Lehigh Valley

It's official: Bethlehem entering the race for coveted tax incentive

Bethlehem OKs application for special tax zone

BETHLEHEM, Pa. - A plan to turn fallow properties in Bethlehem into productive tax-producing parcels is on its way to the state.

Monday afternoon, the newly established Bethlehem Revitalization and Improvement Authority unanimously approved a plan put together by Mayor John Callahan's administration in hopes of securing one of only two so-called CRIZ designations.

CRIZ is an acronym for City Revitalization and Improvement Zone, and having one allows certain state and local taxes to be used in helping finance new development on up to 130 acres.

Bethlehem officials will use the Callahan plan as the basis for its application, which will be filed by the end of the week.

Although the state has 90 days to choose which two cities will get the coveted designation, a decision will likely be made from among nine candidates before the end of the year, officials said.

Besides Bethlehem, the likely contenders for the CRIZ include Lancaster, whose state senator was a prime mover in creating the CRIZ legislation; Reading; Wilkes-Barre; Erie; Altoona, Chester and York.

Mayor Callahan predicted projects in the CRIZ would create 3,140 construction jobs and 4,120 permanent positions.

The properties, which now bring in $435,000 in real estate taxes, would generate $15.8 million from the fifth year onward. Overall tax revenue from the fifth year onward would be $83.8 million, Callahan said.

Members of the Bethlehem Revitalization and Improvement Authority were unstinting in their praise of Callahan's plan.

However, South Side resident Peter Crownfield faulted the authority for not soliciting more public input on the plan.

"I was not able to get a copy of the [mayor's] presentation even today," he said. "And the meeting time [for the authority] was not on the city website. ... That information should have been available, so public comment can be meaningful."

He also said the time of the meeting was inconvenient to at least two people who would have liked to attend. "One has to work, the other has class," Crownfield said. " You couldn't have planned it better to discourage public participation."

Authority chairman James Broughal apologized for the relative hastiness of the proceedings, but said events have been "driven by the [state] deadline" to file an application. "We're doing what we have to do to get the application in."

If Bethlehem is chosen for a CRIZ designation, there will be more public notification and participation, Broughal said.

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