Search Results for: criz

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.

Bethlehem’s CRIZ Wishlist a Boring Hodgepodge

This list of projects can change later if the state determines Bethlehem the winner, so let’s hope this list is just what Bethlehem officials think will impress the dullard economic development thinkers in Harrisburg, and not what they actually want to spend the money on.

The CRIZ, like the NIZ, is supposed to be used to spur (re)development in your urban core areas, and help finance value-adding buildings. The 3rd and New St building is a great example of that, and there are some more infill projects on the list that sound good too. Infill on vacant parking lots further down on 3rd St is great, and I want to hear more about the Northside infill ideas too.

But a parking deck expansion on Northside? Storage for idle cars adds zero value to your city, it subtracts value. The city should focus on getting more buildings built and creating more demand for parking, and then see if private garage builders want to come in and build something if more capacity is truly needed. This is not something you waste CRIZ money on.

Likewise for more warehouses and industrial parks. People are building those without tax incentives because the land is cheap. You want to focus this tax subsidy on areas where land is expensive, or areas where you want to increase land values – your urban core neighborhoods and business districts.

Pick a few areas of contiguous city blocks and let developers go to town. Spreading the projects all around the city misses the entire point of what’s effective about this tax district.

Bethlehem Should Draw Its CRIZ District Around the Steel Stacks Area

Totally agree with commenter urban_lv on this:

The CRIZ should be used to encourage high-density development all around SteelStacks. Include all the parking lots on both sides of Third Street between Loopers and the Sands. The infrastructure is in place and there are high-quality amenities like SteelStacks and the Greenway. It is the perfect place for new walkable development.

Everybody always talks about how much Bethlehem Steel land there is, and it’s true – the amount of space is enormous and to appreciate it you really have to take a drive past Sands, past Cigars International, and check out how much barren wasteland there is. It’s daunting.

But I tend to think Bethlehem economic development people are too caught up with how big the space is, and should really put some horse-blinders on their heads and limit their efforts to the area closest to the Southside downtown for now. Once you’ve got a nice high-rise office district going around Steel Stacks, the land on the immediate periphery will start to become more valuable and get activated for private development, and then you just keep branching out from there.

The CRIZ district is an opportunity to do that, but people seem inclined to screw this up by cherrypicking a bunch of random one-off projects, rather than concentrating resources to do something really transformative.

My Plan for the Bethlehem CRIZ

Convention Centers are  a horrible economic development strategy. They almost never actually work to get people outside the site during conventions. Bethlehem shouldn’t blow the CRIZ money on this or luring Bass Pro Shops, and Martin Tower is probably a bad idea too depending on what people are thinking about the rest of the site development plan. I have an idea for a whole new mixed-use West Side downtown over there, but I’m guessing that’s not in the cards politically.

I don’t know what the downtown business owners who are asking for CRIZ designation have in mind for Northside, but the best use of the CRIZ district is going to be more and better walkable clusters of mixed-use office and apartment buildings. The two mid-rise buildings proposed for Southside are a great example of what to do with this district.

If I were on the CRIZ board, I’d be pushing for stuff like:

-One big circle around 3rd and 4th Streets between Hayes and 378, jutting down to the corner of Broadway and Wyandotte on the western side, to try to get that bar on the corner across from the McDonald’s renovated.

– One big circle around the portion of the Steel land closest to the 3rd St, between 378, the river, Founders Way and 3rd.

– The entire length of West Broad, as far as 130 acres goes, from the Monocacy hopefully all the way to the intersection of like Pennsylvania Avenue.

That’s more than 130 acres, but you get the idea. No megaprojects, just fundamentals. Somebody also needs to start the conversation now about upzoning the eventual CRIZ areas to CB (Central Business District), to maximize the amount of infill development and minimize the amount of land wasted on mandated parking spaces.

Bethlehem Should Use CRIZ District on Southside, Not Martin Tower

I’ll have a longer post on this later, but if Bethlehem wins this somewhat watered down NIZ-like tax district, they should put that 130-acre zone on the Southside, not Martin Tower. I’d draw the line around the Steel land between the bridges, but also the Southside CBD and as much of the rest of the urban grid in the neighborhoods as I could fit in.

I wouldn’t support using this for Martin Tower without a major rezoning of that area. With shorter blocks and a road diet for 8th Ave it could become a whole other downtown area for the west side neighborhoods, but the current street system is too auto-oriented, and the plans I’ve seen so far basically just double down on the idea of 8th Ave as a highway. If you turned the mostly blank 53-acre property over there into an urban street grid, it could be a nice walkable neighborhood, but that doesn’t seem to be in the cards at the moment.


Don’t just pick a bunch of random sites for the CRIZ.

An under-appreciated virtue of the Allentown NIZ is how it’s concentrating development interest in just two areas. Haines is dead-on right about the opportunity to replace some ugly buildings on Broad St with high rises, namely that Brutalist bastard the Public Sector building. Also, Surface Lot Mile.

New Mid-Rise Buildings Proposed for Southside Bethlehem Are Smart Growth at its Best

Turns out that development on Southside Bethlehem is actually a lot bigger (photos below) – it’s the 7-story mixed-use office building, and it’s also a 13-story mixed-use student housing building on 4th street.

So far no negative comments to engage with, so let me preempt one: that this is somehow overkill for Southside Bethlehem, and out of step with the neighborhood character.

Not so! Bethlehem’s recent zoning code changes kept this area zoned CB (Central Business District). They put a 200-foot height limit on the CB zone, where there actually used to be no upper limit. There are no minimum parking requirements in the CB zone. In other words, this is an area that always has been targeted for greater mid-rise mixed-use development, under the old code and under the new one.

The organic demand hasn’t been there to do something like this for a long time, but we’ve been seeing strong demand for downtown housing and office space the past couple years (expressed as rising rents), and now a developer has taken note of that demand for more high quality usable space downtown, and he is going to deliver what the market is asking for.

Note that the CRIZ district actually has very little role to play here. They’re going to do this, subsidies or no subsidies, unlike a lot of the unsustainable shopping center developments on the periphery that need TIFs and other subsidies to get built.

This is smart growth, emphasis on the growth. Many people who may turn up to complain about this project also don’t like the idea of more exurban development, but the demand has to go somewhere. This is what we want to see – more development in the downtown core, less development on open greenfield space on the periphery.