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The LVEDC Interview: Sara Hailstone

By LVEDC Staff on November 19, 2013

Editor’s Note: The transformation of downtown Allentown through the Neighborhood Improvement Zone has attracted a litany of headlines. But the city’s rebirth has been a long time in coming, according to Sara Hailstone, the city’s director of community and economic development. And to be sure, the city economic ascension isn’t a one-trick pony. Hailstone notes the other initiatives that are spurring revitalization in this week’s probing LVEDC interview.

Work on the PPL Arena continues. The facility is set to open in October 2014.

Work on the PPL Arena continues. The facility is set to open in September 2014.

LVEDC: There is so much economic development activity going on in Allentown, but let’s take a step back and please tell us how the groundwork for this was laid and what were the city investments that had to be made to get this juggernaut up and running?

Sara Hailstone: When I began my role as Allentown’s director of community and economic development three years ago, Mayor Pawlowski asked me to focus on the ongoing revitalization of the city. What I quickly realized was that Allentown had numerous staff and organizations working on economic development, but needed better collaboration. We recognized that we needed to combine all of our efforts – that we are stronger together – and now we have a united strategy to spur development within the city, whether it’s downtown, at the waterfront, on 19th Street or on S.10th Street.

LVEDC: Everybody talks about the NIZ and downtown, but what are the other initiatives underway that will revitalize the entire city?

SH: The NIZ projects do tend to grab the headlines, but the NIZ is just one of many initiatives designed to revitalize the city. For instance, we have a citywide re-industrialization strategy. Under that initiative we recently acquired the Allentown Metal Works and are investing in that property to make it usable. We’re also using a half-million-dollar HUD grant to develop a strategy to strengthen Allentown’s industrial employment base overall.

The city is also focused on revitalization through beautification, such as streetscaping and façade improvements. We’ve committed an initial $50,000 to complete façade improvements along 19th Street from Liberty Street to Tilghman Street, and that initiative is part of a $3 million-plus investment from the city, the state and private support. This year we also launched a public-private partnership to renew the appearance of the 1000 and 1100 blocks of Hamilton Street. Our hope is to ignite further investment in Allentown by enhancing our streets and storefronts.

LVEDC: Tell us about the downtown: when will see the first structure completed – and the first event held at the new arena?

SH: The arena and the attached hotel are scheduled to open in September 2014 in conjunction with the regular American Hockey League season. The adjacent office and retail towers One and Two City Center will open in the spring of 2014.

LVEDC: Let’s give a shout-out to the major players here – the ones who are putting up their own money in an effort to improve the city and bring in new jobs and businesses. Who is included on this list – and what are the projects they undertaking?

When you list Allentown’s major players, you have to start with PPL. For a Fortune 500 company to expand its business here years ago and continue that commitment to downtown Allentown today – that kind of affirmation of our city is priceless. The Butz family and its company Alvin H. Butz was also an early supporter of the downtown. They were talking about phase two of their corporate center before the announcement of the new arena was made.

Rob and Jim Brooks, co-owners of the Phantoms hockey team, understand our vision for the downtown and agree that the arena will be successful in an urban environment. City Center Lehigh Valley is taking a huge risk to help Allentown transform into a truly urban environment by backing additional uses on the arena block – the office tower and the hotel – and helping make the downtown dynamic with office, residential and retail space as well as historic restorations.

Other investors and developers like Charles Street Capital and Think Loud and major companies like Lehigh Valley Health Network, National Penn and Air Products have all made significant commitments to Allentown and will bring jobs to the city.

LVEDC: In addition to the NIZ, what other perks do you have at your disposal to bring in new business, jobs and development? And please, in 25 words or less, explain how the NIZ operates!

SH: We have a broad range of state and city incentives from EPA funds for brownfield revitalization to the Keystone Opportunity Zone to the City Community Development Block Grant Program – not to mention we offer businesses the opportunity to be part of the fastest growing municipality in Pennsylvania.

Twenty-five words to describe the NIZ is a tall order, but I’ll try: The NIZ is land downtown and along the river where property owners use certain state and local tax revenues to cover construction in the zone.

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