Lehigh Valley

Newest City Center apartment project 'attainable' option for downtown workers

Allentown planners OK conversion of Holiday Inn

ALLENTOWN, Pa. - The developer behind the Center City Allentown building boom has pitched its latest apartment project as a more “attainable” option for the city’s working class.

J.B. Reilly, president of City Center Investment Corp., provided the Allentown Planning Commission Tuesday with an overview of Cityplace, a plan to re-use the former Holiday Inn property at Ninth and Hamilton streets.

The $25 million project would redevelop the now vacant 224-room, eight-story hotel into 120 apartments. The hotel’s banquet and conference space has already been demolished to make way for a new four-story building that will house 78 apartments.

Reilly told planning commissioners that the hotel façade will remain largely intact except for larger windows and newer, more efficient heating and air conditioning units. The existing stair towers, corridors and elevators will remain as they exist and be upgraded.

The popcorn ceilings in the hotel have already been scraped off to expos the concrete ceilings. Reilly said the apartments will offer an industrial feeling but still “light and airy.”

The new building will be laid out in a U-shape, creating a courtyard between the two buildings that will include amenities such as a small pool, fire pits and a dog park, according to Reilly.

The project will include a mix of studio and one-bedroom apartments. The developer will combine three standard hotel rooms into a one-bedroom apartment.

The project will include three retail spaces along Ninth Street totaling about 2,900 square feet. Reilly envisions “neighborhood retail” such as a coffee shop and other resident services. The project will also include a fitness room, a club room, “co-working space” and a theater to help foster community, Reilly said.

City Center hopes the project will fill the void for more “attainable housing” geared toward those working in the hospitality industry in Allentown or people fresh out of college in entry level positions. Reilly said the studios will fetch monthly rents of $750 and $950 for the one bedrooms, rents that are lower than City Center’s Strata apartments.

Cecilia Gerlach – an Allentown City Council candidate – told planning commissioner that she lives about a block away from City Place. While she said it’s great to see Downtown housing at a lower price point, someone earning about $16 an hour could afford a studio apartment.

Someone working at a PPL Center concession stand still probably couldn’t afford an apartment at Cityplace, but perhaps a manager could, Gerlach said.

She said liked the idea of “neighborhood retail” and asked that City Center re-engage the community to see what kind of retail they’d like to see or need.

When City Center bought the former Holiday Inn, it was operating at roughly 30 percent capacity with its conference space nearly unused, Reilly told planning commissioners. The size of the bathrooms and hotel layout made it cost prohibitive to renovate the building to current hotel standards, he said.

The Allentown Parking Authority has agreed to provide up to 250 spaces for residents in the deck off West Maple Street.

Planning commissioners granted final land development approval for the new four-story apartment building and recommended the city’s zoning hearing board approve the developer’s adaptive re-use application. City Center will also need a variance for the amount of storage space provided for each tenant.

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