Thursday, May 15, 2014

Molovinsky Scoops the Food Desert

In a great post today, Molovinsky has scooped the fact that downtown Allentown's food desert may be coming to an end.  While I can't provide any independent verification of this fact, if true, it is absolutely great news for the neighborhood.


Existential Suburban Supermarket
As many readers know, I am often deeply at odds with the way in which Molovinsky try's to achieve his policy goals, but, you can never doubt his conviction that Allentown government policy ought to serve the working class and that is where his concern for the market arises from.

There might be no greater example of the fact that urban areas are going through a renaissance than the fact that food markets are once again opening up in them.  It is one of the saddest and most shameful moments in the middle-class flight to the 'burbs that the basic institutions of life were drawn out of cities.  These included things like grocers, clothing stores, hardware shops and all the rest of it.  But, the worst, from a human point of view was the loss of places to buy quality foods.

The result are vast areas of urban America that are only served by fast food restaurants and (possibly) bodegas that sell the worst kind of processed food crap.  Buying a head of lettuce might require several hours on a bus with multiple changes.  Before anyone moralizes about this fact, ask yourself, when was the last time I put in three hours of effort for a salad?
Old Time Downtown Market


One of the best things about living in a city is that you don not need a car to accomplish the daily things of life.  In fact, a lot of urban designers define cities by this metric:  can you reasonably (about 10 minutes) walk or ride a bike to the daily activities of life.  If the answer is no, you may have density but still lack a functioning city.  The opening of this market in Allentown and the Bethlehem Food Cooperative in Bethlehem show that middle class folks are once again focusing their attention into the downtowns.  They want actual workable cities---not just density.

Finally, one last observation.  What brought this supermarket into the downtown?  It was the NIZ.  Molovinsky claims that the rite aid used to serve the purpose of a market, that is ludicrous.  I have worked downtown for many years and knew that Rite aid well.  There were bags of candy and sports drink---not much else. THE NIZ, with its thousands of well payed workers are the ones with the money to create a demand for a market.  Money begets money and what Allentown has needed for a long time is a critical density of wealth to spur more and more development.  The NIZ has kick started that sort of development.  And this market is a great indication of how the government's investment is helping the little guy.

11 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  2. Mr. Molovinsky did not claim that the Rite Aid served as a market. He was asserting that in fact, the building was being re-purposed.

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  3. publius, although we share the notion that quality supermarkets are necessary for urban quality of life, the new urban food market did NOT result from the NIZ. this supermarket chain is from new jersey, and specializes in stores which serve the demographic which we think of as "minorities". as we both know, the NIZ is actually a business gentrification program, which hopes also to attract some middle class living back to center city,

    ms. mary, over the years rite-aid switched back and forth between a location on hamilton street and the former sears building on 7th. i had previously said that when the businesses on hamilton street were vacated for the arena construction, residents lost essential services. however, i never inferred that rite-aid sold food.

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    1. Will the market be within the NIZ and therefore subject to much lower rent? If it is, then I think that you have to give some credit to the NIZ.

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    2. no, this market will not be in the NIZ. it's in the 600 block, 7 blocks beyond the district. it's truly market driven.

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    3. Molovinski 1
      Publius 0

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    4. @Anonymous. I still isn't that easy to say what the causation of this market is. One of the points of this article is that middle class people (and their money) lost consciousness of cities during the era of "white flight." The fact of the matter is that the first step to revitalizing a downtown is having people acknowledge that the downtown exists and is a potential market. That is exactly what the NIZ is doing, it is refocusing attention downtown. I don't think that it is a coincidence that this market is coming to town almost simultaneous with the downtown development.

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  4. What is often overlooked is the project's (NIZ) value to statewide taxpayers who are funding a huge chuck of all the new buildings. If these buildings do not create state tax revenues that WOULD NOT OTHERWISE be coming to the state, the true value of these schemes is diminished. Ideally, new businesses would move in from other states, not from a neighboring PA community. Much the same, if a 'new' job is created, but is filled by someone who already has a job in PA, what is the actual gain to state coffers?

    There is NO question Allentown will LOOK better and more healthy, but at what cost to everyone else in the state? An enormous amount of money is being extracted from regular state revenues. That void WILL be made-up, unfortunately the NIZ bricks and morter might not be the way to recovery of these funds.

    Fred Windish

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    1. As you may know, nearly all of the revenue that the state "lost" because of the NIZ has been repaid because of the new economic development. Said another way, the state has broken even on the tax loss since the new economic vitality means more tax dollars to state coffers. There was an MCall article about this about a month ago. I'll post more on this next week. Keep reading :)

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    2. "nearly"..by about how many million? State has broken even? How do you figure? Let's say that the "zone" was pulling in 10 million in year prior to development. Year 1, you're 10 million in the hole. Add to that the 200 million "borrowed" to pay for just the arena. Day one, you're 210 million in the hole. OK, I know, spread that over 30 years and it doesn't seem so bad. But, add in the interest to be paid on the "borrowed" money. The "zone", to break even, would have to be bringing in that $10 million, plus another $10 million per year, to break even. EVERY year, from year one, for 30 years! And, don't forget that the arena went from being a taxable property to now non-taxable (still "iffy" on how they'll figure out the attached hotel portion), so there's that lost revenue as well.

      Then, as for the state, don't forget that those jobs from Boyertown, whose taxes used to be paid to the state, now, to be fair, have to be counted, since they won't be going to the state any longer.

      Sorry, the numbers just don't add up.

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  5. We'll see, I suppose. Again, unless the tax dollars are dollars that would not be coming to the state anyway, are of an amount too small to justify an 'investment' of nearly a billion dollars, then I'll continue to question the prudence of all of this. I don't really consider the Morning Call to be a reliable source of information anymore, by the way.

    I'll read her for a while, I'm sure.

    Fred Windish

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