Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and Chief of Police Nate Harper joined with the Allentown Community Development Corp. in announcing and celebrating the completion of the latest phase of the Allentown Business District Safety Initiative.
“It’s an exciting day in this community. It’s always exciting when you have the opportunity to come and talk about some success and what we’ve been able to do,” Mayor Ravenstahl began. “As the mayor, my top priority is to make sure we have a safe city.”
The safety initiative, a project of the Allentown CDC in cooperation with the Mount Washington Community Development Corp. (MWCDC), was first outlined in a 2010 East Warrington Avenue Safety Plan developed by the MWCDC. The plan illustrated vulnerabilities within the business district that were likely to encourage crime.
Overwhelmingly, the assessment in the safety plan pointed to the need in the neighborhood business district for improved lighting and the addition or upgrading of surveillance equipment. In addition, it also identified “dim lit” spaces between buildings as opportunities for crime to occur.
The MWCDC was able to attract several businesses willing to participate in the state’s Neighborhood Assistance Program, a tax credit program where businesses make contributions in exchange for tax credit. Allentown businesses willing to participate in the safety initiative were then able to get reimbursed for a portion of their improvements.
Community Development Consultant Greg Panza visited businesses along Warrington Avenue and was able to attract 17 businesses willing to participate in the program. The majority of businesses choose to add or upgrade lighting, several also added surveillance cameras.
Arlington native Joe Calloway and his company RE360 recently purchased several properties in the business corridor and participated in the program.
“It was an encouraging experience to work with the community group,” he said.
Mr. Calloway noted Allentown was “right in the middle of two great neighborhoods” and that he was excited to invest in the community saying he thought it would be an “extremely profitable area.”
“Allentown is going to be a leader in in the city,” he added.
“We don’t want to see crime going up,” he said. “We are here to help support this community and we will be here ‘til the end.”
Mayor Ravenstahl noted for the sixth consecutive year the crime rate in the city has dropped, down 25 percent since 2006.
He credited a three-prong approach to public safety:
Investing in technology, equipment and training to give the police officers the tools they need to fight crime such as mobile data terminals. Now officers can share information, file reports and even write tickets from their cars.
Community oriented policing tools such as working with the various community groups. “The police are only as good as the community allows us to be, by sharing information and giving us the tips to where the bad guys are,” he said. “That partnership is really important and allows us to drive down the crime rate.”
The third prong was creating economic development opportunities and implementing blight reduction strategies. The city and the URA working hand in hand to make sure every neighborhood has an opportunity thrive,” he said.
“We’re only going to be successful in having a third renaissance if it expands beyond downtown into the neighborhoods.
“Downtown is great, but neighborhoods like this need a renaissance, too.”
The mayor mentioned the Pittsburgh Neighborhood Renaissance Fund established from the city’s proceeds of URA property downtown to PNC.
Recently it was announced several Hilltop neighborhoods would benefit from the first round of grants from the fund. Among them, Allentown and Beltzhoover will develop a neighborhood housing strategy plan for blight and foreclosure mitigation through an award to the Hilltop Alliance to start an in-depth housing study to understand preservation, stabilization and development initiatives.