Program expands to remain competitive
The first reading of a bill that would renew and expand the Local Economic Revitalization Tax Assistance (LERTA) program was completed at the Sept. 19 Bethlehem City Council meeting.
The LERTA program allows companies to forgo paying property tax in the first year of new construction and then pay 10 percent more each year until they return to paying full property tax after a decade.
Joseph Kelly, Bethlehem's director of community and economic develop, said the LERTA program is being expanded to help compete with some of the other communities, such as Allentown and Emmaus, that have expanded their development efforts in recent years.
"As successful as we have been, we need to continue to be aggressive in the incentives that we offer to get the redevelopment that we want in the downtown and to redevelop the old Steel property," Kelly said.
Kelly said that from 1984 to 2006 about 3,900 acres were redeveloped in Bethlehem under the LERTA program, but between 2007 and 2010 the area was reduced to 1,450 acres, primarily along the old Bethlehem Steel site.
LERTA is looking to expand along the eastern gateway of the city, which would include Daly Avenue, Lynn Avenue, Fifth Street and Edward Street. Third and Fourth streets from Hayes Street to the business district, as well as Wyandotte Street would be part of the expansion on the western side.
"I've always been a strong supporter of LERTA, I think it's a very important program, probably more important now than ever simply because of all of the competition from neighboring communities," Councilman Robert Donchez said.
Several developers aided by LERTA in the past voiced their support of the program.
"I'm pleased to state that with the help of LERTA that there has been $192 million worth of investment in LVIP 7 in these last eight years," said Lehigh Valley Industrial Park President Kerry Wrobel, whose company bought 1,000 acres of the old Bethlehem Steel site in 2004. "Two thousand employees now work on what used to be foul and vacant land. We have 11 companies, everything from the second largest retailer of cigars to refrigerator warehouse on the LVIP property."
Petrucci Development manager Thomas Shaughnessy said that LERTA was a major incentive for businesses to choose Bethlehem over other nearby sites.
"It's a very important program as municipalities compete for economic development, investment and jobs," Shaughnessy said.
Under the new bill, LERTA would need to be renewed every five years instead of two years as it has in the past.