An estimated decade-long, $300 million brownfield redevelopment is about to begin taking shape along the Lehigh River in Allentown.
Dignitaries and the developers today celebrated the start of demolition at the former Lehigh Structural Steel Co. to make way for The Waterfront project.
The Waterfront Development Co. — a partnership among Jaindl Properties, Dunn Twiggar and Michael Dunn Co. — anticipates the entire 1 million square feet of commercial, residential and industrial space along the west side of the river will take eight to 10 years to complete.
The first phase of construction includes development at the Furnace Street site south of the Tilghman Street bridge.
One of the newest major office buildings planned by developer J.B. Reilly moved forward another step tonight.
The $100 million Five City Center received conditional approval, one of several steps in the early stages of the City Center Lehigh Valley project. Plans for the building were announced in March.
No tenant has yet been identified for the 250,000-square-foot building, but construction could begin as early as mid-2015, City Center spokesman Jeff Vaughansaid. The building could be as many as seven floors tall.
Planned for Walnut Street between Seventh and Eighth streets, the building could serve up to 1,000 workers and will include a 1,078-space parking deck, which will include some underground parking.
The Allentown hockey arena construction saw another milestone today as more than 30 trucks worth of concrete were poured for what will be a 17,000-square-foot ice floor.
A total of 315 cubic yards of concrete were poured today, and the next major step will be making the ice itself, which will occur in the summer.
“This took a great team effort,” said Jim Brooks, co-owner of the Phantoms hockey team that will start its 2014 season at the PPL Center in September.
“There’s not too many 10,000-seat venues in the world, let alone the United States, and even less that have ice-making capabilities,” Brooks said. “It’s very difficult to pull off.”
The revitalization of Allentown‘s Americus Hotel took another step toward reality today, but development officials want further assurances the project will actually be completed.
“We don’t want to have a project that’s going to fail,” said Sy Traub, chairman of the authority that oversees development in the city’s Neighborhood Improvement Zone.
“If we approve a project that goes belly up in the middle of it, and it’s a project in the middle of our city that’s going to sit vacant and stalled, then it’s going to be a real problem,” Traub said.
Developer Albert Abdouche appeared today before a Allentown Neighborhood Improvement Zone Development Authority committee with his plans for a revamped 11-story hotel at 549 Hamilton St.
Allentown City Council unanimously and enthusiastically confirmed Joel Fitzgerald’s nomination as the city’s new police chief.
Fitzgerald, 42, a veteran of the Philadelphia Police Department, is the first minority to be named police chief.
“I feel like the arms of Allentown have opened up to me,” Fitzgerald said. “It’ll be a privilege to be part of the community here.”
Fitzgerald has been chief of police in Missouri City, Texas, since April 2009, and before that spent 18 years with the Philadelphia Police Department.
A milestone of sorts for Allentown’s new arena has begun.
Three massive cranes this morning began lifting the seven 236-foot-long roof supports, called trusses, into place above the 8,500-seat PPL Center. Workers hoisted 85 feet in the air in high-reach cherry-pickers will use pneumatic wrenches to fasten the trusses into place with massive bolts.
Each truss, a curved structural support laced with a series of steel triangles, weighs between 125,000 and 212,000 pounds.
The first truss is expected to take 14 to 16 hours to install. The trusses were constructed on the arena floor last week.
Conscious that the borders of Allentown’s new arena district could become a visible dividing line between the haves and have nots, two downtown businesses are pumping $300,000 into the neighborhood just outside the arena zone.
City Center Investment Corp. will donate $200,000 and PPL will kick in $100,000 to help as many as 30 businesses along Hamilton Street remake their storefronts.
The deal comes as city and community leaders have spent months considering how to help the massive tax incentives undergirding the $272 million arena, hotel and office complex spill into the struggling communities just outside the Neighborhood Improvement Zone.
Under the program, businesses along Hamilton Street, between 10th and 12th streets — the first two blocks outside the NIZ — can get grants of roughly $15,000 to reface their shops. By the time city officials finished their 20-minute news conference Monday to announce the program, six eligible businesses had already expressed interest in the free money.
At first glance, Friday’s groundbreaking for the American Parkway Bridge looked pretty much like every other ceremony where shivering, dark-suited community leaders poke their gold-painted shovels into some carefully piled dirt.
