Downtown Allentown building soon may bite the dust
A familiar building in downtown Allentown soon may be gone.
PPL plans to demolish the Gallery in the 900 block of Hamilton Street.
Built in 1975, the design of the two-story building reflected the curved canopies of the long-gone Hamilton Mall.
With a central atrium beneath an arched canopy, roof-top parking and first floor retail space, the two-story Gallery was envisioned as a mini-shopping mall. It initially was known as Gallery on the Mall.
PPL had been renting office space inside the Gallery building ever since it was built. The company gradually took more and more space, until it bought the building at 932-944 Hamilton from the original owners in 1999.
The building has deteriorated to the point where it no longer is safe for people to work in, said PPL spokesman George Lewis.
"The cost to bring it up to standards would exceed what it would cost to tear it down and build a new building,” he said.
Because the building is within the city’s "historic building demolition overlay district," PPL needs approval from Allentown’s Zoning Hearing Board to tear it down, explained Barbara Nemith, the city’s zoning supervisor.
The electric utility will seek that approval when it appears before the zoning board at 7 p.m. Monday in City Hall.
Nemith said the zoning board looks for certain criteria before it will approve the demolition of any possibly historic building. For example, zoners will want to make sure the proposed demolition wasn’t caused by “a self-created condition.” And PPL will have to provide sufficient evidence that it cannot be repaired or reused.
While it was not yet complete Friday morning, Nemith said a summary of the building’s historical significance will be presented to the zoning board.
"We’ve been gradually moving folks out of that building, as the condition of the building deteriorated," said Lewis of PPL. "Last year the deterioration accelerated to the point that it was not safe to have anyone in there anymore. We moved everyone out of there last fall."
Lewis said the roof-top parking lot was a major factor in the building’s demise.
He attributed the deterioration to the weight of cars parking on the flat roof, as well as the weight of snow. He said cracks developed in the concrete roof and water got inside the building, deteriorating steel beams holding up that roof.
"We want to tear it down so it doesn’t become a safety hazard on Hamilton Street."
Lewis said structural engineers have assessed the condition of the building annually for the last several years. As sections were determined to be unsafe, they were shored up and cleared out.
With the Hamilton Mall and its canopies gone, Lewis said the building doesn’t blend in with the surrounding architecture.
After the building is demolished and removed, Lewis said the lot will be graded and seeded. "We’re hoping to get the demolition started this spring, so we can not only get the building out of the way but get the grass down."
Lewis said PPL has no long-range plans for the three-quarter-acre property.
"We’re going to make it a green space until we can do an assessment of our office space in downtown. It’s not known if we will rebuild on it or offer it for sale for redevelopment," said Lewis, who noted the property is in the city’s Neighborhood Improvement Zone, which should make it attractive to potential buyers if PPL decides to sell it.
He said PPL rented office space in several buildings along Hamilton Street for years, until the company expanded into its Plaza building at 9th and Hamilton in 2003.
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