Lehigh Valley

Allentown mayor trying to change city's image

Allentown mayor trying to change city's image

ALLENTOWN, Pa. - Some people admit to avoiding Allentown for a number of reasons; others say there are a lot of good things going on in the Queen City.

Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski said improving the city's image is like putting a puzzle together. You need all the right pieces before you can see a clear picture.

Eight years ago, Pawlowski said he knew how people viewed Allentown.

"It was pretty negative, and it was a city that was in decline," said Pawlowski. "It was a city that was bankrupt both physically and economically as far as development. It was a city that was crime-ridden."

Pawlowski said that image is starting to turn around. Some residents think it's been a slow process.

"It's hard sometime to actually walk the blocks of Allentown because it's hard to tell what's going to happen," said Brian Smith, an Allentown resident.

Pawlowski said his administration took a three-step approach to fixing the city image: repair the finances, hire more police officers and start economic development.

A new water lease agreement has solved the pension problems, he said. Federal grants have helped bolster the police force and construction of the hockey area has other businesses locating downtown.  

Another major factor is self-promotion.

"Word of mouth is the best form of advertising," said Michael Stershic, president of Discover Lehigh Valley. "We can spend a gazillion dollars to let locals know this is a great place to visit. That is not going to help."

Some residents admit they are starting to see a change.

"It's a lot better than what it used to be," said a man walking into his office. "I think it is still going to be better."

"Sometimes, when you are up right against it, it's hard to step back and say, 'Hey, look at all the things that are happening,'" said Pawlowski. "Slowly but surely, I think that perception is starting to change."

Pawlowski said Allentown needed to have a reason for people to visit the city before the image changed. He is hoping sporting events and concerts at the new arena will do that.

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