Neighborhood Plan completed for the Allentown community
The people have spoken. The plan has been drafted... Now, it's just a matter of time before Allentown enthusiasts find out whether they'll get the support they need to make their vision for the neighborhood come true.
Earlier this year, the Allentown Community Development Corp. (ACDC) joined forces with the Hilltop Alliance to prepare an application for Pennsylvania's Neighborhood Partnership Program, which focuses on revitalizing impoverished or distressed areas by establishing collaborative relationships between businesses, government and community organizations.
In sum, the program gives businesses a tax credit to take root in such sensitive settings, and then uses that credit to fund a grant given to the community, to be reinvested in neighborhood improvements that meet specific goals, such as providing more affordable housing, crime prevention, community outreach, education and job training.
The program, however, is very competitive-and, the application process is a rigorous one. Community organizations asking for consideration must submit a detailed Neighborhood Plans demonstrating the area's needs, assets and challenges alongside explanations of the particular projects and program goals they'd like to achieve.
With this in mind, when the ACDC met in January, it set up a steering committee to revise its existing Neighborhood Plan, which hasn't been updated since 2005. The steering committee has met three times since then, and held two public meetings to solicit community feedback about what should go into Allentown's new plan.
The second public meeting on this matter was held on April 8, at which time the draft was presented to the ACDC for its approval and was unanimously accepted. It was also quite well-received by ACDC board members, some of whom referred to it as "a complete overhaul," and all of whom were eager to have it accompany the program application, which will be submitted in May.
As per Allentown's projects and goals, according to Aaron Sukenik, executive director of the Hilltop Alliance, the application proposes a six-year schedule to achieve, among other things, property stabilization, affordable housing and property acquisition/renovation from unsavory landlords. Dividing the neighborhood into three distinct sections, it takes a strategic, phased approach to improving the area, starting by bolstering Allentown's strengths in struggling locations before tackling its weaknesses in more stable spots.
If the state accepts Allentown into the program, as many as eight to 10 renovations and/or other major improvements are anticipated for the first year alone, and could break ground as early as July 2014.
The prospects of such large-scale revitalization appealed greatly to the ACDC members on hand at the meeting, as evidenced by their various optimistic comments, though they acknowledged Allentown residents, in general, may not necessarily respond the same way.
"Nobody wants to hear, 'We're going to...,'" said ACDC President Tom Smith. "(Allentown residents) have heard it before, and they're tired of it... They want actions, not words."
And action is precisely what the program would bring to Allentown. The Neighborhood Partnership Program, itself, is a proactive program. Implementing it in the area would require the ACDC to establish a committee infrastructure to assess and monitor the needs and progress of each project, which first requires it to examine every property in the area, to determine occupancy, ownership and status.
Is this what it will take to assure Allentowners that change is coming? At least one resident thinks so.
Like Mr. Smith and Mr. Sukenik, Manton Way resident Erin Gruendl believes actions speak louder than words. Ms. Gruendl said she attended the meeting to show her support for the ACDC and her faith in Allentown's potential, which is something she did not have for the past 17 years.
For those 17 years, Ms. Gruendl explained, she felt helplessly and hopelessly trapped in her home because it was adjacent to a distressed property, where the house had burnt down and subsequently had become infested with rodents and other suspect creatures.
But, now, Ms. Gruendl no longer feels trapped. The house in question was demolished, and, when it came down, her spirits and faith in the community were lifted.
"I'm thankful," Ms. Gruendl said, "and, for the first time in a long time, I feel like I'm not fighting a losing battle."
What happened for Ms. Gruendl was not part of the program, nor part of the plan, but, as those at the meeting agreed, it was progress, and it was positive change. Much more progress is expected to come if Allentown is awarded a grant from the program, and Warrington Avenue, in particular, would experience great change, similar to what has happened with Shiloh Street, E. Carson Street and Forbes Avenue over the past 20 years.
Also at the meeting, while looking to its future, the ACDC decided to celebrate its present and past. It recognized long-term members and supporters Helen Baney, Sally Tupi and Amy Averbeck (who was unable to attend the meeting) with Lifetime Achievement Awards. Ms. Baney and Ms. Tupi each said they were deeply touched by the honor and both assured their colleagues that their work was far from done.
In other news, Anabell Kinney announced the Friends of Grandview Park will hold its next meeting at the Mount Washington Community Development Corporation offices, 301 Shiloh St., at 5:30 p.m. on Tues., April 22. The meeting is open to the public. Any and all interested parties are encouraged to attend.