Construction is gaining steam this spring in Downtown Allentown. And it's no longer just below-the-ground infrastructure work.
Buildings are starting to take shape.
Last week, officials gathered for a steel-beam signing for Two City Center atop the Linden Street parking deck, marking the progress of the 11-story structure that will be home to National Penn Bank headquarters next spring.
Across the street, cranes carried steel beams and lifted slabs of concrete and staircases for the seven-story hotel portion of the $274 million PPL Center project, which also will include a hockey/events arena and office building set to open next year.
During a tour of the arena site, Mike Leone, project manager for Hammes Co. Sports Development, the arena developer, said about 135 workers are on-site at any given day and work is starting to move swiftly.
“You can see it start to take shape,” he said.
As workers put up steel for the hotel, work then will move farther west on the site and then head south.
Working at 24 feet below street level, workers are digging deep to ensure stability. Piles to support buildings reach more than 200 feet deep into the earth, and there are close to 1,700 piles installed at the site, which is about five acres, Leone said.
In comparison, the 11-story Two City Center office building under construction across the street has about 200 pilings, Leone said.
Pilings generally are installed at a depth of 25 feet to 225 feet.
“This site is very complicated because there's a lot of underground work,” Leone said of the PPL Center site.
Workers secured the historic Dime Savings Bank Building, which dates to 1925, and Leone said the plan is to make modifications and energy efficiencies to restore the structure so it remains on-site.
“You'll still have a nice, traditional element that's left in Allentown,” he said.
The arena is set to open in September 2014, Leone said.
By Memorial Day, the company expects to pour the base for the first parking garage and possibly start installing steel beams for the office building. The north side garage would be the last structure to be built before workers dismantle the cranes, Leone said.
Alvin H. Butz Inc. of Allentown is the construction manager for the project.
Meanwhile, North Star Construction of Allentown North Star Construction Management of Allentown is building the $60 million 11-story office building for Two City Center.
“We're anxious to open this building by next May, maybe sooner,” said J.B. Reilly, president of City Center Lehigh Valley, who added that National Penn will become the first new bank with headquarters in Downtown Allentown since 1989.
Describing it as the beginning of the rejuvenation of Allentown, Mayor Ed Pawlowski said projects such as these are going to be a model for cities not just throughout the state, but throughout the U.S.
“I think it will draw people from around the region,” he said. “This building can house more than 800 employees.”