ALLENTOWN, Pa. - The Da Vinci Science Center's planned new building in downtown Allentown is getting a major boost.

Da Vinci was awarded a $5.6 million loan from the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development, the nonprofit announced Tuesday.

The Section 108 loan will be used for the new science center, planned for the 800 block of Hamilton Street.

"This award marks a major milestone," said Lin Erickson, Executive Director.

The loan, combined with a $20 million grant from the state, puts the center at just under half of its $60 million budget.

"We feel very confident in the ability to raise those funds. I think as the months progress we'll be making other announcements about funding for the project," Erickson said.

Plans for the center have changed over the years. First, it was slated to be an aquarium in Easton, but it later shifted to a biodome. Plans moved outside of Easton when the city pulled out financially and was no longer willing to offer a waterfront property on Third Street.

Last October, the center announced it would be shifting plans to a location just outside of Allentown's Neighborhood Improvement Zone, a special taxing district that has spurred $1 billion dollars in development over the last few years.

The center is planned for a location in the 800 block of Hamilton Street, not far from the PPL Center.

"We are within one mile walking distance of over 50,000 residents in Allentown, which is almost half the residents of Allentown, many of those folks have not been to a science center," Erickson said.

It expects several hundred thousand visitors annually. The target completion date is sometime in 2023.

Erickson said the pandemic has provided a unique opportunity for project designers, but has not impacted the project's timeline.

"We have to always look at the design of the building and experiences inside to maximize safety and health of our visitors," Erickson said. "I think those are all things we'll be looking at moving forward."

The new center will offer a range of science programs for residents, particularly school-age children and families.

It's not yet known if the current location at Cedar Crest College will remain open when the new facility opens. More details about the project are expected to be released in November.

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