If plans to revitalize the landmark Americus Hotel succeed in center-city Allentown, the building no longer will be just a hotel.

In fact, less than half of it will be a hotel.

An 85-room hotel will be just one of several uses inside the building, along with 48 apartments, commercial offices, stores and restaurants on the lower levels and another large restaurant or banquet room on the top floor.

That just might be why the project is being called "Americus Center--- An Historic Hotel," rather than simply the Americus Hotel.

Plans for the property at 6th and Hamilton streets, including how many people will be employed there, were outlined for members of the Allentown Neighborhood Improvement Zone Development Authority in City Hall Tuesday morning.

"The Americus Hotel is too important to fail," said Alan Jennings, who chairs the ANIZDA project review committee that held the meeting. "The outcome for us is a grand building, properly managed."

"My greatest concern is we do not want to have a project that is going to fail," said ANIZDA chairman Seymour Traub. He said if ANIZDA approves a project that goes belly-up when only half completed, that building will "sit vacant and stalled in the middle of our city."

Albert Abdouche, owner of the Americus, and Michael Stoudt, his consultant, were hoping to get a bright green light from the committee that their project was approved for NIZ financing.

Americus owner Albert Abdouche, left, and consultant Michael Stoudt

Americus owner Albert Abdouche, left, and consultant Michael Stoudt

The signal they got was more of a proceed-with-caution yellow, but they were satisfied.

"The record can show you've got the blessing of this committee,"
Jennings told the developer at the end of the meeting. "Good luck to you and thanks for the investment you are making in our city."

Jennings said his committee supported moving the project forward with "a collective nod rather than a formal vote." He explained his committee decides "what's going to pass muster for NIZ support. We gave that to them, with a number of conditions.

"We want to make sure they put the materials and the quality of construction into this building that a historic landmark hotel deserves. We want it restored to its historic grandeur."

After the meeting, Stoudt said: "We got everything we needed and we expected there would be some concern over the project cost." He said Abdouche now has 120 days to acquire bank financing. "And then the full ANIZDA board must vote on approving the loan and approving the development agreement."

Stoudt told the ANIZDA committee: "Within 120 days of getting a green light today, we will obtain a commitment letter from a bank or private financing.

"And before closing on the loan documents, Albert has made a commitment that the hotel will be brought to code. This isn't required by the ANIZDA guidelines, but it's something he wants to do."

The project has a proposed price tag of about $13.2 million, for which Abdouche hopes to get NIZ financing.

If financing can be arranged, he anticipates the transformation of the building can be completed in six to nine months.

He said he already spent $3.2 million to acquire the building, plus more to remove scaffolding that was around the exterior and to improve electrical and sprinkler systems. "We did a lot of inside work.
Cleaning out costs a lot of money." He said the roof has been partially repaired to stop leaks, but it's not finished yet.

Abdouche put the total project cost at $16.5 million, "$17 million maximum."

Traub said the total cost may be more like $20 million.

Protection against failure

"I wish Albert the best of luck, that he will be able to pull this all off," said Traub. "But we have to establish what an independent estimator thinks it is going to cost."

Traub said ANIZDA should require Abdouche to post a bond to cover the full project cost, as determined by that independent project cost estimator. That way, said Traub, if Abdouche would be unable to finish the project, the funds would be available to have someone else take over and complete it.

"The one concern I have is that we will have a failed project in the middle of the city," said Traub.

"We hear you on that," said Stoudt.