As part of our ongoing leadership series, ULI Philadelphia sat down with Becky Bradley, Executive Director of the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission. Becky was recently appointed Co-Chair of ULI Philadelphia’s Lehigh Valley Regional Satellite Council.
What’s happening in the Lehigh Valley that other ULI members should know about?
I have to say our Council is awesome. It’s great to learn about what people are doing in their professional lives and how we can all work together to solve regional problems.
Tell us a little about your organization, the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission.
We are a county planning agency but also a metropolitan planning organization, so we can do more than a typical planning agency. We manage $3 billion in road, bridge, transit, and infrastructure funding while planning for land use and development.
The Lehigh Valley has undergone a major resurgence over the last few years, with multiple award winning projects and developments. Why is the area so ripe for development right now?
Location is everything and the Lehigh Valley is strategically between the New York-New Jersey and Philadelphia markets, making us desirable as a location for housing and business. The natural environment of a valley also, makes the region topographically beautiful with everyone living ten minutes or less from a park [unheard of in most metros] and 90 percent of our citizens have direct access to transit. We also, have variety with three cities, all with different architecture, environments, character and things to do. Easton is a postcard Pennsylvania gateway community, tucked along the Delaware River with a remarkable restaurant scene and a strong sense of individuality and creativity. Bethlehem has re-visioned the former Bethlehem Steel site and created a world class destination, sophisticated and innovative in a way that you don’t see outside of the developing areas of Asia or new architecturally innovative places in Europe. Allentown is our home for sports and a remarkable new downtown, created with a one-of-a-kind risk-mitigating financial zone in less than 18 months! The discussion of the number of cranes working on any given day is a regular conversation in the Lehigh Valley and testament to how truly easy it is to do business here.
What would you be doing if you weren’t involved in real estate?
I’d have a boutique farming operation with a vertically-integrated distillery to make my own rye whiskey.
What do you see as the Lehigh Valley’s biggest land use challenge?
Our biggest land use challenge isn’t a negative challenge but it’s certainly our most interesting. We need to balance the growth of ‘mega-buildings,’ those 1 million square feet and over with other types development. Our cities are revitalizing rapidly but, what is happening on the edge is still a concern. In the new economy, it isn’t about rampant housing development as it is about mega-manufacturing, warehousing, logistics and the infrastructure associated with the significant rise in freight-based industry. We are writing a Lehigh Valley Freight Plan in partnership with the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, Norfolk Southern and a host of other public and private wheeled, rail and air freight industries. This planning is critical. Just in the past few weeks Zulily announced a new facility, Sam Adams finished its largest brewery in the nation, and FedEx Ground breaks ground on its largest facility in the U.S.