A dozen misconceptions about the controversial Hamilton Crossings shopping center project were addressed by developers Tim Harrison and Jeremy Fogel during a community meeting at Muhlenberg College Tuesday night.
The long-delayed $140 million project, which will include Costco, Target and Whole Foods stores as its anchors, is planned on 63 acres in Lower Macungie Township.
The meeting was called by Lehigh County Executive Thomas Muller, who hopes to persuade the county’s commissioners to approve a tax increment financing plan—TIF—for the project, although they rejected that plan by a vote of 6-3 last June.
All nine county commissioners were invited to the Hamilton Crossings meeting, but none of them attended.
“I’m sorry some of them didn’t come, but I’m not going to read anything into it,” said the county executive after the meeting.
While Muller said there is a new board of county commissioners since that vote against the TIF in June, there is only one new person among the nine commissioners, Democrat Geoff Brace.
“If the interest is there,” Muller announced he plans to take the Hamilton Crossings TIF back to the county commissioners for reconsideration “probably early next month.”
Throughout the meeting, Fogel and Harrison repeatedly said what they’ve been saying all along, that without an approved TIF to help pay for the project, Hamilton Crossings won’t be built.
“Our own research shows us that the vast majority of the residents of Lehigh County want this project,” declared Harrison. “They’re excited about these tenants coming. They’re excited about the jobs, the economic benefits, the town center we’re offering the township. They want to see it happen.”
In answer to a resident’s question about the validity of that claim, Harrison said a scientific poll of 500 “carefully selected” county residents was done by Harrisburg-based Susquehanna Research. He promised to post those findings on the Hamilton Crossings Facebook page on Wednesday.
Muller said the developers’ Power Point presentation given at the meeting will be posted on the county’s web site as soon as Wednesday.
One revelation during the meeting is that no towering pylon signs will be erected at Hamilton Crossings if it is built.
A bigger revelation was that Harrison said Hamilton Crossings will not be exactly like the upscale Promenade shopping center in Upper Saucon Township.
“This is a big box shopping center,” he said. “It’s got a Costco with 150,000 square feet and a Target with 135,000 square feet. You don’t see stores of that size at the Promenade. We can’t accommodate that kind of layout.”
Fogel later added that, with larger stores, Hamilton Crossings also needs larger parking lots.
But Harrison stressed Hamilton Crossings will have quality stores, walking trails, bike lanes, public gathering areas, high levels of landscaping and enhanced architecture aimed at giving it more variety than any run-of-the-mill shopping center.
He said artists’ renderings depicting sections of the shopping center that he projected on two screens are not fictional—“this is what we’re going to do.” He added turning those renderings into reality has been a required condition of township approvals that the shopping center has received so far.
Harrison said it will be a first-class, aesthetically-pleasing shopping center, not a Walmart or like the shopping center facing Route 22 off Airport Road just north of Allentown.
Hamilton Crossings 101
The first half of the nearly two-hour meeting was like a Hamilton Crossings 101 course, being taught by Harrison and Fogel to more than 100 people.
The developers gave a detailed overview of Hamilton Crossings, including its economic benefits and challenges.
One of the biggest challenges is mine wash “muck” from 19th-century iron ore mining that is in holes up to 28 feet deep on the property, which is on both sides of Krocks Road between Route 222 and Hamilton Boulevard.
Harrison said 50,000 dump truck loads of that mine wash must be removed from the ground, treated and dried, then returned to the old iron pits. He said until that is done, no buildings or even parking lots can be built on the site.
He said that remediation is adding $12.5 million to the project cost, but TIF money will not be used for that part of the project.