The concrete foundation of Allentown‘s $272 million arena complex has begun to rise at Seventh and Hamilton streets, along with the number of yellow-vested construction workers.
It is a welcome sight to an army of local tradesmen whose livelihoods took a beating in the Great Recession.
For ironworker Carl Graves, 33, of Easton, the arena project didn’t just put him back to work in a tough construction market, it gave him his family back.
With construction in the Lehigh Valley at a near halt the past four years, Graves has had to accept jobs as far as 100 miles away. During his six months working on a job at New York University Medical Center last year, the four-hour round-trip commute left him little time to spend with his wife and sons, ages 5 and 1.
Developers on Tuesday unveiled a $250 million plan to convert Allentown’s long-deteriorating riverfront into a complex of office and residential buildings, a project funded by the one-of-a-kind tax zone that’s powering the downtown hockey arena.
The gritty industrial mish-mash along the west bank of the Lehigh River from Allen Street past the Tilghman Street Bridge would be replaced by The Waterfront, a strip of 12 glass-and-steel office buildings, walking trails and apartments.
Waterfront Redevelopment Partners presented the quarter-billion-dollar plan to the city’s Planning Commission, proposing 610,000 square feet of offices, 130,000 square feet of retail and 172 apartments on a 26-acre property that was home to Lehigh Structural Steel, once an anchor of city industry.
The Waterfront would be linked to Route 22 by the soon-to-be built American Parkway bridge, and expands what city officials hoped would be the companion piece of the Neighborhood Improvement Zone, the financing tool behind downtown revitalization around Seventh and Hamilton streets, site of the arena now under construction.
City Center Investment Corp. unveiled plans Friday to build an apartment and retail complex that could bring hundreds of new residents into Allentown‘s evolving downtown by the time the first puck drops at a nearby arena.
A new four-story building at the southwest corner of Seventh and Linden streets would include shops on the first floor and up to 200 upscale apartments across Seventh from the city’s under-construction hockey arena. The apartments, with rents of $1,000 to $1,200, would be available within two years.
The building would be part of a wider plan that involves City Center expanding the vacant Linden Street parking garage to prepare for the arrival of the residents and hundreds of new workers expected downtown by the time the 8,500-seat hockey arena opens in 2014.
“With all that is happening, there is going to be a lot of demand for apartments downtown,” said J.B. Reilly, City Center CEO. “This is the next piece in transforming downtown Allentown into a place where people really can live, work and play.”
The state’s fourth-largest bank has decided that downtown Allentown is the right place to grow, in a major recruiting triumph that officials say proves the city is on the cusp of a new era.
National Penn Bancshares Tuesday announced that it will relocate its headquarters into one of the new buildings going up within the city’s unique, hockey arena-inspired tax district. The bank, currently based in Boyertown, Berks County, will bring 275 employees to the 11-story office tower slated for downtown’s main intersection at Hamilton and Seventh Streets.
National Penn’s decision, part of a broader restructuring plan, will make Allentown a major bank’s headquarters for the first time in 25 years, giving credence to city officials who predicted the tax zone and hockey arena project would breathe new life into Allentown’s struggling urban core.
“I think this represents a tipping point for Allentown’s downtown,” Mayor Ed Pawlowski said. “Major corporations are again gaining confidence in Allentown. I expect this to be the first of many similar developments.”
Allentown‘s hockey arena will not open until 2014, but when it does it will help spur almost runaway development in a downtown that has been ravaged by three decades of decay, according to bond documents filed Friday.
The 354-page statement for investors interesting in buying $234 million paints a rosy future in which the next 12 years will bring not only the 8,500-seat hockey arena, but more than 1 million square feet of office space, two hotels, retail shops, a convention center, a 12-screen cinema and hundreds of apartments.
All told, the study by CSL International forecasts that Allentown’s unique 127-acre Neighborhood Improvement Zone will create 7,500 new jobs and $44 million in annual state and local taxes.
At least that’s the pitch being made to investors who in the coming weeks will be able to buy $235 million worth of revenue bonds to get the complex at Seventh and Hamilton streets started.
With all eyes trained on the planned renewal of downtown Allentown, the city’s theater district is taking back a little of the spotlight.
The city announced plans in July for a $3 million face-lift in the West End that will bring brick-lined sidewalks, ornamental streetlights and repainted traffic signals to the art district.
Work on the new streetscape is scheduled to begin at the end of April, Mayor Ed Pawlowski said at a news conference Wednesday at the Civic Theatre. The city will put out bids for a construction company in the coming weeks, he said.
“We have the opportunity to really transform the western gateway into the city,” Pawlowski said, adding it’s the first significant investment to the neighborhood in decades.