Lehigh Valley

Transformed Allentown praised by Urban Land Institute

It has been recognized as one of six transforming U.S. communities

ALLENTOWN, Pa. - Allentown has been recognized as one of six transforming communities across the nation by the Urban Land Institute of Washington, D.C.

The institute considers recent development in the city's downtown as a success story in the use of innovative partnerships and financing.

Allentown's progress was detailed in a report presented at the institute's spring meeting in Philadelphia.  The report listed "ingredients" that must be in place for other smaller urban communities to transform themselves.

A global nonprofit, the Urban Land Institute provides leadership in the responsible use of land and in creating and sustaining thriving communities worldwide.

City Center Lehigh Valley's Jim Harbaugh helped the institute develop the case study. City Center has been the primary redeveloper of property in Allentown's downtown. Harbaugh said the institute has been tracking Allentown's progress for the past couple of years.

The report notes that downtown Allentown's innovative state funding tool, the Neighborhood Improvement Zone, "allowed state tax receipts to remain downtown and bankroll new construction of offices, a hotel, retail shops and an arena. Strong local developers and business leadership were pivotal in embracing the new vision.

"Capitalizing on the city's competitive advantages, Allentown is enhancing the entire Lehigh Valley region."

The report also cited a strong emphasis on public/private partnerships as key in the transformation of Allentown's downtown.

Harbaugh said the report also recognized the emphasis on mixed-use properties and leadership from the business community. He said some of the large businesses that chose to locate in the downtown were an important part of making the City Center development a success."They're not just tenants. They're partners."

A chapter in the 60-page Urban Land Institute report, which is called "Reaching for the Future: Creative Finance for Smaller Communities," focuses on downtown Allentown and the Neighborhood Improvement Zone (NIZ).

The NIZ has created 4,000 new jobs and spurred $1 billion in new development, according to city officials. The report calls downtown Allentown "a thriving mixed-use destination."

The report attributes the city's success "mainly to outstanding public-private collaboration."

It specifically credits Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski, State Senator Pat Browne and private developers for "pushing aside political partnership barriers to revitalize Allentown." The report also cites City Center Investment Corporation for its vision.

City Center has developed the first new hotel in the downtown in 35 years, three Class A office/retail towers, apartments, shops and restaurants.

The other cities profiled are East Liberty, a Pittsburgh neighborhood; City Center in Greenville, N.C.; Sugar Land, Texas; the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood in Cincinnati; and Orland Park, Ill., a suburb of Chicago.

In each area, the report said success "required a strategic vision, leadership and creative financing. The leadership rose in different ways but came together in effective public/private partnerships."

The Urban Land Institute was established in 1936. According to the report, it "has more than 37,000 members representing the entire spectrum of the land use and development disciplines." The complete report can be obtained online

Last year, the PPL Center arena complex at Seventh & Hamilton streets captured an Urban Land Institute of Philadelphia's 2015 Willard G. "Bill" Rouse III Award for Excellence. In announcing that award, the Institute stated: "The development has been a catalyst for adjacent new residential and commercial redevelopment and has enhanced the image of Allentown as the commercial, entertainment and cultural center of the Lehigh Valley."

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