2015-02-17 Work Session Minutes

MINUTES
HAZLETON CITY COUNCIL
WORK SESSION
TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 17, 2015

Council met for a work session on Tuesday, February 17, 2015 in Council Chambers. The work session began at 6:00 p.m.

In attendance were Council President Jack Mundie, and Council Members Keith Bast, Jeff Cusat and David Sosar. Council Member Jean Mope was absent.

Kristen Schneider, Executive Director, Downtown Hazleton Alliance for Progress gave a summary of the anticipated revitalization projects they will be doing. She stated the process started in May of 2014. They applied and were approved for a DCED Planning Grant with a match from the City. They held an open house and various workshops to see what the public wanted. They looked at the demographic data within a 10-mile radius of the City. Schneider said 40% of Hazleton’s jobs are in downtown Hazleton. They will be using the “Main Street model” for the project, and they will be building upon other projects in downtown Hazleton. There is a “priority improvement area,” which is in the process of being developed. Schneider said the purchased the former Security Savings building in December and they will be turning it into a City Arts Center. The Hazleton Art League will be moving there. There will also be a kitchen incubator for entrepreneurs to use to open a restaurant. She noted there was a lack of space in Hazleton for outdoor social gatherings, and recommended adding a City park on Broad and Laurel Streets. Schneider said that Penn State University is interested in opening a campus in downtown Hazleton. This is why she feels it is important to have young people in the downtown area. She stated that they are focusing on improvements in the block between Laurel and Wyoming Streets, and they are looking to recruit retail businesses. She stated that they are working on creating a database of City properties for sale and for rent. There is a 12% vacancy rate within the core of Hazleton. If this is filled, there will be potential tax revenue of $880,000. Schneider said her consultant stated apartments are needed in the downtown area. They plan on creating a Parking Advisory Committee, and they are looking into shared parking within the private lots. Mundie asked if a parking study was done. Schneider responded yes. It was done in August of 2014 by Alfred Benesch & Company. She said that the park at Broad and Laurel Streets will be a “pedestrian connector.” They will be working with the local media in order to create a positive image of downtown Hazleton. Schneider said they would like to market this project toward more “mom and pop stores,” and they would also like to have an arts and education district. She said there is a large multicultural business district in downtown Hazleton. Schneider said they will be promoting the history and heritage of the area, and they are working on establishing a visitor’s center. She stated that they feel Harman Geist Stadium is an underutilized resource. The mural program is popular throughout the country, and this would be something else to look into. She feels this project will improve cleanliness and deter crime in the downtown area. The anticipate attaining volunteers from the Job Corps Security Program. Schneider said they are currently in the process of becoming a certified Main Street community.  Mundie asked what that designation would do for the City. Schneider responded that they will need to do a Strategic Plan, which will give them the strategies they need to follow. This designation would open up more grant and tax credit programs. In order to obtain this designation, they will need such things as an anchor building, various improvements, etc., and they need to meet state standards. She said they have already applied for some grants. Sosar said that a lot of work has already gone into this project. He suggested she look into Holyoke, Massachusetts, because they are similar to Hazleton in many ways, such as a resurgence of immigration, etc. Schneider said she would look into it.

Mundie adjourned the work session at 6:40 p.m.  

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