HAZLETON — With a new $30 million street project nearly complete, the ongoing rehab of historic buildings and the opening of more new businesses in downtown Hazleton last year, many people thought it was the perfect time to capitalize on the progress and take action to keep the revitalization going.
And that’s what a new public-private partnership aims to do. The Downtown Hazleton Alliance for Progress was recently formed and the board has set a goal of raising $1 million in the next five years to develop a plan and put it in motion.
Talking about the idea actually began more than a year ago, said Krista Schneider, a founding board member of the alliance who was recently hired as executive director. The alliance is based out of the Greater Hazleton Chamber of Commerce.
Schneider pointed to the announcement in November 2012 that developer George F. Hayden would partner with DBi Services Inc., a Hazleton-based maintenance, operations and management company, on a $20 million project to renovate the Traders Bank building at Broad and Wyoming streets and the Hazleton National Bank building at Laurel and Broad streets.
DBi plans to relocate 120 employees from its corporate offices in Hazleton Heights to the Traders Bank building once renovations are complete and make the building its world headquarters, but will keep offices at its current building, where 200 employees work.
Hayden Towers — the former Markle Building — at Broad and Wyoming streets was renovated several years ago and “has been quite a success,” Schneider said.
Add to that new family-owned businesses opening and the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation’s Hazleton Betterment Project (also known as the Broad Street Corridor Project) due to be complete this summer, “there was a consensus among downtown business owners, officials with the city, the Chamber and CAN DO (Greater Hazleton’s economic development organization) that something needs to be done to capitalize on this opportunity and use it as a catalyst to attract business,” Schneider said.
So Mayor Joe Yannuzzi hosted a workshop with a downtown revitalization expert, and the stakeholders and people with downtown interests were invited.
“The consensus that came out of that was that we needed a plan and have some sort of official organization,” Schneider said.
A board was formed consisting of representatives of the city, the Chamber, CAN DO, the CAN DO Community Foundation, DHD III — the partnership between the Haydens and the DeAngelos (the family that owns DBi services), downtown business owners and the Latino community. Tampa Bay Rays coach and Hazleton native Joe Maddon is an honorary member.
“We joined forces and things have really taken off since then,” Schneider said, stressing that the initiative is a “public/private partnership,” the kind that worked best for downtown revitalization in other cities.
Board President Neal DeAngelo III announced Schneider was selected as executive director just last week. DeAngelo credited Schneider with an extensive and impressive work history.
Gary Lamont, chairman of the Can DO Community Foundation and head of the board’s review committee, said the board was grateful to Jack Welch, former chairman of GE, for providing advice on how to find the best candidates for the position. In addition to her education, technical expertise and experience in planning and development, Lamont said “her energy and ability too energize others” are among the qualities that made her the best candidate.
Schneider spent the last seven years as a project manager for Barry Isett & Associates, where she developed a grant assistance program to help municipal clients and nonprofits in the Hazleton area procure funding for various projects. She helped clients gain more than $6 million in grant funding over the last five years.
And Schneider expects to use that experience and expertise to help the alliance reach its goal of raising $1 million over the next six years to provide seed money needed to fund a strategic downtown revitalization plan, as well as operating and project expenses for the following five years.
That would enable Hazleton to implement the plan’s recommendations, become a certified Pennsylvania “Main Street” Community and apply for and administer economic incentive programs for downtown reinvestment and development.
The alliance is now seeking requests for proposals for a consultant to conduct an economic development and planning study. The RFPs were released on Jan. 15 and interested firms have until Wednesday to submit a proposal, the same day on which there will be a pre-proposal meeting of all proposal submitters.
“We’re trying to move quickly,” Schneider said.