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Meet NIZ’s stepbrother, CRIZ

You would be hard pressed to find a Lehigh Valley resident who wasn’t familiar with the Neighborhood Improvement Zone (NIZ) in Allentown that has attracted hordes of new businesses, including a hockey arena that will house the minor league affiliate of the Philadelphia Flyers. But there may be a new ‘IZ coming to town.

Community Revitalization and Improvement Zones are now a new Pennsylvania incentive plan to provide a boost in the redevelopment of the state’s smaller cities, but there are only a few that are eligible. CRIZs are only available to third-class cities with populations of 30,000 or greater, and no more than two are awarded the designation in each fiscal year. These guidelines leave only 8 eligible cities: Erie, Reading, Lancaster, Bethlehem, Altoona, Wilkes-Barre, Chester and York. Unfortunately, our friends over in Easton fall just short of the population requirement.

A CRIZ can cover up to 130 acres of land, and isn’t quite as attractive as NIZ, but still provides business incentives. The NIZ allows companies to redirect all taxes earned in the zone to go to financing it, while CRIZ only redirects taxes in this way after a certain threshold amount. Private investment must also equal 20 percent of the tax redirection funds, or one private dollar for every public five.

The Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development will determine which cities will receive CRIZ designation based on applications with a specific economic development plan for the acreage within the city. Bethlehem is eligible for such a district and will definitely apply for the designation, with several project options. One of the most popular choices since talk of the CRIZ emerged is Martin Tower, the high rise building in West Bethlehem that has been vacant for six years but the south side of Bethlehem could also provide project options in its abandoned or underutilized structures.

We wish Bethlehem luck in their application for a CRIZ! Remember in our last post we promised a workshop in The Lehigh Valley Summit for Smart Growth focused on Act 111 and Act 47? We will also be hosting a workshop during the conference that looks at the NIZ and what it’s done for Allentown with a panel of developers and city panels. Again, stay tuned for details on how you can register for the smart growth conference!

Envision Lehigh Valley’s Virtual Town Hall Review

Did you catch Envision Lehigh Valley’s virtual town hall meeting this week? If so, you were one of 99 viewers who tuned in to hear planners for Bethlehem, Easton, Allentown and the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission discuss growth projections and planning in the cities.

Particpants learned about the timeline for the catalytic projects in each of the three cities and how each city went about choosing the specific project that they undertook as part of the Envision Lehigh Valley grant. In addition to working on the rewrite of their city’s comprehensive plan, Becky Bradley a planner for Easton, discussed the 13th Street Corridor project that will begin soon in Easton. Darlene Heller, a planner for Bethlehem, discussed the planning and progress being made on the Eastern Gateway project in Bethlehem and Mike Hefele talked about all of the exciting development happening in Allentown as well as the Little Lehigh Industrial Corridor that he is working on as a planner for Allentown. Mike Kaiser, retiring executive director of the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission, shared information and maps showing the expected growth in population for the next thirty years in the Lehigh Valley. He broke it down by municipality and demographics, as well as discussing the implications for employment and transit.

After briefly presenting their projects, the panel took questions from participants in the live chat and from those e-mailed prior to the live feed. Planners were asked about transportation and fresh food access and explained the process of comprehensive planning as a city and as a region.

Despite a brief blip with the audio in the beginning of the meeting, viewers tweeted and chatted excitedly about the discussion the planners were having, as well as the idea of a virtual town hall to discuss other Envision initiatives. It was especially convenient for those who couldn’t make it to a public meeting in person this past fall; anyone who was interested could watch the meeting right from home and still participate!

If you’re kicking yourself for missing the meeting, or want to catch the audio from the introduction that we missed – don’t fret! The full video, with the full 60 minutes of audio is going up on Envision Lehigh Valley’s YouTube channel and you can watch the whole thing, advertisement free!

Based on all of the positive feedback that we got for this meeting, we hope to hold another one soon! Stay tuned!

New Allentown Park Now Open

Good news, everyone (but especially Lehigh Valley kids) — Allentown’s Cedar Creek Park playground is now open! Deemed as a destination playground, the Morning Call writes:

The 19,000-square-foot site is one of the largest, if not the largest, handicap-accessible playground in the region. It features equipment for all children and has a rubberized floor that helps soften trips and falls as well as accommodate wheelchairs.

“This is a great day for Allentown,” said Greg Weitzel, head of the city’s Parks and Recreation Department. “We built this playground so all of our youth can be challenged and play outdoors in a safe and comfortable atmosphere.”

This is an exciting development and a great new place to visit in the region!

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