Lehigh Valley Redevelopment Program Continues Its Pattern of Success
By Colin McEvoy on October 7, 2016
Last year, the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation’s (LVEDC) redevelopment program experienced the busiest year in its nearly two-decade history, working on 11 active redevelopment projects over the course of 2015.
This year, it has surpassed even that benchmark.
The Lehigh Valley Land Recycling Initiative (LVLRI) is currently working on 14 projects in various stages – far more than the average of about a half-dozen from previous years – and works with a prospect count of about 5 to 7 possible new projects each month.
Andrew Kleiner, LVEDC Director of Redevelopment and External Affairs, said the program is here to help developers navigate challenges and overcome obstacles in the reuse of abandoned and underutilized commercial and industrial properties, also known as brownfields
“What we’re doing here is opening the door to development,” Kleiner said. “We’re making it easier for developers to do their jobs. We take the work out of their hands, help them understand it, connect them with the most qualified individuals in the Lehigh Valley, and get it done in a way that, I think, is without parallel nationwide.”
LVEDC cannot provide specifics about many of its ongoing projects. But Kleiner cited the ArtsQuest Center in Bethlehem, Bell Hall and the Trifecta Building in Allentown, the Slate Belt YMCA, and the Easton Public Market as examples of past successful brownfield projects that have been supported by LVLRI.
Bell Hall is a gourmet burger restaurant that opened last year in the former Schoen’s Furniture Store, a building once vacant for 20 years that has found new life as a loft-style office building with a mix of modern and historical architecture. LVLRI assisted with a Phase I environmental assessment, and also helped with an asbestos and lead survey.
The Easton Public Market a 16,000 square-foot marketplace located at the at the former Weller Center, held its grand opening in April. It features an on-site butcher, a farmstead, community spaces, a fishmonger, a demonstration kitchen, and the region’s first Asian noodle bar. LVLRI assisted with a Phase I environmental assessment for the project.
“The redevelopment success stories we help facilitate are major catalyst projects that create jobs for the region,” Kleiner said. ““These are transformative parcels that, at some point, somebody saw as a difficulty, but we work with them to do whatever it takes to overcome those difficulties.”
LVLRI was part of a team, along with the city of Easton and the Greater Easton Development Partnership, that won an award from the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission for Best Revitalization Project on Oct. 4.
The program has also provided assistance with the ongoing Waterfront project, a $300 million mixed-use development being built on former Lehigh Structural Steel Co. land along the Lehigh River in Allentown. LVLRI has supported the project since 2007, guiding it through a targeted brownfield assessment, environmental assessments, and cleanup plans.
LVLRI has begun to attract national attention for its track record of success. It was one of only 150 programs from around the world that was selected to present at last year’s National Brownfields Conference, from a highly competitive field of about 425 applicants. Kleiner also made two presentations at the 2015 Pennsylvania Brownfields Conference in Erie.
LVLRI is an advisory committee comprised of municipal officials from cities, boroughs and townships in both Lehigh and Northampton counties, as well as brownfield experts, regulatory agency representatives, private developers, engineers, and consultants.
Over the last 15 years, LVLRI has seen 300 acres of contaminated land remediated, over $400 million of leveraged funding based on years of successful U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) grant wins, and the creation of about 1,200 jobs, according to Kleiner.
LVLRI helps site owners and developers identify financial assistance for environmental assessment and remediation work at brownfield sites, and assists on technical matters such as grant/loan application preparation, environmental work plan preparation, and the completion of buyer/seller agreements.
Additionally, LVLRI serves as an intermediary between all parties involved in a brownfield transaction, and maintains an inventory of underutilized commercial/industrial properties throughout the Lehigh Valley.
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