Thursday, March 28, 2013

Allentown developer plans tallest building in Lehigh Valley

By Emily Opilo, Of The Morning Call

After decades of spreading out, Allentown could be growing up, its skyline altered by the Lehigh Valley's tallest building.
Developer Bruce Loch unveiled plans Wednesday for the 33-story Landmark Tower at Ninth and Walnut streets. The $60-million project would include nearly 200,000 square feet of office, retail and residential space and eclipse the vacant Martin Tower, the former headquarters of Bethlehem Steel and the Valley's tallest building, by 20 feet.
Loch, an experienced residential builder in the Lehigh Valley with more than $100 million in development under his belt, is making his first foray into this type of project, which he said would be on a lot owned by the Allentown Parking Authority, next to the authority's garage on Walnut Street.
The property is in the city's one-of-a-kind Neighborhood Improvement Zone, which allows developers to tap tenants' state and city taxes, not including property taxes, to finance construction.
Plans, which are in the early stages, call for retail on the ground floor of the tower, topped by 19 stories of offices. Above that would be 10 floors of residential space — of those, six would be for apartments and four for condominiums. The top three floors of the building would be a restaurant and conference center.
Loch said he has been in talks with Philadelphia restaurateurs who might be interested in the space. He has also been working with a possible tenant for the office space. About 150 to 200 jobs would be created by the building's office tenant, he said. Another 200 to 300 would be needed for construction.
The parking authority voted Wednesday to begin negotiations with Loch to hash out a development agreement for the project. Loch said construction could begin by March 2015.
At 350 feet, the new structure would be the tallest in the area, but it wouldn't be the first time Allentown was home to the Lehigh Valley's tallest building. Completed in 1928, the PPL Tower held the title for many years at 322 feet. In 1972, Bethlehem's Martin Tower broke the record, stretching 330 feet into the air.
If built, Loch's tower would also be the tallest building in the state outside of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, he said. Currently, the tallest structure outside Pennsylvania's two largest cities is in downtown Harrisburg.
But unlike most of those buildings, the tower would fit onto a very small site. The 4,000 square-foot plot for sale by the parking authority is currently just a small green space in the NIZ — about one-third the size of the PPL Tower's footprint. Authority members put it out for bid to explore what might be possible, but they weren't sure what they would get, Executive Director Tamara Dolan said.
"I'm still amazed," she said. "I'm not an engineer, I'm not an architect, I'm not a developer. I could have never looked at 4,000 square feet and seen a 33-story office building."
To fit onto the site, Loch's building would be cantilevered. The first eight floors would be 4,900 square feet each. Upper floors would expand to 6,000 square feet. Loch has offered $100,000 for the property.
Sara Hailstone, executive director of the Allentown Neighborhood Improvement Zone Development Authority, sat in on Loch's presentation as a member of the parking authority. It's promising to see more people who want to invest in the NIZ, she said.
"It certainly is a unique spot to put such a tall building," she said.
Alan Jennings, executive director of Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley and a member of the ANIZDA board, said the proposal has not come before the board, but it is an "extraordinary demonstration of the power of the NIZ."
Loch, who is best known for residential development in the Lehigh Valley, said he has had plans for the tower since the 1980s, but the economy tanked as he was preparing to build it. Today, the NIZ makes it possible, he said.
But Loch must clear several hurdles before beginning construction. The lot must be subdivided from an adjacent parking garage, and Loch must get approval from ANIZDA to use NIZ funds for the project.
Loch said he hopes to get 50 percent of the mortgage payment due on the building from NIZ funds.
If it is built, the tower would be a dramatic change to Allentown's landscape. David Bausch, a former city councilman, head of Lehigh County government, and city resident of 81 years, said it would be the first major change to the city's skyline since the 1920s.
Unlike other metropolitan areas that built taller buildings out of necessity, Allentown always had plenty of space, Bausch said. When the city grew, it moved outward, not upward.
But that was the old way of thinking, Bausch said. Today's residents and investors see Allentown as a growing metropolitan area, as evidenced by more modern buildings on Hamilton Street.
"Depending on what the building looks like, I think it would be a very positive thing," Bausch said. "Anything to bring some new business into town."

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.