Saturday, April 26, 2008

Spontaneous Combustion

Last night's gathering of artists and culture mavens at House of Chen, organized by Mrs. Dottie (see Lehigh Valley Somebody) was pure joy. It was inspiring to meet and listen to so many intelligent, creative people, from so many diverse backgrounds, who are eager to move Allentown's arts scene to the next level.

As Nolan LeBlanc commented over at Mrs. Dottie's blog, this is how community happens--by spontaneous combustion. It jives with the feeling I've had over the last several months that a new wave of creative energy is about to break over Allentown. For many years, Allentown was exporting much of its creative talent to other places; now it seems the tide has turned, talent is gravitating back to the city. Last night I met people who have moved here from New York, Jersey City, Miami--even Bethlehem! And of course some people who never left physically are "returning" in another way: returning to their creative vocations after careers spent teaching, parenting, working in business. This growing pool of creative energy is going to be our most valuable resource in the coming years, as we transform Allentown into a vibrant, friendly, arts-rich, sustainable 21st-century urban center.

After dinner some of us walked down Hamilton St. to the Arts Park. It was a beautiful spring even, and on the way we passed people sitting at outdoor cafe tables in front of the Federal Grill and Crocodile Rock--this is Allentown?!! At the Arts Park, we stood around and gabbed, not wanting the evening to end. Listening to Alfonso Todd, I could feel the future blossoming with the cherry trees in the park. A hospital administrator's job brought Alfonso to the Lehigh Valley from Miami. "I told myself I'd stay two years," he said. "That was six years ago." After three years with hospitals in the area, he decided to become a full-time community organizer. Single-handedly, he's putting together a multi-cultural community event on Hamilton St.--"Upward Bound in Allentown"--scheduled for July 12 (gotta get this guy on the arts commission!).

Alfonso sees the future here--he's already living it. It will take only a slight cognitive shift, a different slant on things, for others to see it. It's the job of artists to produce that cognitive shift for the wider community who don't yet "get it." When that happens, the spontaneous combustion will take over. Imagine!

Thanks to everyone involved for a wonderful evening. It's Saturday morning and I'm still high (hey, I only had one beer!)

Let's do it again!

Monday, April 14, 2008

A Vision for the Americus

There's a buzz going on over at Mrs. Dottie's blog about our visions for the Americus Hotel. The following is a vision statement I presented to Mayor Pawlowski and the city's economic development team over a year ago. Their response was enthusiastic; the problem is the building is still in the hands of Mark Mendelsohn, and until it can be transferred to a sane owner, nothing is going to be done. As for the Neuweiler Brewery, Symphony Hall, etc., I look forward to talking about these things at the House of Chen on the 25th.

My apologies for being a neglectful blogger--too busy attending meetings and trying to earn a living.

Let me know what you think of this vision.

Americus Design Center

Restoration of the landmark Americus Hotel and its conversion into a high-style design center, catering to the trade in the fields of interior design, decoration and architecture, will create an arts-related commercial anchor for the Allentown arts district, bringing design professionals and their clients into downtown Allentown to do business in a sophisticated atmosphere of historic elegance.
Americus Design Center will offer manufacturers and design professionals a glamorous venue for displaying and marketing their products and services, comparable to design centers in New York, Philadelphia and Washington, but with the added attractions of substantial savings in rental cost and a convenient, easily accessible location—close to a large, high-income client base but outside the increasingly congested business districts of the major cities.
Product showrooms, featuring upscale home and office furniture; fabrics and textiles; wall and window treatments; art and antiques; kitchen and bath fixtures; and other architectural and interior-design accessories, will be open exclusively "to the trade," allowing customers of registered design professionals access to an array of products unavailable to the general public. This exclusivity, and the convenience of a central location, will encourage design professionals, as well as manufacturers' sales staff and service providers, to locate their offices in the building. Some might even wish to live there; one or more floors could be devoted to apartments/condominiums.
In contrast to the showroom areas on some upper floors, the hotel's grand ballroom, roof-top restaurant and street-level storefronts will be open to the public, creating a regional entertainment and shopping destination related to activities at the Americus and nearby cultural institutions such as the art museum, symphony hall and the historical society. Design-themed public events, such as fashion and flower shows, will bring back to downtown Allentown the stylish ambience formerly associated with Hess's department store. The basement movie theater will once again screen films. Arts-and-design-related retail and service businesses—galleries, bookstores, clothing stores, restaurants—will open in the street-level spaces and in nearby buildings to take advantage of the traffic generated by trade professionals, buyers and their clientele. The Center will also be a stimulus to the revival of design-related manufacturing in the city.
In short, Americus Design Center will be the Lehigh Valley's most beautiful and exciting location to do business, host a conference (or wedding reception), entertain corporate clients, and even reside. It will transform the image of downtown Allentown, restoring the grandeur of its largest and most architecturally important commercial structure, and signaling the completion of the city's comeback as a vibrant cultural and business hub.