Bethlehem and Lancaster Win CRIZ Districts

It’s a Crizzmas miracle, y’all! (John Callahan’s joke, not mine.) Bethlehem and Lancaster have been selected to keep more of their own taxes to finance infill development. It’s a big win for Bethlehem in particular because they’re right next to Allentown, and people were worried that the Allentown Neighborhood Improvement Zone (NIZ) would diminish interest in redeveloping Bethlehem’s brownfields.

I’m a big fan of the one-of-a-kind NIZ district Allentown politicians snuck into the 2009 PA Code, which has succeeded in spurring lots of urban infill development in its downtown, but I am less enthusiastic about the CRIZ that was modeled on it.

The slush fund nature of the NIZ, where a new Authority gets all the state and local taxes collected in a contiguous area except local property taxes, with few strings attached, seems to have worked strongly in Allentown’s favor. To a large extent, Allentown may have just lucked out with a developer who’s committed to good urbanism, but good ideas combined with a massive slush fund turned out to be a great combo, even as the process obsessives are having kidney stones over it.

The CRIZ is considerably weaker, but still a big win for cities. I think we should extend this deal to all the Cities of the Third Class now, before they all end up in Act 47. That’s not how state opted to do it though, and two large (over 50K) third class cities per year will be selected to keep some more state taxes instead of pissing them away into our state’s emptiest counties.

have a number of problems with Bethlehem’s list of projects (contiguousness is paramount!), and haven’t paid much attention to Lancaster’s, but good for them. I hope the new Bethlehem Council members will revisit the list and make some better choices, or at least make the Martin Tower redevelopment plan contingent on more comprehensive redevelopment of the parking lots and other land parcels around it.

Allentown turned the money firehose on the most walkable areas of town, not on white elephant projects, and that’s a key reason why it’s been successful. People worried the new buildings would stay empty, but they were wrong, and J.B. Reilly’s already leased all of his planned space to business tenants.


  1. Sustainabilty Without Limits says:

    Congrats to Bethlehem.

    What is your take on the Former Lehigh Valley Dairy property? Once called America’s most beautiful dairy with its Art Deco facade, this property closed its doors to 280 walkable, family sustaining jobs and has been vacant or underutilized for more than 24 years!
    To date, there has been no assistance from Harrisburg and the NIZ and CRIZ creates additional challenges. It was excluded from Envisions $3.4M HUD grant because it was not in a 3rd class city. This property is one block outside the City Without Limits, 1/4 mile to 18,000 residents, surrounded by lower to middle income neighborhoods, access to public transportation, and has public utilities. It is inappropriate to discriminate against race, color, gender, etc. However, recent trends suggest that geographic discrimination based on municipal borders seems to be an acceptable practice when it comes to economic development.

    Consider a year where RCAP money went to support greenfield development, hopefully there are brighter days ahead for the LV Dairy property.

    • Jon Geeting says:

      I’m interested in concentrating redevelopment efforts on the city cores first. It’s possible this property is a good fit for adaptive reuse but my main concern is intense redevelopment of the walkable half mile areas around the centers of center city Allentown, Bethlehem, Easton, and some of the boroughs like Nazareth, Emmaus, Macungie, Catasauqua, etc. Its not that I don’t care about Whitehall too, but they are just so fucked from a planning standpoint. Before we start talking rehabilitating individual properties, I want to see a real commitment to a Stroad-to-Boulevard rehab of MacArthur Rd closest to Allentown.

  2. I can’t argue with Bethlehem’s wish list. Many are former industrial sites and this will allow them to proceed. The Martin Tower is unique and if done right, 8th and Eaton near 378 can be what it should be, the premier address in the LV.

    I am concerned with the lack of vitality along Broad Street. Except for the section from Guetter to Main, Broad Street is a hodge-podge of unrelated styles, vacancies and uncohesiveness. Example- west from the bridge. There are too many vacancies and no unifying streetscape. This area has potential.

    Heading east from Guetter, the downtown portion is awful. The trees are puny, the store fronts are unappealing. Although it is good to see the Farr Building back on line, did we need a bank on the first floor? A restaurant/bar would bring nightime traffic. Speaking of which, what’s with the Boyd? To me, that’s the linchpin, the anchor, the magnet. Even with only one show a night, the Boyd gives people a unique reason to vist after 5 pm. The spinoff to bars and restaurants has to be felt.

    The adaptive re-use of the Dodson Building is big; downtown needs middle to higher income residents.

    Whay is there no food market downtown. A place that caters to the folks already resideng downtown, so a big box with acres of parking is not needed. Demolish the north side of Broad from Long to Center and create a market, with room to move it outdoors from May to November.

    Just thinking out loud.

  3. The keyword here is it worked in Allentowns favor. While simultaneously redistributing revenue out of Bethlehems while they were under thier own redevelopment creating a cash flow shortage for Bethlehem resulting in a property tax increase in Bethlehem to cover the shortfall.

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