Many of the same problems that plague the Lehigh Valley's three cities - poverty, aging infrastructure, dying Main Streets and abandoned industry - are also present in Northampton County's 19 and Lehigh County's 8 boroughs. They also exist in older Townships like Whitehall, whose population now exceeds Easton. While it makes sense to encourage growth in the Lehigh Valley's urban core, most planners and legislators forget that these boroughs matter just as much as our cities. It's easy for them to forget, too, because boroughs lack the staff to make their needs known. For any economic development program to be successful, that attitude has to change. Believe it or not, Pennsylvania's new City Revitalization and Improvement Zone (CRIZ) program may open the door a crack. Whitehall Township's Jeff Warren and Howard Lieberman are trying to push that door open. This is their story.
The CRIZ program is available to cities with 30,000 or more people. So far, only Bethlehem and Lancaster have received this coveted designation. On up to 130 acres, new taxes can fund development. Unlike Allentown's more controversial Neighborhood Improvement Zone (NIZ), only new development can be rewarded. An existing business poached from another municipality is ineligible.
|Whitehall's Howard Lieberman and Jeff Warren|
Take the former Lehigh Valley Dairy property, for example, which is one of the first things you see when getting off Route 22 and into Whitehall. This gigantic 271,000 sq ft building, has been rotting away for the last 25 years on a designated brownfield, with no buyer or developer in sight. Sitting on nearly twenty acres, it is certainly Lehigh County's most prominent, if not largest, eyesore.
But it's a great property. Almost at the corner of Route 22 and McArthur Road, it provides for easy access to a major interstate. It's within a quarter mile of 18,000 residents, people who could use a job. Over 120,000 vehicles drive past it daily. How something like this could remain undeveloped so long is a mystery. It's about a block north of Allentown's border. It is the heart of the Lehigh Valley's urban core, but its status in a township makes most tax incentives and other resources unavailable.
In addition to the dairy, Whitehall has been attempting to market the former Dent Hardware Manufacturing, former Thomas Iron Works and Whitehall Waterfront.
But Warren and Leiberman think the pilot program, to be truly effective, should be able to cross municipal borderlines and include other properties. They point to Catasauqua's former FLSmidth Manufacturing and Coplay's former General Supply. They'd like to see those properties combined with Whitehall's for a regional pilot.
So when Governor Corbett visited Bethlehem on March 21, they both made their case, as best they could, to the state's highest executive officer. He told them he wants to see how Bethlehem and Lancaster do before deciding whether he wants to take this economic development tool to the next level.