July 02, 2018

Art & Architecture: When the Two Collide, City Growth Prospers

Identifying their preferences for the type of home and neighborhood to live in is typically among the first things potential homebuyers do. Debating between the convenience of a short commute versus the spaciousness of suburban living can be challenging when deciding upon the right home.

The National Association of Realtors® 2017 National Community and Transportation Preferences Survey polled adults from across the U.S. about what they are looking for in a community and found that young buyers continue to view their dream neighborhood as a walkable, mixed-use community. In fact, according to the survey, six out of 10 millennials prefer walkable communities and short commutes, even if it means sacrificing living in a larger home with space to stretch their legs.
 
“It is not surprising that younger buyers prefer the convenience of a neighborhood close to work and enjoy living near amenities like restaurants and retail,” said Sean LaSalle, a Realtor® with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Fox & Roach in Macungie and the 2018 President of the Greater Lehigh Valley REALTORS®. “Real estate professionals continue to see a trend in millennials moving to areas where they don’t have to be in bumper-to-bumper traffic and can get around during their free time with little stress.”
 
The report also found that members of the silent generation, those born before 1944, prefer smaller homes in neighborhoods with easy walks to shops and restaurants. Gen-Xers and baby boomers, meanwhile, show a preference toward suburban living, with 55 percent of both groups saying that they are comfortable with a longer commute and driving to amenities if it means living in a single-family, detached home.
 
We often hear the word “walkable,” because it’s becoming more and more of a homebuyer “need,” as the 2017 National Community and Transportation Preferences Survey shows. But it’s not just short work commutes, restaurants and retail that attract homebuyers. Local Realtors® are finding that a common “Wish List” item for homebuyers is moving to a city or town with a vibrant, diverse, and engaging arts community.
 
Take, for example, a client of Rob Ritter, a Realtor® with Weichert Realtors® in Allentown. When looking for a new place to call home, this particular client was looking at more than 20 cities.
 
Allentown won.
 
Why? It was a combination of things, but he was truly sold by the local LGBT community and, more specifically, LGBT-focused arts and cultural programs.

“It was important for this client that he be able to involve himself in the LGBT arts, and that’s something Allentown was able to provide,” Ritter said, noting also the close proximity of the Lehigh Valley to Philadelphia and New York City, both of which being highly known for their artsy sides.

Hearing about this need for walkable communities with an artistic outlet led this writer to ArtsQuest, quite possibly the most noticeable Lehigh Valley nonprofit organization to provide access to art, culture and educational programs.

Kassie Hilgert, President and Chief Executive Officer for ArtsQuest, was asked about the growth of arts and cultural programs in the Lehigh Valley, and how the large (ArtsQuest) to the small (Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center or the Nazareth Center for Arts) are bringing change and growth to the communities in which they are housed.

GLVR: There was a time when ArtsQuest didn’t exist. How have you seen Bethlehem (and the Lehigh Valley as a whole) grow since the arrival of ArtsQuest, and how has ArtsQuest facilitated some of that growth?
 
Kassie: Speaking from an arts and culture perspective, ArtsQuest has had a tremendous impact on Bethlehem and, in fact, the broader Lehigh Valley. Let’s look at festivals first. ArtsQuest started with Musikfest back in 1984 and today, it’s the largest non-gated music festival in the country. Then, in 1993, we started Christkindlmarkt Bethlehem, which last year attracted nearly 90,000 visitors and has twice been named one of the Top 5 Holiday Markets by Conde Nast Magazine and many others. With the addition of SteelStacks in 2011, ArtsQuest now offers 11 festivals year round. On top of that, our year round programming now reaches just about two million people from 45 states and 12 countries and has an annual economic impact of $145 million. This shows that art and culture has more than just a “quality of life” impact. It can be true driver for urban revitalization.
 
Money Magazine has twice listed Bethlehem as the top place to retire in the Northeast and both times Musikfest and SteelStacks were listed as major cultural attractions that made it attractive for seniors to retire to Bethlehem.
 
ArtsQuest certainly helped to build awareness for the importance and impact of festivals, cultural events and the arts, but there has also been tremendous growth by other organizations throughout the Lehigh Valley. From Martin on Main in Nazareth to Bacon Fest in Easton to Blues, Brews and BBQ in Allentown and Celtic Classic in Bethlehem, the region is developing a strong reputation and a robust calendar for hosting major festivals that help to attract tourists, spur small business growth, and attract and retain the creative workforce.
 
GLVR: Is a strong art presence a necessary cornerstone for a community looking to revitalize and transform itself? If so, explain how art can bring the community together and foster growth.
 
