ALLENTOWN, Pa. -

Despite all the lamentations and litigation surrounding center-city Allentown’s arena project, another small step toward making the project a reality was taken in a third floor conference room in City Hall late Tuesday afternoon.

The Allentown Commercial and Industrial Development Authority approved an application for Neighborhood Improvement Zone financing to create two restaurants fronting the 700 block of Hamilton Street.

The restaurants, part of the hockey arena complex, will be on the street level of a seven-story office building to be built along the north side of Hamilton.

The larger of the two unnamed dining establishments will be a casual sports bar and restaurant, open for lunch, dinner and before and after hockey games. It will be closest to the main arena entrance at 7th and Hamilton. That restaurant will cover up to 6,000 square feet.

The other will be an upscale coal-fired pizza restaurant, farther up the block. It will cover about 3,000 square foot.

Both restaurants will be accessible from the hockey arena without going outdoors as well as from Hamilton Street. They will be owned by BDH Development LLC, which will operate the arena and already has a lease with ACIDA for the two proposed restaurant properties. The estimated cost to turn those retail “shells” into restaurants is $2 million.

That cost will be subsidized “considerably” by NIZ revenues generated by the two restaurants, said Scott Unger, executive director of the Allentown Economic Development Corporation.

The restaurants will be run by the same food and beverage operator that will be hired for the arena. “We’re close to finalizing a deal to make Ovations Food Services that company,” said Rob Brooks, BDH president. “They operate more than 138 locations nationwide.” He added that includes full-service restaurants in arenas, convention centers and casinos.

BDH’s two restaurants will be created during the arena construction, using the arena contractor, and will open simultaneously with the arena.

Brooks said the two restaurants will provide 61 jobs.

There was no discussion about opening dates for the restaurants or arena during the short meeting. At the end of the meeting, Unger was asked if the arena project still is on schedule for completion by fall of next year, in light of suburban municipalities’ legal challenge to the state law that created the NIZ financing mechanism. He replied: “We’re reviewing that on a day-to-day basis.”