Dennis Davin, Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development, joined the Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley (CACLV) and community leaders in the Slate Belt today to announce the department's approval of the first multi-municipal Neighborhood Partnership Program in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The project, called Slate Belt Rising, is expected to invest more than $1 million in four boroughs in northern Northampton County over the next six years.
The boroughs of Portland, Bangor, Pen Argyl, and Wind Gap will jointly plan and implement community revitalization initiatives designed to accomplish a variety of goals that are part of a six-year plan developed by community leaders and citizens last summer. Strategic goals in the plan include creating a more vibrant economic climate, inter-municipal cooperation to improve and expand services and promote the region, strengthening the neighborhoods by improving the housing stock and increasing the rate of homeownership, providing enrichment activities to engage youth and prepare them for a productive adulthood and sustaining the organization with adequate financial resources. Through these efforts, the group expects to reduce the rates of crime, poverty, unemployment, and commercial and residential vacancies in the region.
During the first year, the program will focus its efforts in the Bangor business district. Specific projects will include two commercial façade improvements, four new business signs, and the installation of eight flower planters. The Portland business district will be improved during the project's second year. The program will also organize community building events, plant street trees, and fund youth development programs benefiting residents in all four boroughs. In addition, CACLV has committed to expanding its existing small business development and homeownership programs, weatherizing homes, and rehabilitating owner-occupied homes in the Slate Belt.
The event was held at Bangor Trust Brewing, a start-up brewery in Bangor's commercial business district that was financed, in part, by CACLV's small business lending subsidiary.
Two corporate sponsors, Waste Management and Merchants Bank of Bangor, have each committed $50,000 per year to Slate Belt Rising for a total of six years. In addition, ESSA Bank & Trust has committed $25,000 for the six-year campaign and Lafayette Ambassador Bank has committed a total of $25,000 over four years. In addition, Northampton County Executive John
Brown committed $20,000 in federal Community Development Block Grant funds that come through the county and $50,000 from the county's Community Investment Partnership Program in the first year of the campaign.
In addition to Secretary Davin, speakers at the event included Slate Belt Rising Steering Committee Chair Mike Ortoski, Northampton County Executive John Brown, Pen Argyl Borough Manager Robin Zmoda, Waste Management Communications Manager John Hambrose, Merchants Bank of Bangor CEO Rocco del Vecchio, ESSA CEO Gary Olson and Lafayette Ambassador Bank Senior Vice President Peter Snik.
Alan Jennings, Executive Director of the Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley, which is the nonprofit sponsor of the project, committed to quick, visibly impactful implementation of the physical enhancements, saying, "Many Americans are skeptical about government and nonprofits' ability to deliver quality work on the country's Main Streets and Elm Streets. We know that. But we are committed to surprising the people of the Slate Belt who have been overlooked long enough," adding that CACLV is eager to sign Slate Belt residents up for the agency's many services.
He then introduced the newly-hired director of Slate Belt Rising, Stephen Reider. Reider is Field Representative for Pennsylvania Senator Mario Scavello. Reider expressed his excitement to be in his new role. "Having grown up in Roseto, I am downright honored by the opportunity to make the kind of difference I fully expect to make in this position. Every single resident of these boroughs is basically a neighbor. And in the Slate Belt we watch out for our neighbors."
The Neighborhood Partnership Program is a tax credit offered through the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development. In late December 2016, the commonwealth announced that $17.8 million in tax credits would be awarded to support 114 community investments through the umbrella Neighborhood Assistance Program. Slate Belt Rising is CACLV's sixth Neighborhood Partnership Program following two in Allentown, two in Bethlehem, and one in Easton. It is also the first multi-municipal Neighborhood Partnership Program in the commonwealth and the first to focus on the revitalization of boroughs.