Traub said ANIZDA will find someone to do that independent estimate of the project costs. It was unclear how much such an estimate will cost
--- someone guessed $5,000 --and who will pay for it. Traub said he will get feedback about the cost from some major local contractors "and then we can talk about who is going to bear that cost."

Stoudt is concerned that someone doing such an estimate might say everything needs to be repainted, ripped out and redone.

Despite his concerns, Traub said the Americus "clearly is an important development" in center city.
Stoudt said he told Abdouche to stop working on the building, and to stop spending his own money on it, until he has NIZ approval, "but he wants that building to succeed and he wants there to be progress every day. This speaks to Albert's commitment to that building. The city is benefiting from that, rather than a building setting unattended and crumbling."

A symbol of urban decline

Jennings said not too long ago the Americus was in the wrong hands, actually was crumbling and had become "almost a symbol of urban decline in Allentown."

The 13-story building was built in 1927. It has been closed since 2002 and is completely empty. Abdouche purchased it in 2010 and has been working on it ever since. In 2012, he finally succeeded in getting the city to expand its center-city Neighborhood Improvement Zone to include the Americus property

The NIZ was created as an economic development tool to spur the current transformation of downtown Allentown, as well as part of the Lehigh River waterfront in the city.

State law allows some state and local taxes collected by businesses within an Allentown-based NIZ to be used to fund economic development projects within that zone.

ANIZDA approval of a project means it is eligible to receive help to pay off loans, explained Jennings after the meeting. "Part of the way they get the bank loan is we will guarantee a certain amount of the revenue to pay that debt. We don't make loans. We help with debt payments."

Hotel operation

Abdouche intends to hire a professional hotel management company to operate the hotel in the property. Stoudt promised it will be "someone recognized in the industry as knowing how to run a hotel. When you all see their resume, you'll say 'Great! This is a class operation coming to help a class developer develop a landmark property'."

The hotel will seek to earn and then maintain a triple diamond rating from AAA.

Jennings indicated if the Americus does not meet and maintain such standards, ANIZDA could withdraw its support from the project.

The hotel will be on the building's first five floors. Only the lobby will be on the first floor, with all guest rooms on floors two through five.

Floors six through eight will be apartments. Floors nine and 10 will be office space. "There is a possibility the ninth floor will be converted to offices depending on the demand," said Stoudt.

He said when the hotel is operating, along with the new Marriott Renaissance hotel in the first block of N. 7th Street and the Holiday Inn at 9th and Hamilton, "it will allow for us to attract some large conferences that will meet in the PPL Arena."

As for parking, he said they are working with the Allentown Parking Authority to develop valet parking for the Americus, using nearby parking garages.

Stoudt maintained the work to be done on the Americus will create at least 25 new construction and building supply jobs. "I believe these are conservative estimates."

Stoudt said Abdouche wants to meet NIZ requirements "to use local workers at prevailing wages, including locally sourced materials."

One concern raised by ANIZDA board members at the meeting was many contractors on a list from the developer are from out of state, but almost none are from the local area. "We don't have to go with these contractors," said Abdouche.

When fully functioning, the property will have 317 new service sector employees. Stoudt, who called them "good paying jobs," said those employees probably will take buses to the Americus or walk from nearby neighborhoods. He said the completed project will help raise median salaries in Allentown.

He said Abdouche has made a concerted effort to find women and ethnic minorities to both work in the building and occupy some of its space.
He said a coffee shop will be leased by a woman and a barber shop will be owned by two Latino men.

He also predicted 80 new professional jobs will be in the building's office space.

Jennings said Abdouche was involved in restoring the former Ice Palace skating rink in east Allentown, which had been a blighted property. It is now called Palace Center and weddings, banquets and other events are held there.