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Fast Forward: The CRIZ is Ready for Biz

By LVEDC Staff on January 7, 2014

bethlehempaLast week’s announcement that Bethlehem was one of two Pennsylvania cities to win the much-coveted CRIZ designation gave the former Steel City comfort from the cold winds of winter.

“This designation will enable Bethlehem to both enhance and accelerate its efforts to bring more jobs and businesses into the city,” according to state Sen. Lisa Boscola (D-18th).

This “son of NIZ” City Revitalization and Improvement Zone incentive program is expected to fuel new development for Bethlehem. Leading the charge of change will be the city’s new chief executive, Mayor Robert Donchez.

Projects proposed for the CRIZ seem greater in number than teams who made the NFL playoffs. Some of the properties considered for the CRIZ include Martin Tower, the No. 2 Machine Shop, sections of Lehigh Valley Industrial Park VII, a portion of Majestic Bethlehem, the desolate lot where the former Third Street Chicken and Ribs once crowed, the 500 block of East Third Street, and a modest property nestled at the south end of the Hill-to-Hill Bridge.

The looming question: what is the strategy?

Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation is at the ready to aid and abet this vision, according to president and CEO Don Cunningham.

“The CRIZ creates a state-supported financial incentive for properties and buildings that would otherwise be difficult to develop,” Cunningham said. “LVEDC is looking forward to working with the City and the developers in any way possible to advance development on those sites, particularly with helping to develop prospects and tenants.”

Cunningham stressed that just like the NIZ districts in Allentown the CRIZ is based in Bethlehem but will serve as an economic development tool for the entire Lehigh Valley.

“The Bethlehem CRIZ projects will create jobs for people throughout the Lehigh Valley and, in some cases, such as the Bass Pro Shop project, will create destinations for the region and beyond,” said the former Bethlehem mayor and Lehigh County Executive.

So, how did Bethlehem beat out other cities with a population greater than 30,000? Two good reasons: A great number of shovel-ready sites and a team of well-financed developers waiting in the wings to make things happen.

For her part, Sen. Boscola said that all of the city’s development projects fall in line with its comprehensive plan, previous revitalization efforts and commitment to smart growth.

The amount of potential tax revenue and new jobs is impressive. Sen. Boscola estimates there could be about 4,120 long-term jobs, more than $300 million in investment, and a staggering $83.8 million in new tax revenue.

The legislation that gave birth to the CRIZ would never had included Bethlehem had not the selection criteria been expanded to include smaller cities.

The City of Lancaster also received the CRIZ designation. Many political observers thought the legislation was created solely for Lancaster, which has a population of around 60,000. It could be because the legislation was authored by Sen. Lloyd Smucker, whose coverage area includes the York/Lancaster region.

Other cities with applications in last year’s CRIZ sweepstakes were Reading, Scranton, Erie and York, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development. The CRIZ designation is approved by the Governor’s Budget Office, the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue and the Pa. DCED.

The CRIZ enables new investment by redeveloping eligible vacant, blighted and abandoned properties for commercial, exhibition, hospitality, conference, retail community or other mixed-use purposes.

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