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Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation eyes Slate Belt for future growth

Published On: Jan 30 2013 04:36:47 PM EST   Updated On: Jan 23 2013 09:14:10 AM EST

The old Bangor Trust building was left for dead after being vacated 20 years ago.

Following its abandonment, the historic building that had served as a downtown anchor at 11-15 Broadway for nearly a century was deteriorating rapidly and in danger of eventually being torn down, until investor Todd Miller came to rescue about five years ago.

The 16,000-square-foot building is now undergoing major renovations and houses a café and cheerleading program on its first floor, with plans in the works to create 12 two-bedroom apartments on its upper floors thanks in part to a $490,000 grant-to-loan awarded by the Northampton County government with funds from the state.

Miller said this old downtown anchor is well on its way to becoming an anchor once again.

It’s this type of success story the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation (LVEDC) is looking to help continually repeat in the Slate Belt area.

The LVEDC discussed ways to promote future economic development in northern Northampton County’s Slate Belt area during a special business forum Tuesday evening at the Bangor Event Theater.

LVEDC President/CEO Don Cunningham said the most important steps in promoting economic growth is to first decide where the growth should occur, and then to actively market these areas of the Slate Belt, which includes the municipalities of Bangor, East Bangor, Lower Mt. Bethel, Pen Argyl, Plainfield, Portland, Roseto, Upper Mt. Bethel, Washington and Wind Gap.

“Without marketing, it’s like the tree that falls in the forest that no one hears,” Cunningham said.

Alicia Miller Karner, Northampton County’s Economic Development Administrator, said an emphasis is being placed on promoting redevelopment within the boroughs, which often have a more difficult time than cities in bringing in new business.

Karner said the Bangor Trust redevelopment is the type of project the Northampton County Department of Community and Economic Development is looking to promote with future grant-to-loan awards.

Sharon Davis, bough business revitalization coordinator for the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce, said projects such as the Bangor Trust redevelopment in borough centers are “catering to new urban pioneers who want to live downtown.” Such projects bring in young people and empty nesters who seek amenities close-by. “In a project like Bangor Trust, businesses are going to have built-in customers with residents living on top.”

Davis noted the importance of promoting the boroughs’ architectural, historical and cultural heritages. Programs such as façade and streetscape improvement grants, she said, help to make these boroughs’ downtowns more attractive for economic development.

While promoting growth in borough centers is a big aspect of future economic development in the Slate Belt, officials also noted the importance of promoting industrial-type development in areas such as the Route 80 and Route 33 corridors.

One such example is the Portland Industrial Park, located in both Portland Borough and Upper Mt. Bethel Township.

The park, located off Route 611, received major subdivision approval from the Upper Mt. Bethel Board of Supervisors in November. The project, which previously received subdivision approval from Portland, calls for developing six lots on more than 40 acres.

In a presentation during Tuesday’s forum, Merchants Bank CEO Anthony Biondi discussed what he calls the four “A’s” of attracting new business.

He said the Slate Belt is doing well in three of the “A’s”: approved industrial space that represents 30% of the county’s inventory; accessibility to highways such as Routes 80 and 33; and affordability of living and doing business.

Biondi said work is needed to improve the fourth “A”: accommodating.

“We must do better to accommodate. When a business has interest in the Slate Belt, we need to do everything we can to keep them in Slate Belt,” Biondi said.