The City of Allentown, the Community Action Development Corporation of Allentown, eight funding partners, foundations and residents announced today the approval of a new six year, $3.3 million initiative aimed at revitalizing the “whole” of Center City Allentown.
The Community Action Development Corporation of Allentown has been approved by the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development to provide an 80% credit on business taxes paid to the Commonwealth under the Neighborhood Partnership Program. Eligible activities are those presented in a plan that the city has developed following a series of public input sessions.
The Center City Initiative has commitments from eight companies over the next six years: Air Products and Chemicals, National Penn Bancshares and PPL have committed $100,000 per year while Alvin H. Butz, Inc., City Center Lehigh Valley, Susquehanna Bank, TD Bank and Wells Fargo have each committed $50,000.
“The ultimate test of a successful city is the quality of life the city’s residents’ experience,” Mayor Ed Pawlowski asserted. “We have work to do, there is little doubt,” he said, adding, “But we have assembled an amazing team of talented people who, with some creativity and financial support, are quite capable of completing Allentown’s resurgence.”
That team is assembled into a community-building infrastructure guided by a steering committee co-chaired by Seventh Street attorney Rebecca Torres and Don Bernhard, who directs a coalition of business leaders and charitable foundations. There are seven functional committees working on implementing the plan. These committees include Physical Enhancements, Housing, Economic Development and Employment, Education, Public Safety, Marketing, and Arts and Culture. More than 100 people are involved.
In addition to programs aimed at increasing economic and educational opportunity, the initiative also seeks to leverage ongoing efforts to change the negative perception of safety in downtown, encourages residents to own assets, including a home or a business, become more active in civic affairs in the city, and encourage people to visit downtown Allentown for entertainment, recreation, arts and culture.
Christi Dominguez, a neighborhood resident who serves on the Steering Committee, expressed the perspective that she says her neighbors have about the changes occurring downtown: “We are spectators. Some of us watch, wide-eyed and hopeful; others watch, skeptical, even scared. But those of us who now have a seat at the table, helping to affect our neighborhood, are getting excited by the possibilities.”
The program will be jointly managed by the City of Allentown and Community Action Development Corporation, a subsidiary of Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley. Its confines are the Jordan Creek, 12th Street, MLK Drive and Tilghman Street. The area encompasses Jordan Heights, the Seventh Street Corridor; the Old Allentown and Old Fairgrounds Historic Districts and the Hamilton District.
Officials speaking at news conference in the 500 block of Seventh Street emphasized the group’s intention to produce measurable outcomes, including: increased residential property values; reduced crime; reduced housing vacancy; low commercial vacancy rate; increased incomes; decreased unemployment; fewer substandard housing conditions; increased quality of life; increased private investment; more community engagement; and an expanded real estate tax base.