Allentown Could Be Blueprint For New Development

English: City of Allentown from east side

English: City of Allentown from east side (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.”


Allentown’s Americus Hotel Revitalization Suffers Major Blow

English: City of Allentown from east side

English: City of Allentown from east side (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Plans to revitalize Allentown’s historic Americus Hotel have suffered a major blow that could set the project back multiple years, according to the hotel owner.

Albert Abdouche said financing for the $16.5 million renovation project has fallen through due to an Allentown authority’s hesitation regarding his plans.

As a result, Abdouche said he is no longer seeking to tap into the Neighborhood Improvement Zone, Allentown’s 127-acre special tax district, to finance the project.

Instead, Abdouche plans to make $1 million in improvements to the first floor with private money, then perhaps return to the Allentown Neighborhood Improvement Zone Development next year to finance the rest of the hotel renovations.

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National Penn Bancshares Holds Grand Opening At New Allentown Headquarters

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Lehigh County

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Lehigh County (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For the first time in nearly 35 years, a bank has established its headquarters in the city of Allentown.

More than 500 people today attended the grand opening and ribbon-cutting of National Penn Bancshares’ new headquarters in the 11-story Two City Center in the city’s downtown neighborhood.

Mayor Ed Pawlowski said it was more than simply a new business moving into the city but rather a showing of confidence in the ongoing revitalization of Allentown.

“We really appreciate the confidence you’ve put in us, and for bringing Allentown back to a central point for being a place of commerce and activity for the entire region,” Pawlowski told representatives of the bank.

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Allentown Mayor Announces Plans To Improve Poorest Neighborhoods

English: City of Allentown

English: City of Allentown (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski announced an initiative today to make health and safety improvements in the city’s poorest neighborhoods.

The city has committed $2.5 million for such Center City improvements and has asked the business community to match or exceed that amount in donations.

Working with the Allentown School District, the city plans to focus on blight remediation, housing redevelopment, home ownership and streetscaping projects.

“I believe Allentown will become a beacon of hope and an economic model for redevelopment (that) can be replicated across the state and across the country,” Pawlowski said.

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Allentown’s Americus Hotel Project Advances, But Concerns Remain

English: City of Allentown from east side

English: City of Allentown from east side (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The revitalization of Allentown‘s Americus Hotel took another step toward reality today, but development officials want further assurances the project will actually be completed.

“We don’t want to have a project that’s going to fail,” said Sy Traub, chairman of the authority that oversees development in the city’s Neighborhood Improvement Zone.

“If we approve a project that goes belly up in the middle of it, and it’s a project in the middle of our city that’s going to sit vacant and stalled, then it’s going to be a real problem,” Traub said.

Developer Albert Abdouche appeared today before a Allentown Neighborhood Improvement Zone Development Authority committee with his plans for a revamped 11-story hotel at 549 Hamilton St.

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Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski To Withdraw From Pennsylvania Governor Race, Source Says

Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski plans to drop out of the race for Pennsylvania governor, according to a source.

Pawlowski, a Democrat who had been seeking to challenge Republican incumbent Gov. Tom Corbett, will withdraw from the race Monday and endorse Treasurer Rob McCord, the source said.

Mike Fleck, Pawlowski’s campaign manager, declined to comment except to say Pawlowski would hold a news conference 11 a.m. Monday to discuss the governor’s race.

Pawlowski did not immediately respond to a phone call for comment tonight.

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Allentown Arena Construction On Schedule, Mayor Is Pleased

English: City of Allentown from east side

English: City of Allentown from east side (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Six years ago Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski, his city still smarting from losing the Sands casino to Bethlehem, first suggested that an arena might make a fine consolation prize.

Pawlowski on Wednesday, standing at the city’s $272 million arena complex, surrounded by dust and gravel, hard hats and heavy machines, looked downright satisfied.

With construction in full swing, steel and concrete rising from what was once a block of low-end stores and for a time just a muddy hole at Seventh and Hamilton streets, Pawlowski, media in tow, got his first tour of a project that he has been trying to make a reality for most of his time in office.

“It really is amazing when you think about going from the conceptual stage to something that is physically under construction,” Pawlowski said afterward.  “I wanted to show the amount of planning that has really gone into this construction process.”

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Pawlowski To Run For Third Term As Allentown Mayor

English: City of Allentown from east side

English: City of Allentown from east side (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

His supporters say Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski is a visionary; a leader who has ushered unprecedented development into the city with the state-supported Neighborhood Improvement Zone.

