The project designed to strengthen the neighborhoods around Allentown’s Neighborhood Improvement Zone has completed its first year. With almost 100 people involved and a comprehensive plan to guide it, the group held a news conference Friday to report on its first year of activity and announce its plans for the second year.
Rebeca Torres, a neighborhood resident with a law practice in the neighborhood who co-chairs the steering committee of the project, announced that the campaign to restore vitality to the area has adopted a name: “Upside Allentown.” “’Upside Allentown,’” Torres said, “is about promoting the many exciting initiatives underway. It defiantly rejects any ‘downside,’ it invites people to take a look, experience the new Allentown, spend some money, move back in and be a part of the future of this city.”
The group reported on the projects it initiated in the first year of a campaign that will extend at least six years into the future. Don Bernhard, staff for the Downtown Allentown Community Development Alliance and the other co-chair of the campaign, offered a long list of first-year activities:
• Began rehabilitation of 34 properties;
• Stepped up code enforcement;
• Created incentives for employees of companies in the NIZ to buy homes in the neighborhood;
• Restored 12 commercial building facades and 11 residential facades;
• Kicked off a campaign to improve safety by purchasing over 100 new pedestrian scale streetlights for installation;
• Completed the development of Jackson Street Park, created a new design for Stevens Park and developed a new pocket park on the 600 block of Chew Street;
• Installed 21 new high-definition surveillance cameras;
• Added two additional bicycle patrol officers for select hours over 24 weeks;
• Created a pre-employment training program for residents seeking employment in the hospitality and restaurant business;
• Graduated 7 existing and/or prospective entrepreneurs in the neighborhood from the Community Action Development Corporation’s Start Your Business program;
• Launched a website, social media and communications strategy to promote and celebrate the positive things happening in downtown;
• Began a planning process for strengthening the role of the arts in the city’s revitalization.
Torres also announced the group’s plans for the year that began on July 1. While the plans are subject to approval by the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development, Torres cited the following initiatives:
• More residential and commercial façade improvements;
• Continued deployment of additional bicycle patrol officers during the summer;
• Concentrated rehabilitation of properties on a four block stretch of Turner Street;
• Completion of an arts and culture plan;
• Various resident engagement efforts such as after-school basketball and the civilian police academy for youth, resident-driven neighborhood events and language proficiency classes.
Torres also announced that Air Products had withdrawn from the Neighborhood Partnership Program (NPP) that helps fund many of these initiatives. Air Products remains committed to the opening of Building 21, the city’s new high school set to open in the new school year, and will continue its $100,000 commitment to the school without the tax credits.
That development led to a search for new corporate funding commitments to ensure that the project did not lose any of its tax credit allocation. TD Bank, which had already made a commitment of $50,000, doubled its commitment to $100,000, joining PPL, and National Penn Bank at that level. In addition, Lafayette Ambassador Bank joined the effort with an annual commitment of $50,000. The other corporate funders for the NPP include Alvin H. Butz, Inc., City Center Investment Corp., Susquehanna Bank and Wells Fargo Bank. Additional funding is through the City of Allentown.
Mayor Ed Pawlowski expressed his pride in the city, its residents and companies, thanking the group for its vision and its engagement of so many people and groups in a collaborative effort to continue the resurgence of the city’s downtown. He spoke about a big, new property rehabilitation project on targeted blocks in the city when praising the group for its 2015-16 plans.
“There are more announcements to come,” Pawlowski hinted, apparently anxious for the opportunity to bring more good news to the neighborhoods.
About Upside Allentown: Upside Allentown is a comprehensive approach to community development to ensure that Allentown’s NIZ and its surrounding neighborhoods grow and thrive together. More than 100 individuals representing dozens of groups and, perhaps most importantly, neighborhood residents are working together toward a common goal of a thriving city with abundant opportunity, quality, affordable housing, safe streets, active civic participation and lots of fun. It includes eight corporations contributing $550,000 per year and receiving tax credits from the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development, city government, the Community Action Development Corporation of Allentown, local philanthropic foundations like the Harry C. Trexler Trust, The Century Fund, the Dexter and Dorothy Baker Foundation and the Lehigh Valley Community Foundation, the Downtown Allentown Community Development Initiative, Allentown School District, the United Way of the Greater Lehigh Valley and others.