Lehigh Valley Project and Individual of the Year Honored at Annual Real Estate Breakfast

By Nicole Radzievich Mertz on November 1, 2021

More than 400 people gathered Oct. 22 at the ArtsQuest Center at SteelStacks, Bethlehem, for the 28th Annual Commercial and Industrial Real Estate Awards Breakfast. (Photo/Amanda R.C. Schumacher)

The Simon Silk Mill, a signature redevelopment project in Easton, was recognized as project of the year and developer Michael Perrucci as individual of the year during the 28th Lehigh Valley Commercial and Industrial Real Estate Awards Breakfast at the ArtsQuest Center.

The prestigious event has long been honoring individuals and organizations that have made significant contributions to the community and projects that create jobs and advance economic development in the Lehigh Valley.

The Oct. 22 event raised more than $135,000. Profits will go to support the Neonatal Intensive Care Units at St. Luke’s University Health Network and Lehigh Valley Health Network.

“Even with the additional challenges elevated by the pandemic this past year, these two hospitals and their heroic health care workers continued to provide first-rate care for the babies born in our community,” said Ana Martins, 2021 chair of the organizing committee. “The Lehigh Valley community is blessed to have these two great hospitals.”

The Lehigh Valley Commercial & Industrial Real Estate Foundation is a nonprofit that supports babies and their families impacted by medical challenges. In years past, the committee funded the March of Dimes national campaign.

Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation (LVEDC) was part of the organizing committee and an event sponsor.

Simon Silk Mill

To understand the vision required to redevelop the Simon Silk Mill, look at the windows.

There are 1,300 of them – framed more than 100 years ago when the industrial complex of 15 buildings took shape near the Bushkill Creek in Easton.

The Simon Silk Mill was recognized as project of the year at the Lehigh Valley Commercial and Real Estate Awards Breakfast.

The windows were of different sizes. Each had to be measured and ordered to meet historic specifications, costing more than $6 million. And that wasn’t just window dressing.

The developers pieced together a complicated plan with many partners to turn 19th century industrial complex, designed to produce silk, into an artistically focused community for people to live and work in the 21st century.

“So many things had to go right in the right order to make this happen,” said Mark Mulligan of VM Development Group. “We’re very fortunate that it all worked out.”

The buildings date back to 1883 when brothers Robert and Herman Simon moved their silk mill from New Jersey to Easton. The Lehigh Valley’s silk industry was thriving with as many as 106 mills operating in the region at its peak in 1928, according to published reports.

The Simon mill changed hands several times into the 20th century and was affected by global economic forces. The complex was abandoned by the 1960s. The Easton Redevelopment Authority bought it in 2005, and a master plan was created. The Lehigh Valley Land Recycling Initiative, an LVEDC-led advisory group, worked with redevelopment authority on the project, including $140,000 of an EPA Hazardous Assessment Grant. VM Development in 2015 was selected through a public process to develop the property.

The project was completed last year: 170 apartments and more than 30 businesses that include retail, offices, a gallery, a fitness club, and restaurants. There’s a pedestrian bridge over the Bushkill Creek, connecting the Silk Mill to the downtown via the Karl Stirner Arts Trail.

The project is branded SILK.

Michael Perrucci

Michael Perrucci recalls this wisdom from an old law partner: Don’t pick your deals. Pick your partners.

He said that advice served him well as a developer whose fingerprints are on high profile projects including the former Bethlehem Steel site, where the awards breakfast was held at the ArtsQuest Center at SteelStacks.

Michael Perrucci (second from the right) was recognized as individual of the year at the Lehigh Valley Commercial and Industrial Real Estate Awards Breakfast. (Photo/John Piascik at Bohler Engineering)

“When everyone’s making money, everyone’s happy, and everyone loves each other,” Perrucci told 400 people at the awards breakfast. “But when things go sideways, that’s when you’re in the trenches, and you want to be with the right people.”

Perrucci became involved in the former Bethlehem Steel property after advising a subsequent owner and then bought 147 acres for it with other partners. It became known as SteelStacks, a cultural and entertainment campus at the foot of Steel’s blast furnaces. It now includes the ArtsQuest Center, PBS39, a visitor’s center, public plazas, an outdoor concert venue and the Hoover Mason Trestle, and a casino now owned by Wind Creek Hospitality.

His company Peron is redeveloping other properties in south Bethlehem, the former Floyd Simons Armory in west Bethlehem, and the former Days Inn in downtown Easton. Peron is developing other projects in Phillipsburg and Bridgewater in New Jersey.

Perrucci spent 35 years as a litigator and in 1995 teamed up with former New Jersey Gov. James J. Florio to form a law firm now known as Florio Perrucci Steinhardt Cappelli Tipton & Taylor.

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