But this time, behind all the pomp and pageantry were more than five decades of planning, fighting, waiting and frustration.
It was 1956 when excited city leaders first proposed a direct path between downtown Allentown and Route 22, and Friday those shovel-wielding leaders celebrated the beginning of construction of a $46 million American Parkway Bridge project they say represents both the struggles of the past and the promise of the future.
It will span the Lehigh River just north of the Tilghman Street bridge and south of the Route 22 bridge.
It’s a river city with quaint Victorian architecture once known for its pioneering manufacturing processes that gave America the industrial might to fight its wars.
But now, it’s re-imagining itself as a “knowledge corridor,” thanks to nearby colleges, and possibly as an entertainment center as gaming companies circle for a place to put a new casino.
That might sound a lot like Bethlehem.
As leaders there begin to dive into the details of reinventing the greater Springfield area, they are looking at Bethlehem as it enters its fourth year hosting a casino and the rest of the Lehigh Valley for advice and inspiration.
According to Moody’s, the new rating reflects the city’s approximately $120.3 million debt as well as “four consecutive operating deficits which have largely been driven by aggressive budgeting of city revenues and reserve appropriations to balance the budget.”
Investors use credit ratings such as Moody’s to determine the risk of a municipality’s defaulting on debt payments. A lower rating can force municipalities to pay higher interest rates to compensate for the risk, increasing the cost of borrowing.
Allentown’s weak socioeconomic profile — a sizable and mature urban tax base with below-average “socioeconomic indices” — and limited financial flexibility are challenges to the city, according to Moody’s.
Editor’s note: This is great news! Revitalizing our Pennsylvania cities is important!
Vacant and dilapidated the past nine years, Allentown’s 12-story Americus Center Hotel got good news this week when the state decided the city can alter the borders of its downtown arena zone to include the historic hotel.
Any changes to the borders of its Neighborhood Improvement Zone, Pennsylvania Department of Revenue officials say, must be made before bonds are sold to fund the $220 million arena complex.
With the arena authority preparing to sell bonds next month, it means city officials will have to work fast, said Sara Hailstone, Allentown director of community and economic development.
“We will need to follow up with the Department of Revenue and work through the details,” Hailstone said. “This is a great opportunity for the city.”
Another year of rising pension costs and flat revenues in 2011 forced Allentown to tap into what’s turned out to be not such an endless well.
Faced with a deficit for the fourth year in a row, the city dipped a bit farther into its shrinking general fund, spending more than $12 million in the last five years.
The general fund is the city’s primary operating account. It’s used to collect most revenues, pay out most expenses, like public safety and public works, and carry over undesignated and unspent money into the following year.
Now, Allentown is faced with its smallest fund balance in years — $1.9 million — and city officials aren’t ruling anything out if faced with a fifth year of deficit — not tax increases, not the sale of city property or any other solutions.
With suburban communities poised to withdraw the lawsuits that have halted Allentown‘s $220 million arena project, the city appears to be left with one big question: Can it build the arena fast enough?
The project is months behind schedule and city officials are scrambling to find ways to make up lost time, including the option of starting the 2013-14 season with a two-month road trip.
Still, the most important job is getting the suburban townships to officially drop their lawsuits.
“When that is formalized, it will allow us to move forward,” said Rep. Jennifer Mann, D-Lehigh. “The biggest piece is ramping up, getting the construction schedule going full throttle. That is the one that hurts us the most. One commodity you can’t get back is time. We have lost at least 90 days in this process.”
Regional political leaders and transportation officials held a groundbreaking Monday for a new maintenance garage for the Lehigh Valley‘s public bus agency, anticipating growing demand for the service as well for newer hybrid-electric buses.
The Lehigh and Northampton Transportation Authority faced public opposition in 2009 when the initial plans for the building on LANTA’s property at 1060 Lehigh St., Allentown, showed it encroaching into the parking lot of adjacent Bicentennial Park. The baseball field once was home to the semi-pro Allentown Ambassadors, and the bus garage would have covered 40 percent of Bicentennial’s parking spaces.
LANTA officials reversed gears, having the project redesigned for a garage expansion to the southwest of the existing building, away from the ball field rather than toward it, pushing the new garage close to the edge of the LANTA property.