leave Allentown once they have families of their own. It makes no logical sense to choose the ASD for your child when other, far better, school districts are 10 minutes away.

Any effort to revitalize Allentown will fail if the schools remain like they are.

Steven Ramos said...

Something did need to happen. The one responsibility the city had they failed to do - policing and law enforcement.

When we moved back to Allentown in 2010 we were shocked to see Hamilton Street dark, littered, and constant reports of violent crime and robberies. The Hamilton Street Ordinance requires store front owners to have displays, not boxes, and not plywood on the windows as one had for several years. It requires storefront owners to have the sidewalk in front clean. The same litter would be in front of the same stores for weeks. An ordinance never enforced.

Had the mayor done the one job he is responsible for - policing and law enforcement - Hamilton Street's safety and atmosphere would have improved for the existing merchants and would have opened the door to other merchants. I heard it said many times from "city leaders" that all those businesses were just drug dealing fronts (some are still around and no arrests) and I believe the mayor wanted to create an environment of total depravity by not policing so that Allentown would be begging him to do whatever it took to change the situation and remove those merchants and their client base.

With just policing and law enforcement we could have saved our architectural history and saved the tax payers hundreds of millions of dollars.

Hamilton Street Ordinance: http://www.allentownpa.gov/Portals/0/files/Legislative/Ordinances/2010/4PARKSHAMILTONSTREET.pdf

John said...

There are many little fixes that might go toward boosting livability of downtown Allentown for the prized millennial demographic. One might be to move the intercity bus terminal up from American Parkway (and that long uphill walk to ... anything) to the Allentown Transportarion Center. Another would be to entice Zipcar or one of the other car rental companies to station five or ten cars around PPL Arena and the Strata complex. Easton recently consolidated local and intercity buses in their new city hall and parking complex and they are about to get short-duration car rentals. Alllentown has a big supermarket within (almost) walkable range of Strata. Easton doesn't have one yet. Perhaps the Waterfront project will kick off the real renaissance of the core. How will Jaindl and Reilly cooperate then?

Geoff said...

The political problem of the NIZ--that it shovels tax money to one developer in an increasingly revenue-poor state--has been well documented by Mr. Molovinsky.

The bigger issue--as Monkey Momma indicates--is that internet commerce is absolutely undermining retail (and for that matter, employment) as we know it. Putting a municipal bet on retail at this point in time seems like a very poor judgement. Aggravating that with doubling down on high-end dining makes things even worse. In addition, the entire business model for what the NIZ hopes to be is right out of the 1950s.

Nearly every municipality other than the richest are struggling with how to keep storefronts, both in downtowns and in shopping centers, filled given the competition of internet retailers. This has enormous impact on lots of municipal issues, from real estate taxation to city services.

These are real problems and not to be washed away with appeals to "free enterprise" and they way things used to be. They are not that way anymore. Allentown succeeded because it was in the right place at the right time--circumstances are different now and local leaders can and should play a role in shaping the city and the region for the opportunities of today.

What the NIZ probably could be is an offering of unique dining experiences that can't be offered anywhere. Offer up cheaper rents and the somewhat affluent surroundings to bring in a variety of restaurants/food trucks/cafes with real variety--not fake chic like Shula's. Don't try to be a little New York.

Dave said...

Unique dining experiences means expensive food in a ghetto that better can be found elsewhere in the city. We need people who go downtown for other reasons than to fill their stomachs. Also we need more than workers who show up at 8:30 and leave at 5pm that work in offices.

Monkey Mamma is also correct that in order to attract families to Allentown, the ASD needs to be cleaned up. Why live in Allentown when you can live in the townships away from the gangs of Allen High School? There are a lot of nice places to eat and shop at better oruces without having to go into Allentown as well.

The NIZ will always have the legacy of Shula Singer .

alfonso todd said...

"Until we DEFINE ourselves rather than allowing others to DEFINE us, we aren't going anywhere." So what the heck does that even mean? It means less division or exclusion by class / social economic status and more and more inclusion by the use of the cultivation of city wide events which can create tourism and opportunities for local residents. It's no secret that our schools are lacking but where do you think those same students who do or don't graduate end up? Back in Allentown wandering the streets that lack any positive type of opportunity. We should be using TRUE innovation and have City funded organizations teach TRUE practical courses in coding, entrepreneurship (NOT Start Your Own Business classes ), professional accumen, etc... THings our young Allentown Millenials,, yes, THEY are Millenials too, can use to operate in the real world. THe problem is the City and community writes them off because of WHERE they live before they can even get started... The talent is here! Allentown needs to utilize what it has instead of looking to others for the answer and comparing itself to different locations. We have an identity, all we need to do is let it shine in a positive way...

Luiz Garcia said...

Alfonso, you are correct 100%!

Suburban Dad said...

The other travesty is that the "planners" of the NIZ have frozen out the guy who's trying to rejuvenate the Americus. Maybe another hotel isn't needed, but the event center part of his plan sounds like it makes some sense and he is working to keep a historic building alive.

Luiz Garcia said...

I agree! We need that landmark.

Geoff said...

Without responding--the point is that cities of today have different purposes and different challenges than cities of 60 years ago--and more "provincial" cities have even more challenges--not unique to Allentown. So the question is--what is it that brings people to downtown's and what in Allentown can be used to anchor those kinds of efforts?

Realize it is normal in the Lehigh Valley to see tearing down someone else's idea as sufficient for success. But in this case waiting for Mack Truck and Lehigh Structural Steel to reopen is not going to get us anywhere. Building the Promenade Shops downtown probably won't do it either.

My general concern remains that the city, partially because of the Mayor's legal problems, appears to have completely stopped thinking about what the next step for downtown will be. There are only so many local banks that can be convinced to move downtown.

doug_b said...

In my 45 years of software development and consulting, the most successful companies use Strategic Planning (definition from Google)

"Strategic planning is an organizational management activity that is used to set priorities, focus energy and resources, strengthen operations, ensure that employees and other stakeholders are working toward common goals, establish agreement around intended outcomes/results, and assess and adjust the organization's .."

You see 'stuff' / 'money' / special tax zones being thrown at Allentown. Because A-Town is in such trouble - they need a Strategic Plan - that needs to be followed so you can all work to an agreed common goal - by who ever is the Mayor or City Council. This is not a plan to be changed willy-nilly, it needs to be reviewed, with milestones, and adjustments made.

TRENT HALL said...

Nor do our planners need a degree in rocket science to create this grand "Strategic Plan." They simply need to look at Atlanta and other such cities that are successful and adapt some of those policies. This doesn't require more " hired consultant study grants" but simply speaking to their counterparts. There is nothing that has happened in Allentown that hasn't occurred elsewhere.....no unique circumstances that hasn't before. It's our past solutions that didn't work.....often "solutions" driven by insider profit motives, rather than something that would help broaden an uptick for the entire community.

Alfonso says we only talk about problems, not solutions. Well, we don't have to be geniuses to figure out what & how to do better. Others have already tried stuff that works, or at least to a degree better than what we did. So, lets start by copying them.