Freeman introduces bills to expand participation in Main Street, CRIZ programs

HARRISBURG, Feb. 26 – State Rep. Bob Freeman, D-Northampton has introduced two bills to help small towns.

The first bill (H.B. 659) would let communities extend their participation in the Main Street Program for up to five years. The second bill (H.B. 660) would make more small cities eligible for the state's City Revitalization and Improvement Zone program.

"Our small towns and cities face many of the same challenges of larger, urban areas, but sometimes they get overlooked," Freeman said. "My legislation would help ensure their success by assisting them with downtown revitalization and stimulating economic development and job creation."

The state's Main Street Program provides grants to help revitalize downtown districts and pay for a full-time Main Street manager who works with local officials and merchants to implement a downtown revitalization plan. Current involvement in the program is limited to five years. Freeman's bill would provide administrative support funding for up to an additional five years with approval by the Department of Community and Economic Development, which funds the program.

"Unfortunately, we have seen in numerous cases that the current five-year time frame to turn around a traditional downtown is too short. A community just begins to see the progress brought on by Main Street initiatives only to see the plug pulled prematurely, often causing the downtown's success to suffer," Freeman said.

"An additional year or two of support can make all the difference. My legislation would provide that to help sustain the revitalization momentum and better ensure success in restoring a traditional downtown into a stable and successful heart of the community."

His other bill would reduce the population eligibility requirement from 30,000 to 20,000 for the City Revitalization and Improvement Zone program, which is designed to stimulate economic development and job creation in the state's smaller cities by leveraging state tax revenue generated within a CRIZ community to attract private investment and foster significant development.

"Several smaller cities have labored to attract economic development to revive their downtowns and spur job growth. This bill would enable more cities to obtain the tools they need to do just that, leveraging needed funding," he said.

Allentown currently is a Neighborhood Improvement Zone-designated community and Bethlehem is a CRIZ-designated community. With a population of 28,000, Easton currently just misses eligibility in CRIZ. Under Freeman's bill, Easton, Hazleton and several other small third-class cities would be able to apply and participate in the CRIZ program.