Downtown Allentown Revitalization District Wins Global Award for Excellence
By Colin McEvoy on November 14, 2017
The success story of downtown Allentown’s revitalization continues to gain national attention, having this week received the land use industry’s most prestigious honor.
The Allentown Neighborhood Revitalization District has won the Urban Land Institute’s (ULI) 2017-18 Global Award of Excellence. It is one of only 13 real estate development projects in the world to receive it this year, and one of only eight in the United States.
“Allentown’s comprehensive approach to urban development ensured that the long-term success of the project would not be compromised,” said 2017-2018 Global Awards Jury Chairman Wendy Rowden, president of 42nd Street Development Corp. in New York City.
“Each of these winners demonstrates a thoughtful, innovative approach to urban development that is adding to the sustainability and livability of the communities in which they are located,” Rowden said. “The attention paid to project detail, flexible design, and neighborhood context were among the factors making these entries stand out. They represent the type of development that will withstand the tests of time and change.”
ULI is a nonprofit education and research institute with more than 40,000 members in 95 countries representing all aspects of land use and development disciplines. Its Global Award of Excellence honors projects with an innovative, forward-looking approach to design and development.
“This is quite an honor and comes from one of the most widely respected organizations in the world,” said Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski. “Being placed on an equal footing with other projects known around the nation and the world is very significant.”
The Downtown Allentown Revitalization District was spurred by an innovative state law that created the Neighborhood Improvement Zone (NIZ), a special taxing district that encourages development and revitalization in downtown Allentown.
The NIZ consists of about 128 acres in downtown Allentown and the Riverfront district along the western side of the Lehigh River. All taxes generated in the NIZ, with the exception of school district and city taxes, can be used to pay debt service on any financed improvements within the NIZ.
A world model
State Sen. Pat Browne, the architect of the NIZ legislation, said this award shows that the NIZ is accomplishing exactly what it was designed to do.
“The NIZ incentives have turned a severely challenged downtown into one that is benefiting not only the entire Lehigh Valley but the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania as well,” Browne said. “The ongoing revitalization of Downtown Allentown serves as a world model of what can be achieved through public incentives combined with private investments.”
The anchor of the downtown revitalization is a city block containing the PPL Center, a 10,000-seat hockey arena, with an integrated mixed-use development including retail, dining, health/wellness, hotel, commercial office, two historic buildings, and structured parking.
City Center Allentown, the major mixed-use development by City Center Investment Corp., includes more than 1.4 million square feet among three Class A office towers, the Renaissance Allentown Hotel, the STRATA West and East apartment towers, The Shops at City Center, restaurants, co-working spaces and more than 1,500 parking spaces.
City Center’s total investment in downtown Allentown is $400 million, with additional development of office, residential, retail and green space underway, according to City Center Investment Corp. President J.B. Reilly.
“Downtown Allentown owes enormous gratitude to Senator Pat Browne and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania for the Neighborhood Improvement Zone legislation, which made this city’s revitalization possible,” Reilly said.
The Allentown Neighborhood Revitalization District also includes the 40,000-square-foot Trifecta building, an early 20th Century building converted into loft-style Class A office suites and retail space, and the seven-story mixed-use Butz Corporate Center Phase Two expansion.
“This global recognition validates the tremendous turnaround that downtown Allentown achieved through a unique public-private partnership,” said Sy Traub, Chairman of the Allentown Neighborhood Improvement Zone Development Authority (ANIZDA).
“The best part is it’s still early in downtown Allentown’s transformation,” Traub said. “We’re still growing and attracting more developers and businesses.”
The Allentown Neighborhood Revitalization District is not the only Lehigh Valley project to receive a national economic development award in recent months. This past summer, Bethlehem’s SteelStacks Arts and Cultural Campus won the prestigious Rudy Bruner Award for Urban Excellence.
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