Kassie: In this day and age, every community is competing on a global scale for talent. With technology, people have greater freedom to choose where they live, especially when they can work remotely. If you look at housing trends, more boomers and millennials are moving back into cities because they want to be within walking distance of attractions and cultural events. It has long been known that thriving communities need strong “meds and eds,” meaning quality healthcare systems and educational institutions. However, with so many regions offering quality access to healthcare and educational systems, the arts can become a true differentiator that provides sustainable growth for a community or a city. Look at Austin or Washington, D.C. or Seattle and you will see a thriving arts and cultural scene. Even in this day of social media, we yearn for communal activities and experiences and that’s what the arts can do, like few other sectors of our economy. The arts encourage diverse thought and expression. We as a region are becoming more diverse every day, which makes the arts even more important as new cultures come into this area and look for ways to express themselves or connect with other people from different backgrounds.
 
GLVR: You may not be a real estate professional, but do you find that today’s homebuyers and renters are more attracted to communities with a strong art presence? Has anyone told you that they moved to Bethlehem or the Lehigh Valley because of the art community?
 
Kassie: I have heard both businesses and individuals who have specifically chosen Bethlehem because of the strong art presence here. Beyond ArtsQuest, the SouthSide has a very deep arts scene that even pre-dates ArtsQuest. Godfrey Daniels was a staple on the SouthSide before Musikfest started. Today, you have anchor institutions like Zoellner and the Lehigh University Art Gallery, Touchstone Theatre, the Charter School for the Performing Arts and even artists’ lofts available at below market rates. There are a number of well-known artists who are waiting for more housing or more studio space to be developed in both the SouthSide Arts District and the Historic Moravian District so they can be close to the vibe that is happening. At the Banana Factory, we routinely have a waiting list for artists’ studios. Beyond that, I have spoken to a number of professionals who have moved here from other, larger cities and are relocating to one of Bethlehem’s downtowns because they are walkable and have a myriad of cultural amenities, restaurants and activities.
 
GLVR: Your mission is to provide access to art, culture and educational programs for the diverse residents of the Lehigh Valley and others who seek access to your community. Explain the impact of ArtsQuest beyond its physical location of Bethlehem.
 
Kassie: ArtsQuest has been contacted by numerous communities across the country that have visited here to talk with us about our history, our impact and our future. We have also consulted on projects where the arts have been targeted as a way to spur urban revitalization. SteelStacks has received both the Urban Land Institute Global Award for Excellence and the Rudy Bruner Gold Medal Award for Urban Excellence, the highest levels of urban restoration and conservation, which helps to build the awareness of the City far beyond our borders. San Francisco, Boston and Bethlehem are the only cities in the country to win both awards. I have always said that SteelStacks is the pinnacle of what can happen in a successful public/private partnership. In the case of SteelStacks, the public sector partners included the City of Bethlehem, the Redevelopment Authority, the Bethlehem Area School District, Northampton County, members of the state legislature and the Commonwealth all lined up to support the project and that spurred support from the private sector. Both sides of that partnership needed to work hand in hand for this project to be successful and we are now seeing just some of the results of those efforts, with more to come.
 
On a programmatic level, we are reaching into a number of different school districts outside of Bethlehem to bring the arts to students who otherwise would have no exposure. In fact, 90 percent of the students we serve are from low-income families. The Bethlehem Area School District will always be our home district, but we are using what we have learned with that partnership to take our educational programming on the road, so to speak. According to the National Endowment for the Arts 2012 report The Arts and Achievement in At-Risk Youth, “Socially and economically disadvantaged students outperform their peers when engaged in arts-rich experiences…higher test scores, better grades, higher graduation rates, and increased college enrollment.”
 
GLVR: What new and exciting things can we expect from ArtsQuest in 2018 (and beyond)?
 
Kassie: Well, if I told you that, it wouldn’t be new and exciting! In all seriousness, look for us to continue to invest in our programming and we have some exciting capital projects on the horizon that will focus on meeting the needs of our changing and growing communities, increase tourism, attract the creative workforce and support economic development through the arts. In 2017 alone, ArtsQuest invested more than $11 million in programs and services for the community, but we think there is plenty more to do and we look forward to doing it together as a community.
 
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As ever-changing preferences distinguish where consumers want to live, Realtors® provide insights on local market conditions and amenities for every generation to help find the most suitable and desirable home for themselves and their family.
 
Contact the Greater Lehigh Valley REALTORS® or visit www.greaterlehighvalleyrealtors.com to speak with a Realtor®, a member of the National Association of Realtors®, for information and advice about buying or selling a home in 2018.

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