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Looking Back on a Momentous Year for Allentown, City Center Lehigh Valley

By Colin McEvoy on December 19, 2014

A rendering of the 15-story Five City Center, one of several City Center Lehigh Valley projects being developed.

A rendering of the 15-story Five City Center, one of several City Center Lehigh Valley projects being developed.

2014 was a big year for Allentown. After years of anticipation and months of construction, the PPL Center hockey arena opened its doors for the first time in September. The Lehigh Valley Phantoms made their season debut, the Eagles performed the venue’s inaugural concert, and Chickie’s and Pete’s served its first basket of crab fries to arena visitors.

But there was much more going on downtown besides the arena. 2014 also marked the year that City Center Lehigh Valley’s more than $400 million in planned development began to come to fruition, thanks to Allentown’s Neighborhood Improvement Zone tax district. Two of its multi-story Class A office towers opened for the first time, residents are preparing to move into its new luxury apartments, several entrepreneurs have moved downtown to City Center’s co-working space Velocity, and new restaurants have helped bring foot traffic to the city’s rejuvenated night life.

“This was a year of explosive growth for City Center and downtown Allentown, and I couldn’t be more pleased with our progress in revitalizing downtown Allentown,” City Center co-founder and President J.B. Reilly said. “In the new year, we look forward to opening the Renaissance Allentown Hotel and STRATA, and welcoming retailers to meet the demand of the downtown’s 12,000 office workers and hundreds of thousands of visitors.”

Don Cunningham, president and CEO of the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corp. (LVEDC), added: “The NIZ has been a tremendous catalyst in the rejuvenation of downtown Allentown, which will ultimately benefit the entire Lehigh Valley. When the urban core of the largest municipality is on the decline, it affects the whole region. This kind of growth is the rising tide that lifts all boats, and is sure to lead to job creation and improved quality-of-life throughout the Valley.”

Below are some of the City Center Lehigh Valley major highlights for 2014 in downtown Allentown:

* Two City Center became the first City Center office complex to open in March. Located directly across from PPL Center at 645 Hamilton Street, the 11-story Class A office and retail building was already fully leased out before it officially came online, with such tenants as Buckno Lisicky & Company, and Davison & McCarthy. National Penn Bank became the anchor tenant, occupying the top five floors, and marking the first time in almost 35 years that a bank made its headquarters in Allentown.

* The Lehigh Valley Health Network opened its sports medicine and fitness destination at One City Center, the seven-story office building attached to the PPL Center. Occupying five floors, the state-of-the-art 17,000-square-foot center includes a sports performance program, a concussion and head trauma program, a virtual sports simulator, an anti-gravity treadmill and rehabilitation services in such areas as physical and occupational health.

* Residents are already clamoring to live among the excitement of Allentown’s revitalization. Construction began this year on STRATA Luxury Flats at Four City Center, which offers 170 studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom flats directly across from the hockey arena. It boasts retail boutiques, a ground level Shula’s Steak House and a rooftop party deck with fire pits. City Center began accepting deposits in September, but reservations came in even faster than anticipated, and by mid-November deposits were down for about half the flats, which will open this summer.

* Construction began this May at Three City Center, a seven-story office tower being built at the site of the former Colonial Theater, which was demolished in 2005 and had been a significant development challenge for the city. Overlooking the city’s Arts Park, it will become the new home of Norris McLaughlin & Marcus, which will occupy two floors. City Center also announced other potential projects in 2014, including Five City Center, a 15-story office, parking and residential complex that will span the whole block of Walnut Street between Seventh and Eighth streets and serve up to 1,000 workers; and Six City Center, an office building at the former site of the Gallery on the Mall, which was demolished last year after becoming structurally unsound.

Multiple new restaurants have opened in the hockey arena block, including The Hamilton Kitchen and Bar on the ground floor of Two City Center, directly across from the PPL Center entrance. The eatery, operated by Blue and Melt co-founder Donny Petridis, opened in July and regularly sees big crowds departing from hockey games and concerts. In addition to Shula’s Steak House at STRATA, City Center also plans to open a restaurant and lounge above the hockey arena entrance called The Dime, and is seeking an operator to reopen The Federal Grill. These will join other new downtown restaurants like Chickie’s and Pete’s, Tony Luke’s Cheesesteaks, the Roar Social House, Crust and Tim Hortons.

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