Feb 24, 2023

Allentown Picks Winner, Then Announces Contest Rules

In what could only happen in Allentown, the City announced the contest rules, after the winner was picked. The Morning Call dutifully reported on the murky guidelines the City will use to allow property owners use of NIZ tax funds for development. The rules come after developer J.B. Reilly had his plans approved, and even before anybody else knew such a tax incentive was available to private owners. If that wasn't enough favoritism, the City loaned Reilly $20million to do the project. As the kids now say, everything about the deal is sketchy. First of all, what I call the City is called ACIDA. This is handpicked Pawlowski Authority, used as handmaiden of convenience. The Morning Call article kindly refers to the guidelines as flexible, having wiggle room and not cast in stone. Missing from the article is that the CocaCola Park promoters complained that they never were given a chance to bid on arena management. The displaced merchants, despite two meetings with the City, were never informed that the NIZ could be used by private property owners, and the unions have already protested initial renovations by Reilly. Most glaringly missing from the article is no mention of these Bizarro sequence of events; The City will now allow public input after all the decisions were made. The City will now explain how to enter the contest, after the brass ring has been won. The article does mention that The Morning Call building is in the NIZ zone.

above reprinted from October of 2011

ADDENDUM FEBRUARY 24, 2023:Back when J.B. Reilly was gobbling up the NIZ parcels, this blog and this blog alone, was reporting that one person was going to own the former mercantile district. The Morning Call, part and parcel of the NIZ deal, reported everything as progress. Over a decade later, nothing has changed about the local reportage. Pat Browne, NIZ frontman, was recently given a hero's sendoff at his state senator retirement banquet. He even has been rewarded by a clueless new governor. 

The former Hamilton Street mercantile district is now an office park. The former undesirable merchants and their undesirable merchandize have been segregated, subsidized and dressed up, over on N. 7th St.  Anybody looking for an evening out, now travels to Bethlehem. Anybody looking for any insight how this all occurred, still visits this blog.


  1. Nice post, Mr. Molovinsky. From the very beginning of the NIZ program I suspected it would never be a ‘true’ success for Pennsylvania taxpayers.

    After just 3 years, the usual amount of tax dollars generated by those same downtown blocks, and then passed through to Harrisburg, dropped. There were no NEW tax revenues generated for state residents to enjoy as a result of their investment in downtown Allentown.

    First of all, most of the new tenants attracted to downtown came from municipalities that were already paying Pennsylvania State taxes from their old location. The same revenue from Pennsylvania Cities X,Y, and Z is now coming, but instead, from Pennsylvania City A. In other words, no gain.

    Also consider, most employees now working downtown in the service industry, like restaurants, hotels, arena workers, shop keepers, etc. were already working in Bethlehem, Whitehall, Emmaus, etc. Few would have moved here from another state just to wait tables or usher at arena events.

    Actually, the arena attendance is primarily Pennsylvania residents, too! Those same leisure dollars would have continued being spent elsewhere in Pennsylvania.

    As a revenue generator for Pennsylvania taxpayers, the Allentown NIZ continues to be a massive loser. Perhaps, creating a shortfall over time of 150-200 million dollars!

    Not surprisingly, the Morning Call and other news sources have never provided an accurate analysis of how our tax dollars are working/not working because of this program.

    But, by my accounting, the NIZ has been a bust! A significant failure for all but a few citizens. Not to worry, we’ll make back our investment when the new buildings are sold for another purpose.
    Oops! Scratch that, too.

  2. And the gentrification of Hamilton Street is now in the 900 and 1000 blocks, after all that really could be done with the traditional 'downtown' has been done. With the exception of the former Merchants National Bank, lastly Wells Fargo Bank.. Mr Reilly has plans to use the outside of the 1920/1964 building as a throwback to his new 15 story glass and steel tower there, however, neither the demolition has been done nor anything else. Perhaps it's because of a lack of tenants, but as the construction funding is secure anyway, I do wonder what is slowing down his progress on one of the last parts of downtown not yet touched by the wrecking ball.

    I also can't help but notice that Reilly has plans for a concert facility at the site of the former Rialto Theater. The Archer, what he calls it. Given the PPL Arena and Miller Symphony Hall already exist, one has to wonder what types of shows "The Archer" will present? A revival of Crocodile Rock? Well Joe Clark is still around somewhere, but I doubt something like this would fit into the Reilly world of entertainment. Reilly had mentioned something along these lines in the past he wanted to build in the Potemkin Village around Center Square, but that seemed conveniently forgotten. Of course, he could actually build something noteworthy and of actual substance, such as a grand theater that the Rialto was when it opened in 1923. But then, Allentownians don't go to the movies any longer, at least downtown, and the quality of films today is debatable. So "Downtown West" as Reilly likes to call it, is going to remain more rental apartments and first floor storefronts for stores that come and go along with the wind.

    Welcome to 21st Century Allentown

  3. I recently spent an evening in Reading and was so traumatized, that I now support the NIZ project 100%. You want to see what downtown might look like without the NIZ, go check out Reading, its horrifying at night. No businesses open at all, no new construction, no hope for anything better and no optimism. Just crime, deteriorating housing, poverty, blight and hopelessness. It brings to mind a slogan I've heard many times: "Thank God for Reading...there's someplace worse than Allentown!".

  4. Obviously this whole enterprise has been profitable for its supporters, but not for Allentown, whose only hope is that the conservative Spanish speaking population will grow into a political force to stop the corruption. Then of course if they are not just Incorporated into the corruption.

  5. ray@7:52: It's not my want to comment on my blog posts...I do so only when more info might be insightful. For Pawlowski to win his fourth term, he cobbled together a minority coalition. He did so toward the end of his third term, by appointing members of the Black and Hispanic community to various committees. These appointees have matured into the local Democratic party. The local Republicans have yet to put up "competitive" minority candidates.