Lehigh Valley

Expanded NIZ could include few key buildings around arena

Expanded NIZ could include few key buildings around arena

ALLENTOWN, Pa. - State officials now say Allentown's hockey arena zone can expand. If it does, it could mean a glut of new hotel rooms downtown.

The city's Neighborhood Improvement Zone funnels tax money back into the arena and projects surrounding it. Up until now, that zone excluded a few key buildings, but the state's decision may change that.

The old Americus Hotel is a symbol of better days in downtown Allentown. The luxury fixtures still stand inside, but after three years of renovations, developers are still struggling to restore and reopen it.

Now, relief could come from the city's new hockey arena -- more specifically, the Neighborhood Improvement Zone helping to pay for it.

The Pennsylvania Department of Revenue said the zone can be expanded to include the Americus project and other downtown buildings. That could raise $6 million, according to developer Albert Abdouche, and help him fill the building's empty storefronts with shops and restaurants.

Abdouche said he believes the extra money could get the hotel reopened in time for the fall 2013 hockey season.

"I think it's going to be fantastic," said Joe Clark, another business owner now looking at the NIZ.

Clark's music club, Crocodile Rock, is already within the NIZ, but the building next door is not, and that's where he wants to put a small hotel.

"The hotel would accommodate our entertainment and some of our customers," said Clark.

If Clark proceeds, that would mean four downtown hotels, including one the city wants to open at the arena itself. Is that too many rooms?

"No, it's not at all," said Clark. "Probably not even enough, especially on concert night and hockey night."

The city has a short window to add these buildings to the hockey arena zone. It plans to sell bonds to finance the arena in the next few weeks, and any changes have to be done by then.

No one from the city was available for comment Monday.

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