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The LVEDC INTERVIEW: Bethlehem Mayor Robert Donchez

By LVEDC Staff on September 9, 2014

Mayor Donchez: "My biggest surprise is trying to schedule all the individuals and organizations that request a meeting with the mayor’s office." PHOTO/THE MORNING CALL

Mayor Donchez: “My biggest surprise is trying to schedule all the individuals and organizations that request a meeting with the mayor’s office.” PHOTO/THE MORNING CALL

Editor’s Note: Robert Donchez was elected the 12th mayor of the City of Bethlehem last November. His story is fairly well known. A longtime educator who taught American Government for 35 years at William Allen High School in the Allentown School District, he has served the City of Bethlehem in many ways prior to his position as mayor, most recently as city council president. Upon taking office, Donchez made economic development a priority. A down-to-earth man, we begin our interview with a simple question.

LVEDC: After more than half a year in office, what has surprised you most about being mayor?

Mayor Donchez: First let me say that it is an honor being mayor of the City of Bethlehem. My biggest surprise is trying to schedule all the individuals and organizations that request a meeting with the mayor’s office. The second thing would be the number of unplanned or unexpected issues that arise and how you have to readjust your schedule are two of the biggest surprises.

LVEDC: A few days before you took office on that frigid January morning, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania approved the City of Bethlehem for a City Revitalization and Improvement Zone designation. Tell us about the great potential this has for literally transforming your city for years to come.

Mayor Donchez: As one of the two cities to receive the CRIZ designation in Pennsylvania, the City of Bethlehem is poised for growth and development for the next several decades. The CRIZ is just one of several tools we will employee to redevelop some of our more challenging sites, including but not limited to the Bethworks Area, the Martin Tower complex and several South Bethlehem infill projects. The attention brought to the city as a result of the CRIZ designation has helped us communicate not just the great opportunities associated with the CRIZ but also the wonderful place the City of Bethlehem is to live and raise a family. While the job creation associated with the CRIZ is critical to the City’s economic stability, the valuable job-training role that educational institutions such as Moravian College, Lehigh University, Northampton Community College and East Stroudsburg University bring to the city and companies that locate to the CRIZ must be considered.

LVEDC: What can you tell us about your CRIZ efforts over the last six months?

Mayor Donchez: The last six months have involved a lot of behind-the-scenes work getting BRIA (Bethlehem Revitalization and Improvement Authority) ready to finance projects and working with developers to focus their projects. We have seen several projects begin seeking approvals and permitting, which are necessary steps in getting the kinds of development the City wants to see. For instance, the condemned property at the corner of Fourth and Vine Streets is designated as a CRIZ project and the developer has received conditional approval from the Historic Conservation Commission to demolish the building and erect a seven story structure.  While this project has yet to seek CRIZ financing, it is expected to do so in the next several months. The former Gosztonyi Savings and Trust Building located in the 500 block of East Third Street in South Bethlehem is another CRIZ project that has started moving through the City’s permitting process. This project is expected to be redeveloped as a distillery, enhancing an already rich hospitality experience in South Bethlehem.

LVEDC: What unique aspects do the properties in your CRIZ zone offer potential developers?

Mayor Donchez: Variety. The CRIZ has been designated to a variety of projects in locations through the city. These properties include infill projects in both the North and Southside downtowns, office development in West Bethlehem, retail and restaurant projects along the Third Street corridor and industrial projects in LVIP and Majestic. There is an opportunity for many different kinds of tenants to locate all around the city.

LVEDC: During your administration how do you anticipate continuing to utilize LVEDC to advance economic development?

Mayor Donchez: I look forward to continuing the positive working relationship with LVEDC during my administration. The key to working well together is communication and it is my hope that LVEDC continues to communicate to the city the needs and requests they receive from prospects so we can assist accordingly. Additionally, LVEDC should also continue its good work in marketing the City of Bethlehem to the business community outside of the Lehigh Valley, as well as engaging and cultivating the kind of companies that bring good paying, family sustaining jobs to the City of Bethlehem.

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