Friday, March 16, 2007

Downtown revitalization on the upswing

The Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce intends to focus on our three downtowns here in the Valley, as spelled out in today's Morning Call:

"The chamber envisions fewer storefront vacancies, a better mix of businesses, more jobs downtown and increased spending for improvements.
To achieve these goals, the Chamber plans to raise more than $1 million from the state, counties, local governments and companies. It then would distribute the money through grants.

The Chamber's leaders see revitalization of the Valley's cities and boroughs as a moral and economic imperative. ''There is no doubt there is a void when it comes to the urban cores,'' Chamber President Tony Iannelli said. ''They have been left behind.''

Elected officials praise the Chamber for the attention it has paid to the downtowns and for the community-based organization it has created. Lehigh County Executive Don Cunningham was so impressed that he hired Virginia Savage, a former Chamber downtown manager.

''They have taken a very active role in downtown development issues,'' Cunningham said. ''The partnership is logical. There is room for a funding flow that actually ends up saving us dollars.''

Northampton County Executive John Stoffa said he has no immediate plans to give the foundation money. But he supports some of its objectives. He is impressed by the growth of the Chamber, which he said has ''tentacles'' in every town and city.

Two years ago, the Chamber helped Easton land a five-year state Main Street grant. The Chamber also helped orchestrate an ongoing $90,000 state grant to pay the salaries of downtown managers for nine boroughs: Alburtis, Catasauqua, Coopersburg and Macungie in Lehigh County, and Bangor, Bath, Hellertown, North Catasauqua and Wilson in Northampton County."

This comes at a critical time where Bethlehem's Elm Street Improvement program is getting off the ground, and there has been talk of recreating the Downtown Allentown Association.

Please send Tony Ianelli, a note thanking him for taking on this important initiative at

This is good news to talented young people who typically choose to locate primarily in the center of a region. A three-mile circle generally corresponds to the commercial heart and close-in neighborhoods in each metropolitan area. In 2000 they were 33 percent more likely to live in the close-in neighborhoods.

Critical, since two thirds of Americans ages 25 through 34 say they’re deciding first where they want to put down roots, and then looking for a job in that place, according to a report by CEOs for Cities, a national network of urban leaders.

This conflicts with the common misconception that young professionals will go anywhere for a job. Not true. Talented young professionals choose places to live based not solely on productive considerations, but on amenities and consumption opportunities, community, social and family considerations. What many people refer to as "quality of place."

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