Is more than $85M in economic development headed to Lehigh County?

By - Last modified: December 6, 2013 at 11:26 AM

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CONTRIBUTED PHOTO
The former Dent Hardware complex in Whitehall is a group of industrial buildings eyed for redevelopment as part of an inter-municipal City Revitalization and Investment Pilot Zone.
CONTRIBUTED PHOTO The former Dent Hardware complex in Whitehall is a group of industrial buildings eyed for redevelopment as part of an inter-municipal City Revitalization and Investment Pilot Zone.

A plan is in the works to provide a township and two small boroughs with an economic impact that exceeds $85 million.

The Whitehall Catasauqua Coplay City Revitalization and Improvement Zone Committee recently met to review the application it submitted to the state for the Pilot Zone designation through the CRIZ Program.

The inter-municipal plan would create an economic development zone for abandoned and underused sites similar to the Neighborhood Improvement Zone in Allentown. The CRIZ allows certain state and local taxes generated by businesses in the zone to be used to finance construction and development of these projects.

Pennsylvania Act 52, signed into law on July 9, authorized the creation of two city zones and one pilot zone for townships and boroughs.

The committee submitted the plan to the state by the Nov. 30 deadline; the state has within 90 days to decide which municipalities receive the designation.

"Rumor has it that they are going to answer by Dec. 15," said Howard Lieberman, executive director of the Whitehall Township Industrial and Commercial Development Authority. "I'm expecting realistically, by the end of January."

The CRIZ application is the same as the one Reading and Bethlehem applied for, but this is an inter-municipal concept and not one for third-class cities, Lieberman said.

Lieberman said the application included six parcels totaling 130 acres of land with an anticipated economic impact that exceeds $85 million. The properties included in the application are the former General Supply property in Coplay, the FL Smidth site in Catasauqua and, in Whitehall, the MacArthur Road South study area that includes the former Lehigh Valley Dairy and the properties on the Sixth Street extension, the Dent Hardware property on Fullerton Avenue, the former Thomas Iron Works property and two parcels on the Lehigh River near the Allentown border.

The goal is to create more commercial/retail development for these properties, Lieberman said. The CRIZ works best with businesses that generate sales tax and corporate net income tax.

"The biggest tax revenue is sales tax at 6 percent," Lieberman said. "Retail is better than manufacturing."

POTENTIAL REUSES

Plans for the FL Smidth property could include an indoor sports facility, medical testing labs and bank/financial institution, Lieberman said. For the former General Supply property in Coplay, plans could include more recreational business, such as a bike rental shop.

The former Lehigh Valley Dairy site could be for a hotel/conference center, and the properties along the river could become environmental labs and possibly a technology business incubator in conjunction with local colleges.

If the state does not accept the CRIZ plan, the committee will explore other avenues to redevelop these properties, Lieberman said.

"We're going to need to come up with other incentives that will afford us the same benefit," he said. "There's no question that these are large properties and major facilities [that would create] economic stability."

A CRIZ zone would bring new jobs, businesses and tax revenues that are lacking in Whitehall Township and the two boroughs.

"We're trying not to bulldoze greenfields," Lieberman said.

CHAMBER SUPPORTS THE BID

The committee has been working since July to create the application and economic development plan. The group included representatives from each of the three municipalities, Lehigh County, the Joint Planning Commission, the area's three state legislators, Whitehall Township commissioners, the Whitehall Coplay School District and community members, as well as board members from the Whitehall Township Industrial and Commercial Development Authority.

The Whitehall Area Chamber of Commerce is very supportive of the Whitehall CRIZ, said Laura Long, chamber executive. She serves on the board of directors for the township's industrial and commercial development authority.

"The big point of this is, with us applying for it, [CRIZ application] was the fact that it was an inter-municipal approach which is very, very unique," Long said. "I don't know of any other inter-municipal approach that happened to apply for it.

"We are fully behind it and are looking forward to hearing if we did make it to be a pilot zone in this area."

To highlight the architectural beauty of the buildings, Lieberman said, the CRIZ committee will sponsor a photo contest in the spring that will showcase the FL Smidth, Dent Hardware and Lehigh Valley Dairy properties. The contest would be open to amateur photographers.

Also, the Coplay property will be the focus of a marketing project this summer through the Pennsylvania School for Global Entrepreneurship.

Brian Pedersen

Brian Pedersen

Reporter Brian Pedersen covers construction, development, warehousing and real estate and keeps you up to date on the changing landscape of our community. He can be reached at brianp@lvb.com or 610-807-9619, ext. 108. Follow him on Twitter @BrianLehigh and read his blog, “Can You Dig It,” at http://www.lvb.com/section/can-you-dig-it. Brian also has a strong interest in health and fitness. He works part-time as a personal trainer at Steel Fitness Riverport in Bethlehem and earned his personal fitness trainer certification from World Instructor Training Schools. He loves to run and will be competing in his first half-marathon on Nov. 23 to raise funds for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

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