ALLENTOWN, PA – Three years ago, run-down tattoo parlors and pawnshops dominated Hamilton Street, the main drag in Pennsylvania’s third-largest city.
Now they’re gone, replaced by high-tech firms, high-end restaurants, and a burst of construction activity. In 22 months, seven buildings of at least 10 stories have gone up along Hamilton Street, and two older buildings were rehabbed. The centerpiece is the PPL Center, a new, gleaming, 10,000-seat arena that this week opens as the new hockey home of the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, the Flyers’ minor league affiliate.
Bolstered by special legislation that diverts most of the state taxes on new development within a 130-acre urban zone, supporters say what’s happened in Allentown could be a blueprint for other long-suffering small cities eager to shed their industrial past.
“I think we’re trying to change the Allentown identity,” Mayor Ed Pawlowski said over lunch Thursday at the Hamilton, one of five new downtown restaurants. “It was so jerry-rigged over the years there wasn’t much of an identity left.”