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Lehigh Valley

Taller Three City Center approved by Allentown Planning Commission

ALLENTOWN, Pa. - A taller Three City Center will rise early next year on the vacant lot once occupied by the Colonial movie theater along Hamilton Street in Allentown.

A seven-story version of the office building, which will cost about $50 million to build, won final approval the Allentown Planning Commission Thursday afternoon.

Three City Center initially was envisioned as being only five stories tall, but representatives of the developer -- City Center Investment Corp. – often said more levels might be added.

After the plan was approved by a 3-0 vote, planning commission member Richard Button declared: "I think this is really neat! This is gorgeous!"

An artist's rendering makes it obvious that adding two more floors will create a structure that is more imposing and less squat.

Judy Woosnam, vice president of operations for City Center, explained the building will be taller because of the amount of interest it is generating from potential commercial tenants. She said the company already is in negotiations with tenants.

Voting with Button to approve the project were Anthony Toth and Frank Facchiano.

Planning commission members Oldrich Foucek and Christian Brown abstained because they have business dealings with the developer.

James Gentile, construction manager, predicted construction of Three City Center will begin sometime during the first three months of 2014 and take up to one year to complete.

Its address will be 513 W. Hamilton, next to the Old Lehigh County Courthouse.

"This is a neo-classical, beaux-art design," said Gentile, who is president of Allentown-based North Star Construction Management, Inc.

Stressing its symmetry and balance, he said it is architecturally similar to the old courthouse and even the movie theater that was torn down years ago.

The proposed building's "mass and scale are similar to other buildings" in that area of the city, Alan Salinger, the city's chief planner, told the planning commission. He added its scale "does not copy nor detract from the existing adjoining structures."

While the upper six levels of Three City Center will be leased office space, the front of the building's first level will be retail space.

It will have either two or four tenants, possibly including a restaurant.

The design of the rear of the building, which will overlook Allentown's Arts Park, intentionally will be nearly identical to the front facing Hamilton Street.

"Our goal is to have this feel like it's part of the Arts Park," said Gentile.

One difference will be an open porch on the second level will overlook the Arts Park.

That porch will be used by the building's tenants, but will not be open to the public.

Outdoor balconies with gardens are planned on each corner on the roof of the building's sixth floor.

The rear of the first floor will be the upper level of a two-level parking garage. The upper level will be accessed from Law Street, an alley that will run along the side of the building, while the lower level will be accessed from Court Street behind the building.

Three City Center was approved by the Allentown Zoning Hearing Board on Nov. 4.

The project won the approval of the Allentown Commercial and Industrial Authority on July 23.

Another Center City Investment Corp. project, a $1-million renovation of a building at 732 Hamilton, also won 3-0 approval from the planning commission Thursday.

The property formerly was the House of Chen restaurant and probably will reopen as a new restaurant after the work is completed, according to Woosnam and Gentile.

"We are talking to restaurant operators," she said. "It would be an excellent location for a restaurant."

Salinger called it a very uncomplicated and unremarkable building, which was built in 1900.

The brick exterior will be restored to the front of the building, which also will get a symmetrical array of new windows and doors.

The front of the structure will be topped by a cornice like those on many old buildings in the city, but Salinger explained: "They're under no obligation to copy what might have been there."

Salinger said the new design will give the building a more detailed and sophisticated appearance, with a first and second story window and panel system that will create "an entirely different sense, melding well the new and old downtown design character."

"They're not restricted to an historic design," explained Salinger.

He said the building has less than 20 feet of frontage along Hamilton, but is 230 feet long, "which is not untypical for these buildings."

The building's brick exterior has been hidden behind stucco for years.
After the meeting, Gentile said work already has begun to remove that stucco, with prior approval from the city.

Gentile said the complete restoration will begin early next year and should be completed by spring or summer.

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