Former Bank In Wilkes-Barre Given New Life

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A former bank building on the fringe of downtown Wilkes-Barre is being transformed into a mixed-use residential/commercial property.

The former South Side Bank has been renovated and will feature 16 new apartments on the upper floors.  The apartments will be renting this summer.  The owner, Sam Johnson, is turning the first floor into a bar/restaurant/lounge.  The restaurant will be mid-priced and feature an All-American menu.

Johnson spent $2.2 million on this adaptive reuse project that began in 2009.  The apartments will feature hardwood floors, stainless appliances, central air, granite counter tops and other high-end features.  The apartments will be between 800 – 1000 square feet.

The building is at the corner of South Main and Ross Streets.  The restaurant and bar will be called South Side WB.

The South Side WB Facebook page with exterior picture: http://www.facebook.com/pages/South-Side-WB/180953501189#!/pages/South-Side-WB/180953501189?v=wall

$80 Million Minor League Hockey Arena Possibly Coming To 7th And Hamilton Streets In Downtown Allentown

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Talk about a major revitalization coup!  Allentown appears to be getting an arena, possibly at 7th and Hamilton Sts., for a minor league hockey team.  This was reported on Channel 69 News last night as well as being written about in many Pennsylvania newspapers, including the Morning Call.

The possibilities of spin-off businesses from a project this large are tremendous.  Downtown Allentown would certainly benefit from this huge investment.  Personally, since Hess’s closed I do not have a reason to shop downtown anymore.  It would be nice to have a reason to spend time and money in downtown Allentown again.

The arena would have about 10,000 seats and be home ice for the Phantoms, a feeder team for the Flyers.  When not being used for hockey games the facility could host various large events in Allentown, which would bring thousands into the central business district (much like the Sovereign Center in Reading does). 

After the Phantoms were kicked out of the Spectrum, they moved to Glen Falls, NY.  Allentown was chosen as their new home so an arena needs to be constructed to house the team.  This will happen sooner than later.

Additional parking may need to be added as about 4,000 off-street parking spaces are available in center city Allentown.  If the downtown site does not work out, due to logistics, other sites around Allentown are being considered as well.  A new taxing district will be established to fund most of the cost of the arena.

Lehigh County is also hoping for a center city site due to the obstacles associated with developing the riverfront and the time involved to do so.

Hopefully all the stars will align and Allentown (Pennsylvania’s third largest city) can reap a huge economic harvest from this project.

Easton To Begin Site Prep And Demo For Downtown Intermodal Transportation Center, Sports Museum And Restaurant

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The City of Easton will begin a $20 million project that is expected to bring visitors and jobs into their downtown.  The city is building an intermodal transportation center which will include a parking garage (350 cars), a commercial complex and the National High School Sports Hall of Fame Museum.  It is hoped the project will be completed by the end of 2012.

Demolition of the former Perkins Restaurant and the Majestic Theater will make way for the new project.  The city (Parking Authority) secured $8 million in state and federal grants along with floating a $12 million bond to pay for the project.

Lehigh and Northampton Transportation Authority (LANTA), Greyhound Bus Lines and Trans-Bridge Bus Lines will be making their homes at the new transportation center.

A restaurant is also planned for the space which would be a great benefit for travelers and visitors to the museum.

We applaud Easton for their creativity.  Easton is the smallest of the three Lehigh Valley cities with a population of 26,000 and is the county seat of Northampton County.  The National High School Sports Hall of Fame Museum will join the Crayola Museum and the National Canal Museum as Easton’s third major downtown museum.

Bethlehem Has $186 Million Worth Of Projects Going On In 2011

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The City of Bethlehem is not on the fuzzy end of the lollipop when it comes to economic development.  Mayor John Callahan announced a list of eleven projects that total $186 million in development for the City of Bethlehem.

Projects to be completed or under construction in 2011:

Hotel at the Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem: $30 million

PBS39: $17 million

ArtsQuest performing arts center: $26 million

21st Century Town Square/Levitt Pavilion: $22 million

Route 412 widening, ramp and other roadwork: $38 million

Plaza on Eighth: $25 million

Rails-to-trails park (greenway): $3.14 million

Ben Franklin Technology: $17 million

Glemser Technologies: $2.25 million

Lehigh University‘s STEPS building: $5.5 million

Third Street parking: $800,000

Source: City of Bethlehem/Morning Call

Avantor Performance Materials Relocating 140 Employees To Lehigh County

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The bustling Lehigh Valley will be adding another 140 high paying jobs ($80,000) to its tax base when Avantor relocates workers to the Stabler Corporate Center in Upper Saucon Township.  The jobs are being moved from the Philipsburg, New Jersey area.  Eighty-five percent of these workers already live in Pennsylvania; however, Avantor plans to add sixty more employees in the next three years.  325 workers will stay at the New Jersey site.

Governor Corbett released $3 million from the Redevelopment Assistance Capital Fund to Lehigh County, who will act as the “pass through”.   This was Corbett’s first release of funds from this grant program since he took office, per Don Cunningham, Lehigh County Executive.  The Redevelopment Assistance Capital Fund was used by Governor Rendell to stimulate economic development and create jobs.