His detractors say he’s a man in isolation, unwilling to listen to an angry populace unhappy with his plan to lease one of the city’s most valuable assets.

On Monday, Ed Pawlowski will announce a bid for a third term in office.

And so far, he has no opposition.  Political observers on both sides say that’s unlikely to change.

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Mayors Tout Jobs Growth In Lehigh Valley

Map of Pennsylvania, showing major cities and ...

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As a national jobs report released Friday pointed to a surge in hiring, the mayors of four of the Lehigh Valley‘s largest municipalities gathered in front of the future minor league hockey arena in Allentown to tout the Valley’s growth.

The mayors — Ed Pawlowski of Allentown, John Callahan of Bethlehem, Sal Panto Jr. of Easton and Ed Hozza Jr. of Whitehall Township — didn’t announce a new project on the same scale as Steel Stacks or an out-of-state company bringing hundreds of jobs. Instead, they praised the creation of 40 jobs for workers who are making way for the hockey arena at Seventh and Hamilton streets.

That number, Pawlowski said, will grow to 1,000 during construction.

The mayors gathered in front of the demolition site just days after revelations that the special tax district that will help pay for the $158-million arena may divert and delay the return of the Valley’s municipalities’ earned income taxes.

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Allentown Wins National Award For Fighting Childhood Obesity

The future of the city’s fruit-and-vegetable green cart is no longer followed by a question mark.

Allentown took home a first-place national award — and a $120,000 grant — for the program, securing its immediate future fighting childhood obesity.

Six cities were honored nationally. Allentown was the only city in Pennsylvania to win recognition for the award from the U.S. Conference of Mayors and the American Beverage Association.

“More than 40 percent of our kids are either overweight or obese,” Mayor Ed Pawlowski said. “We are tackling that problem head-on.”

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Allentown Sees 42 Firefighter Retirements

English: City of Allentown from east side

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Allentown officials knew a staggering number of city firefighters would retire in 2011, it was just a matter of how many.

Fire Chief Robert Scheirer predicted months ago that some 50 firefighters would retire before the union’s contract that contained a generous pension clause was set to expire Dec. 31, echoing a similar mass exodus six years ago in the police department.

Now that the paperwork has settled, city officials say 42 firefighters left in 2011 — nearly one-third of the department usually staffed with about 140 firefighters. That’s by far the most firefighter retirees in one year, second only to the departure of 80 police officers six years ago.

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Pottstown Civic Activists Stage Rally Against Deadbeat Slumlords On King Street

Teri Lyn Jensen-Sellers and Katy Jackson, both neighborhood residents, organized a rally today to protest “landlord” Andrew Soule’s $10,000+ in back payments for sewer/water/trash to the Borough of Pottstown and the condition of his buildings in the 400 block of King Street.  Reporters from The Mercury, The Pottstown Patch and Roy’s Rants were on hand to document the effort of this group to draw attention to this huge problem plaguing Pottstown.  Absentee landlords with blighted properties and overdue bills are straining Pottstown’s already stressed tax base.

The Borough of Pottstown is owed over $700,000 in back water/sewer/trash payments from 200 people.  The top 10 people on the Pottstown Wall of Shame owe nearly $200,000.  As Pottstown Borough Manager Jason Bobst has stated, “It’s all the same people that we see time and time again.”  Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski uses the Hall of Shame tactic in Allentown very successfully.  Mrs. Jackson recently attended a webinar on this subject hosted by Allentown’s mayor to learn more about how other towns and cities are coping with this problem.

Mr. Soule was evidently on the scene when the first protestors appeared, but left upon their arrival.  Mrs. Jensen-Sellers questioned a man but he denied being Andrew Soule.  A neighbor stated it was Mr. Soule after the man departed.

Sixth Ward Councilor and Man of the People, Jody Rhoads was on the scene as the sole representative of Pottstown Borough leadership along with Gallery on High/Gallery School co-founder Cathy Paretti and Andrew Monastra, a real estate lawyer with an office in the borough.  A Code Blue member was in attendance as well as other concerned borough residents.

I interviewed two former tenants of Mr. Soule, both of whom had unpleasant dealings with the landlord.

Both Mrs. Paretti and Mr. Monastra shared their feelings about doing business in Pottstown and the challenges of being a business owner here.  Both see the potential Pottstown has to offer but understand that many things need to change before Pottstown can follow in Phoenixville’s footsteps.