Once called the second poorest city in the state, Reading this year took major steps toward an economic rebound – so much so that the movement rates as one of View of Reading Facing East the top business stories of the year in the Greater Lehigh Valley.

The city’s downtown is leading the surge – despite a devastating October fire at the historic Reading Outlets building. A plan is in place to renovate five city owned buildings in the heart of the downtown, and now there is $2 million available to offer technical assistance, microloans and grants to existing or new businesses.

“There are certainly some definitive signs of progress in downtown,” said Jon Scott, president and CEO of Greater Reading Economic Partnership. “The success of downtown Reading is significant to the entire growth of the region.”

Obtaining a Keystone Community/Main Street designation in late 2013 was a springboard for the city in 2014 – making state funding more readily available to the downtown, particularly Penn Street. And the Reading Downtown Improvement District has been a catalyst in the potential turnaround.

Jack Gulati, longtime Reading entrepreneur, in March bought the Reading Royals professional ice hockey team to ensure it remained in the city.

Last month, Reading City Council chose retail mogul Al Boscov and his nonprofit group to redevelop five city owned buildings in the downtown’s prominent Penn Square at Fifth and Penn streets, which will include retail shops, middle-income housing and offices.

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