Now that boom has turned to blight, a plan is in the works to redevelop the area into a commercial and entertainment hub in the borough.

By: Dan Roman

A rusting rail yard and buildings scarred by neglect are part of the legacy of the once booming industrial area of Hamburg.

Now that boom has turned to blight, a plan is in the works to redevelop the area into a commercial and entertainment hub in the borough.

The Second Street Redevelopment Plan is a joint effort by the borough's Planning Commission and the Berks County Redevelopment Authority (BCRA).

One of the first steps in the redevelopment effort required an official designation from the state for the blighted area.

The planning commission recently accepted its certification of blight for the area between the Schuylkill River and Peach Alley to the east and between Island Street to the north and Route 61 to the south.

Under state law, a blighted area is eligible for state and federal grants that it otherwise wouldn't be able to receive.

"You can't ask for money to fix Beverly Hills," John Leonforte, code administrator, said. "You have to have that designation."

But Leonforte said that not every property within the area has to be in a state of disrepair.

In fact, in order to qualify, an area only has to meet one of seven conditions laid out by the state's Urban Redevelopment Law.

Some of the criteria used to determine whether an area is blighted include unsafe or unhealthy buildings, inadequate planning, faulty street layout, and economically or socially undesirable land use.

A study of the area found that only 18 of the 175 properties in the blighted area are beyond repair and another 26 are in need of major repairs. The majority, 111 of the properties, are in need of minor repairs.

The blighted area is made up of industrial, commercial, and residential properties.

Leonforte said the county approached the borough more than six months ago to start the process.

"The county has been watching the revitalization efforts of older boroughs," Ken Pick, community development director and executive director of the BCRA, said.

Pick said Hamburg is the second borough the county is helping with the process.

The first such project in West Reading has already completed some revitalization projects in their blighted area.

West Reading has already undergone a streetscape project similar to one taking place in Hamburg.

Both West Reading and Hamburg are farther along in revitalization efforts and have, therefore, attracted the county's attention, Pick said.

In addition to the Main Street Program and its designation as a Blueprint Community, Hamburg may eventually qualify for the state's Elm Street Program and qualify for even more funding, Pick said.

Hamburg's Second Street Redevelopment Plan is a preliminary vision to resurrect a section of the borough that was once dominated by knitting mills, factories and rail yards.

The plan seeks to incorporate part of the industrial past into a more commercially-oriented future.

A plan to resurrect the old train station and rail line in order to promote tourism and excursions between Temple and Scranton is one of the goal's for the area.

Other goals include creating professional office space, extending Grand Street to intersect with Route 61, helping homeowners in the area renovate their properties if needed, hastening the opening of the Reading Railroad Museum and creating an entertainment and shopping district.

But Leonforte is quick to note that the borough has not made a commitment to act on any of these goals.

"This is still in the preliminary stages and nothing is concrete," Leonforte said. "We're not committed to anything yet."

In fact, the plan is undergoing further review by both the Berks County Redevelopment Authority and the Hamburg Planning Commission.

Before Hamburg Borough Council can adopt such a plan, a public hearing has to be held. That prospect lies months in the future.

Contact Dan Roman at djroman@berksmontnews.com.

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