The $6 million relocation project will boost property tax revenue for Southern Lehigh School District, Upper Saucon Township and Lehigh County as well as generate payroll and income taxes.  It is expected this new facility will increase restaurant and hotel traffic in the area.
Avantor will join Olympus Corp. in the Stabler Corporate Center.  Olympus moved their North American headquarters the Lehigh Valley a few years ago.  Development interest in the Lehigh Valley is on the rise, according to Lehigh Valley Economic Development President Philip Mitman.

I have even more exciting Lehigh Valley economic development news to share.  Another large manufacturer is considering sites in Lower and Upper Macungie Townships to build a $30 million facility that would create 165 jobs!  The total investment would be $110 million.  The company name is not being released but they will need one million gallons of water per day and 200,000 gallons of wastewater capacity per day.  Over one-hundred more spin-off jobs could be created as a result of this facility being built.

As in the case of Avantor, the Governor’s Action Team is scrambling to line up incentives to make sure this facility gets built in Lehigh County!  As the project moves closer to becoming a reality, more details will be released.

East Liberty Home Remodel And Conversion Will Be Pittsburgh’s First Net-Zero House

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The East Liberty section of Pittsburgh is undergoing a great redevelopment wave.  A vacant home at 710 North St. Clair Street, which had been converted into multiple units, is being restored and returned to a single family.  The 100-year-old home is a total gut and remodel.

Not only will this home be again occupied by a family, but it is making history as the first net-zero home in the City of Pittsburgh.  A net-zero home means you will not have an electric bill (unless you waste power).  East Liberty Development Inc. is having a contractor remodel the home.  It will sell for $275,000, which is on the expensive side for Pittsburgh.  However, it is a three-story Colonial Revival so you are getting a nice-sized home for the money.  East Liberty Development Inc. has renovated 155 homes in East Liberty and it has made a huge difference.

Energy efficiency is important when renovating older homes.  The current project will feature solar panels which will also heat water.  The yearly heating bill is expected to be $215 dollars.  The electric bill is expected to be zero.  If any excess power is generated it can be sold back to Duquesne Light for a credit on the homeowner’s bill.  There is no energy storage so the home is hooked up to Duquesne Light and will have a monthly service fee in the event no excess power is generated to cover the fee.

A boiler will provide radiant heat under the first floor and in baseboard radiators on the second and third floors.  A heat recovery ventilator will be installed that exchanges air without using energy.  This will be combined with a special insulation package that is designed to maximize heating efficiency.  The paint will be VOC free and the home will also collect and store rain water.

If this project goes well and the home sells, more will follow.

What Does A City Do With 2,000 Acres Of Blighted Riverfront Land? If You Are Pittsburgh, You Redevelop The Heck Out Of It!

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Always progressive Pittsburgh and its young mayor have come up with an amazing 20-year master plan to redevelop a 2,000 acre section of riverfront property along the Allegheny River.  Egad you say!  How does one go about doing that???

Take an enormous swatch of rust-belt wasteland, add a heapin’ helpin’ of housing, business, industry, transportation and a complete environmental makeover and you have a master plan.  The 77-page document was developed over two years with input from property and business owners, residents, community leaders and nonprofit organizations.  Create a dialogue; build a consensus and a result will emerge (sounds like our newest Planning Commission member’s philosophy).

This plan incorporates affordable family housing, green technology, new industries, walkable communities and the strengthening of transportation to increase a sense of community.  Pittsburgh is already one of America’s greenest cities and most livable cities.  Adding commuter rail, a circulator trolley and a “green boulevard” right down the middle are all part of the plan.

The project will rely mostly on private investment, instead of looking for handouts from the state and federal government.  What this should tell you is that Pittsburgh has progressed beyond the point of being subsidized and can generate enough buzz and interest in projects from their own community, outside investors and banks to finance them.  This is a tremendous sign of health.  I heard this same message from Mayor Chris Doherty when I toured Scranton.

Apartments, office buildings and parking garages, along with more adaptive reuse projects like the conversion of the old Armstrong Cork factory into condos, are all envisioned as part of this redevelopment plan.  Currently much of the land is empty warehouses, parking lots and weeds. In many places the river is obscured from view and/or inaccessible.  The land is mostly considered worthless because of its current blighted state.  Environmental improvements, restoring the riverfront, tree planting, stormwater containment and LEED certified buildings are all included.

This is what Pottstown needs to do.  A long-range plan needs to be formulated and put into place.  There is movement in this direction, but a comprehensive plan, that includes these kinds of features, with input from many stakeholders, needs to be drawn up and executed.

Just to give you an idea of how big 2,000 acres is.  Pottstown is about 5 square miles which converts to 3,200 acres.  The City of Pittsburgh is roughly 55 square miles which converts to 35,200 acres.  This project will redevelop about 5 1/2 percent of the total land area of the City of Pittsburgh.  Mighty impressive!