Lehigh Valley

Hamilton District Main Street program celebrates Allentown's resurgence

ALLENTOWN, Pa. - Retailers and civic leaders gathered Wednesday night to celebrate the success of the Hamilton District Main Street program in Allentown, a multi-pronged effort started more than 10 years ago to revitalize the city’s downtown.

The Hamilton District Main Street Program covers Fifth to 12th streets, from Walnut to Linden streets and is supported by adjoining neighborhoods and the riverfront. Described as the commercial and cultural heart of the Lehigh Valley, the district seeks to raise awareness of the changing face of downtown Allentown with its restaurant, retail, business and entrainment activity.

Bob Stevens, chairman of the district’s organizational development committee, told attendees at the Allentown Brew Works that the initiative was well organized in time to ride the wave of redevelopment that came along when the Neighborhood Improvement Zone was established in 2012.

A pastor at Zion’s Liberty Bell Church on Hamilton Street, Stevens said he is encouraged whenever he walks the street and sees the activity inspired by the Main Street program, a national program that helps revitalize central business districts and surrounding residential neighborhoods.

Gone are the boarded-up store fronts, which have been replaced by restaurants, retail stores and large businesses, he said.

“I’ve lost count of the new facades and businesses,” Stevens said. “There were plenty of naysayers, but it’s amazing the transformation that has taken place.  I’m impressed by the people who believed in the vision.”

Julie Fitzpatrick, assistant director and special projects coordinator with Pennsylvania Downtown Center --  a statewide nonprofit organization dedicated to help the revitalization of the state’s core communities -- said surveys in 2008 and 2017 tell the story of positive change.

In 2008, the poll results showed a largely negative response to Allentown, while the results released last week were overwhelmingly positive. People were asked about their perceptions on the city’s comfort and appearance, attitude and economic characteristics.

“Not a single negative response,” Fitzpatrick said. “It’s all about perception. Be proud — you made tremendous progress.”

Those attending the meeting also had an opportunity to share their ideas about how to sustain and continue the revitalization.

They included: extending the hours of retailers and restaurants; adding more events at PPL Center; planning more events for families; and more food and music festivals like the annual Blues, Brews and Barbecue, the signature event of the Hamilton District Main Street program.

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