Lehigh Valley

Development authority approves $23.5M in City Center projects

ANIZDA boards signs off on Croc Rock redevelopment

ALLENTOWN, Pa. - The Allentown Neighborhood Improvement Zone Development Authority on Wednesday unanimously approved two new City Center Investment Corp. redevelopment projects located just around the corner from each other in downtown Allentown.

520 Hamilton Flats includes the total demolition and rebuild of the former Crocodile Rock Café nightclub located at the same address. Vacant for years, it also was where well-known and longtime Allentown and Bethlehem furniture and appliance retailer, Eastern Light Co., operated its flagship store.

Developer J.B. Reilly will spend about $20 million to construct a six-story building containing 69 apartments, almost all of which will be studios and one-bedroom apartments geared toward the arts community, according to project manager Robert Dilorenzo.

He said 520 Hamilton Flats will feature not only street-level retail space but a co-working office center, very much like the sold out Velocity Center across Hamilton Street at Reilly's City Center Three office building built on the site of the former Colonial Theater.  

Jane Heft, Center City Investment's vice president and project design director, said the Hamilton Flats' appearance will be modeled after the former 19th Century Hotel Allen located on Allentown's Seventh Street square. It will feature a Mansard French roof and front stairwell facing Hamilton Street which, at night, will illuminate a full six stories high and resemble a giant beacon, she said.

A pedestrian bridge will connect the new building on its second floor to the public parking garage located behind it, Dilorenzo said.

He said demolition is expected to begin next week and project completion is forecasted for late next summer.

The second project approved is the $3.5 million revamp of the Morning Call building at the corner of Sixth and Linden streets, across from two newly constructed Strata upscale apartment buildings, all located at the same intersection.

DiLorenzo said because there is a such high demand for increased second class downtown office space, and the newspaper utilizes 80 percent of the building, CCI plans to renovate 45,000 to 50,000 square feet of space inside.

Upgrades include improvements to the building's heating, air conditioning, and ventilation systems in addition to the elevators and the reopening of previously closed entrances on Linden Street. 

In other matters, the board heard a presentation made by Heft regarding her company's ongoing contributions to the downtown arts scene, particularly the completion and promotion of the arts walk beginning at the PPL Center to the Allentown Art Museum.

"It's a whole mission of reinventing the city's downtown and making people want to work and live there, " she said.   

She pointed out the free display of artists' renderings in vacant retail storefront windows promotes artistic development. She also said all galleries, such as the Renaissance Hotel's mezzanine, have been rent-free to artists and art organizations.

"We plan to keep moving with this concept," she said.

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