Downtown Hazleton is on the Rise!
Updated: Dec 20, 2018
by Stefan Klosowski
Krista Schneider is the Executive Director of the Downtown Hazleton Alliance for Progress, a position she has held for the past five years. During this time, she has led her organization to receive DCED Main Street Program designation and raised over $4M dollars of public and private funding to implement key revitalization strategies in downtown. Last year, the Alliance received recognition for the 2nd best performing Main Street program in Pennsylvania.
Krista has over twenty years of experience in the planning, design, engineering, and historic preservation fields. As a founding board member of the organization Ms. Schneider worked closely with the other partners in establishing the Alliance, so she is intimately familiar with its vision and goals. Her past professional experience working in Hazleton in various capacities also gives her unique perspective into both the challenges and opportunities associated with the city's downtown revitalization. This includes her work as project manager with Barry Isett & Associates, a multidisciplinary planning and engineering firm.
Ms. Schneider’s professional background also includes teaching planning and design studios as an Assistant Professor at the University of Kentucky, and as co-founder of Heritage Strategies, a regional planning and preservation firm.
Krista received her Master’s Degree in Urban Design from Harvard University in 1998 and her Bachelor’s from the Pennsylvania State University in 1992.
Krista’s involvement originally stemmed from her work at Barry Isett & Associates in 2013 when she tried to encourage the City of Hazleton to obtain a grant to fund a Comprehensive Plan. Having worked downtown for eight years prior, she realized the redevelopment potential of some of the downtown buildings. When this didn’t come to fruition Krista helped to organize a visioning meeting through her volunteer work with the CAN DO Community Foundation to identify interest in developing a strategic plan for the downtown. This then resulted in the formation of a broad partnership involving the City, Chamber of Commerce, CAN DO, and private developers, and eventually the formation of the Downtown Hazleton Alliance for Progress. Krista served as a founding board member of the organization prior to being asked to serve as executive director.
She appreciates getting everyone to work together towards a shared vision, and building partnerships to leverage the resources and assets of the community. She is most proud of helping secure ownership of the former Security Savings Bank building and funding for its redevelopment as a new City Arts Center, and a former bingo hall, which will become the home of the new Penn State Hazleton LaunchBox. Both properties are scheduled for completion in 2019, as is a new city park, for which Krista also helped secure funding for development.
The following is a brief compilation of awards that she or the organization has received:
2016 Hazleton YWCA Pearl Award (Krista)
2017 CAN DO Partner of the Year Award (organization)
2017 PDC Townie honorable mention for Public Safety Award (City of Hazleton)
2017 PDC 2nd Best Performing Main Street Program (organization)
2018 Athena Award (Krista)
Krista considers one of the major highlights of the last five years of her program to be the business and job growth: downtown has added 85 new net businesses and 150 net new full time equivalent jobs. The Hispanic community accounts for about half of these and they are working hard to help build bridges between the old and new communities through strategic initiatives.
One of their successful promotions includes their First Friday program. Their most successful event is the June Wine & Chocolate Walk, which pairs Victoria’s Candies, a local chocolatier, and other chocolate treats with wines from a local winery and others chosen by local merchants. They also organize a Wassailfest & Holiday Night Market in December, which pairs local vendors with established businesses serving samples of holiday drinks to shoppers.
They have renovated five facades over the past five years. Two of these have involved substantial masonry repairs (13 E. Broad St. and 19 W. Broad St.), the latter of which helped return a vacant and blighted building to productive use. In addition, a private development partner has undertaken several million dollars worth of renovations to their downtown’s historic bank buildings as part of larger rehabilitation projects that are resulting in the addition of over 80,000 SF of Class A commercial office space.
The City of Hazleton has undergone interesting demographic changes. Since 2000 Hazleton’s Hispanic population has grown from under 3% to over 50%. Language and cultural barriers present challenges to communication, business integration, and programming. They continue to work on breaking down these barriers and building strong relationships with leaders of the Hispanic community.
Krista is also proud to have served her country both in the US and abroad. She was a former Army officer and attained the rank of Captain. She served two years in Okinawa, Japan, and two years at Hunter Army Airfield in Savannah, GA; then another few in the US Army Reserves while she went to graduate school.
The Hazleton community is getting younger, between 2000-2010 the population of youth under the age of 18 grew by 30%, and by 2020 projections are that, half the city population will be under age 30. This is opposite of the county and PA as a whole, which is getting older. So they have the challenge to keep their youth in Hazleton, starting businesses, investing in their education, and contributing to the community.
However, Krista feels that it is not enough to simply create space or facilities for business to grow.
“You have to give them a reason to be here, and for that you need the cultural resources, physical design, and the programming that is going to welcome small businesses and creative professionals, and nurture their interaction and growth.”
As a result, Hazleton established a new Arts & Innovation District, which will be seen as a multicultural destination for business, entrepreneurship, food, art, and cultural experiences.
On a more personal note, Krista grew up in the Hazleton area. She and her husband were childhood sweethearts. After moving around for many years they decided to move back after they had children. Hazleton is becoming a family-friendly place, with the economy on the rise!