Downtown Allentown’s Transformation a Model for Urban Redevelopment
By Colin McEvoy on February 6, 2023
Editor’s Note: This story is the fourth of a four-part series exploring investment in the Lehigh Valley’s downtowns. Previous stories featured Easton, Bethlehem and the region’s boroughs.
Downtown Allentown’s renaissance and rebirth over the past decade has been such a remarkable success story for the Lehigh Valley that it has become a national best practices model, from the PPL Center arena and surrounding restaurants and nightlife, to the city’s multiple Class A office towers and attractive apartment communities.
But the revitalization of downtown Allentown is far from over. Several new businesses opened their doors this past year, and residential and commercial construction has continued throughout Allentown’s downtown and waterfront districts, with the city seeing an increase in permits issued from 2019 to 2022.
“Allentown’s urban core has undergone a dramatic transformation in recent years, attracting new residents and employers to the Lehigh Valley,” said Don Cunningham, President and CEO of Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corp (LVEDC). “The renaissance of Pennsylvania’s third largest city is an example of how community leaders and government can work together to affect real change.”
Allentown Mayor Matt Tuerk said he continues to see “Allentown rise as a center for investment not just from developers but also entrepreneurs who want to be a part of what’s happening here.”
“The diverse experiences offered in Allentown from our thriving arts and culture scene, restaurants, and true metropolitan living draw individuals who want to call our city home,” he said.
New projects and construction
Among the major Allentown downtown projects completed or under construction in the past year was developer Nat Hyman’s conversion of a vacant three-story warehouse on Hamilton Street – which was previously built as a meat-packing plant – into 27 loft apartments.
Nearing completion is the six-story 615 Waterfront Drive, which includes five stories of Class A office space with first floor retail and restaurant suites. The 125,000 square-foot project by Jaindl Properties is part of the Allentown Waterfront project, which seeks to redevelop 26 acres along the western banks of the Lehigh River once occupied by Lehigh Structural Steel Co.
The construction of Riverfront Lofts at 207 North Front Street is also nearly finished. This three-story multi-family development transformed an existing low-rise building into a vibrant mix of residential and commercial uses, including 25 residential dwelling units on the upper two floors, several offices of about 10,500 square feet and other commercial uses.
Additionally, the Da Vinci Science Center is building a new science center and STEAM education facility at 18 N. 8th Street in the city. The $80 million project will total 67,000 square feet, including 30,000 square feet of exhibition space and a 9,800 STEAM learning center.
City Center Allentown projects
City Center Allentown, the developer behind such significant projects as the Renaissance Allentown Hotel, Two City Center and Five City Center, has continued its work to help develop and revitalize the downtown Allentown neighborhood, investing a total of $104 million in 2022 projects.
This past year saw the opening of The Hive Residences, a 240,000 square-foot, four-story, 258-unit residential development in two buildings at 7th and Linden Streets that share a gated courtyard. The complex also includes five “Live x Work Units” that let entrepreneurs operate a storefront while living in an apartment directly above it.
City Center also completed a six-story, 107-unit apartment building at 932 Hamilton Street called The Gallery at Cityplace. The project includes nearly 114,000 square feet of space, including an ultra-large rooftop deck for outdoor gatherings, co-working areas, and first floor retail space.
The developer also broke ground on 1010 Apartments, a four-story walkup building located on 1010 Hamilton Street that will have 125 units, with a mixture of studio, one-bedroom, and two-bedroom apartments.
“Downtown Allentown has been established as a premier place to live,” City Center President J.B. Reilly said. “The ongoing demand for housing downtown makes us bullish about the future of residential, and the retail to support it, from 9th Street west on Hamilton to 15th Street. This key gateway to the city is called ‘Downtown West,’ and City Center’s next development push will be in this neighborhood.”
In addition to City Center’s residential projects, 2022 saw the opening of a People First solutions center, AblePay Health’s new office, and the Maple Street Parking Deck. New merchants were welcomed at the Downtown Allentown Market, including Ciao Sandwich Shoppe, Khanisa’s Pudding Bar, and The Loaded Plantain.
New businesses opening
Several new businesses continue to call downtown Allentown home. A total of 106 new In City Business Licenses were issued in 2022 in the downtown and waterfront districts for a variety of different types of operations, according to Mark Hartney, Deputy Director of the Allentown Department of Community and Economic Development.
New neighborhood bars Pennsylvania Rye Company and Sports & Social Allentown both opened in 2022. Grandpa’s Kitchen (La Cocina del Abuelo) opened at 621 Hamilton Street, and the Soft Machine Gallery at 105 Ridge Avenue reopened to the public, Hartney said.
DLP Real Estate Capital purchased the former PPL Plaza at 835 Hamilton Street and plans to move 80 employees to the 8th floor of the building. Additionally, RKL Accountants merged with Stoudt Associates, resulting in 25 new jobs at 840 Hamilton Street.
This past year saw several new pop-up shops open, according to City Center, including Downtown Dollhouse & Co Lash and Brow House, Maltas con Leche Art Gallery, Beautified by Tiana Marie Women’s Clothing, Silveri & Co., Mia’s Baby Boutique, A Little Bit of Local, Properly Laced, and Made by Nano Men’s Clothing.
Road and streetscape improvements
The first phase of Riverside Drive was completed in the summer of 2022, a project that had been in planning stages for seven years, consisting of a new three-lane road running about one mile from Hamilton Street to American Parkway, Hartney said.
The Tilghman Street Bridge also reopened this past year after about four years of work, which had been further delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic. The $25 million project included bridge rehabilitation, deck replacement, drainage work, lighting upgrades, and other improvements.
Allentown is also continuing its Streetscape Improvement Project, which began in April and continued into mid-November. It has resulted in new sidewalks, curbing, lighting, trees, gathering areas, bike racks, parking kiosks, and other amenities, Hartney said.
Phase I of the project focused on the 500 and 600 blocks of Hamilton Street as well as portions W. Linden, N. Sixth, and N. Seventh Street. The spring of 2023 will bring improvements to the 900, 1000, and 1100 blocks as well as DaVinci Science Center public improvements in later phases.
February 2023 Issue of LVStartup Has Been Released
The February 2023 issue of LVstartup, a monthly e-newsletter about entrepreneurs and startups in the Lehigh Valley, has been released. Click here to see the new issue, [...]Continue to Next Page