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Plans to transform D&L Trail in Lehigh Valley compared to San Antonio River Walk

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Becky Bradley, executive director, Lehigh Valley Planning Commission, speaks at the site of The Waterfront project adjacent to the D&L Trail.
Becky Bradley, executive director, Lehigh Valley Planning Commission, speaks at the site of The Waterfront project adjacent to the D&L Trail. - (Photo / )

About 20 public and private organizations are examining ways to transform seven miles of the Delaware & Lehigh Trail that runs through the Lehigh Valley into a multi-use corridor that combines vibrant recreational, entertainment and natural resources.

Officials said the plan could eventually be applied to the entire length of the historic D&L Trail, known as the Delaware & Lehigh National Heritage Corridor, a 165-mile pathway along the Delaware and Lehigh rivers that carried anthracite coal and iron from Wilkes-Barre to Bristol, Bucks County, in the 1800s and helped start the Industrial Revolution.

Becky Bradley, executive director of the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission, the lead organization on the project, spoke about the plan Friday at The Waterfront, the $350 million office and apartment complex under development next to a section of the D&L Trail along the Lehigh River in Allentown.

Bradley was among about a dozen state and local officials who spoke at the press conference about the importance of closing gaps in the D&L Trail, such as the one in Lehigh and Northampton counties, and its value in heritage tourism and economic development.

Bradley compared the corridor’s potential to the San Antonio River Walk, a multi-use entertainment and recreational corridor built along a former drainage channel, and Atlanta’s BeltLine, a former railroad line being developed for multiple commercial and recreational uses.

“We envision that this will become the Lehigh Valley’s version of the San Antonio River Walk; creating over $100 million in new opportunities and providing a seamless walking and biking commuter and recreational corridor,” Bradley said.

Bradley announced the LVPC and an array of more than 20 public, private and nonprofit partners applied for a $25 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Discretionary program to connect Riverside Drive, a new 3.5-mile street and hiking/biking corridor under construction, from Allentown to Whitehall Township.

$10M PLEDGE

Jaindl Enterprises, the Allentown-based company developing the 26-acre Waterfront, has pledged $10 million toward the cost of the corridor, known as the Riverside Drive Multimodal Revitalization Corridor project.

Jaindl is building a portion of Riverside Drive, a former rail line the company bought from R.J. Corman Railroad, to reduce congestion on Front Street and provide better access to The Waterfront development and Lehigh River.

Bradley noted the trail’s evolution as a transportation corridor from canal to railroad and finally to road, which runs through one of the poorest areas of Lehigh County.

“It’s not just a trail project, it’s an infrastructure project,” she said.

SEEKING 1M ANNUAL VISITORS

Elissa Garofalo, executive director of the D&L National Heritage Corridor, said the trail is not only a recreational amenity with historic heritage, it is an environmental, health and economic asset to the community.

Garofalo said the economic benefits grow when day trippers to the trail become overnight tourists.

One of the goals was to double the more than 500,000 visitors who use the trail every year.

HELP FROM PENN

Although a portion of the D&L Trail wends through Lehigh and Northampton counties, the organizations will initially concentrate on the seven miles that extend from the Nor-Bath Trail in Northampton Borough to the Hamilton Street Bridge in Allentown.

The LVPC is enlisting the help of PennPraxis, a nonprofit at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Design, to research and design the section.

Bradley said it was critical that the multi-use corridor would “evolve and change with the character of the trail” because some parts of it are in areas of intense development and others are in more pristine, wooded areas.

‘SECRET SAUCE’

The development of the D&L Trail into a multi-use corridor has the backing of Zachary Jaindl, chief operating officer of Jaindl Enterprises.

Even though the company is redeveloping The Waterfront, a brownfield where nine dilapidated warehouses and other buildings once stood, that will have 12 new buildings, including five office towers and four luxury apartment buildings, “If you build it, it doesn’t mean they will come,” Jaindl said.

Recreational programming is the “secret sauce” that attracts businesses, workers and residents to live and work in an area, he said.

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