Lehigh Valley

New Bethlehem authority will apply for state development grant

BETHLEHEM, Pa. - A new Bethlehem Revitalization and Improvement Authority is now in place upon approval by the Bethlehem City Council during its meeting Wednesday night.

The Authority has been created to tender an application to the City Revitalization and Improvement Zone (CRIZ) program.

CRIZ is a Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development program that aims to increase economic development and job creation within a city by bringing development to an allotted 130-acre space.

The program aims to attract companies from outside of Pennsylvania to move into the state.

As a third class city with a population of at least 30,000, Bethlehem initially qualifies for the CRIZ, though the competition is stiff.

Only two Pennsylvania cities will be chosen by state officials to receive CRIZ funding and support, but Joseph Kelly, the director of Community and Economic Development in Bethlehem, feels that Bethlehem has a strong application.

"We have a competitive application because it demonstrates an impact on private sector investments," Kelly said.

Kelly will be leading the Revitalization Authority along with attorney Jim Broughal, Ann McHale, a professional insurance agent, Gretchen Longenbach, the director of Community and Economic Development in Easton, and John Filipos of Buckno Lisicky & Co. accounting firm.

The Bethlehem City Council expressed their support for the well-roundedness of the revitalization board.

While the board is still looking into what areas to include in the 130 acres, the old Bethlehem Steel properties including Martin Tower are under strong consideration, according to Kelly.

Several Bethlehem residents addressed the board, expressing a wish that CRIZ's attention should turn to the north side of the city, considering that heavy development has been going on in the south side for the past 10 years.

"I am very interested in this whole development and I am in favor of the CRIZ, but downtown Bethlehem has been shortchanged," Ted Wachtel, the president of the International Institute for Restorative Practices, which has campus space on Main Street, said. "There is a question of how to achieve balance and a fair distribution of the 130 acres is important. We need to remember that downtown is the crown jewel of Bethlehem, the face of the city."

The Revitalization Authority is still considering some properties on the north side that are city entities, according to Kelly.

The CRIZ project offers a 30-year designation of funds. In the first three to four years, up to $350 million in funds may be used.

The application deadline to get the incentive for 2014 is November 30, 2013. The Revitalization Authority tentatively plans to meet on November 11th to gather application materials in an open meeting at Bethlehem City Hall.

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