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City Center takes on $37M project at site of old theater

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Rendering Courtesy of City Center Lehigh Valley
Rendering Courtesy of City Center Lehigh Valley

An investor already heavily invested in transforming Allentown is taking on the vacant site of the former Colonial Theater on West Hamilton Street in the city’s downtown.

The Allentown Commercial and Industrial Development Authority approved a plan for City Center Investment Corp. to build Three City Center, a $37-million office and retail project for City Center Lehigh Valley on the site.

Now an empty lot, the site in the 500 block of West Hamilton once was the home of the grand Colonial Theater. But the theater fell into disrepair and was an eyesore before it was ordered torn down by authorities last decade.

“We think it’s a great site for a lot of different uses,” said J.B. Reilly, CEO of City Center. “Law firms, financial services, almost any company with those amenities around it would find it to be a favorable location.”

The site is near several art and cultural centers and government office buildings, plus, since it’s across the street from five retail buildings that City Center already is renovating, it would be a great place for office workers, Reilly said.

“With all the related activity that’s happening here, there’s a lot of energy and excitement,” Reilly said.

Including this project, City Center will have invested more than $300 million in Downtown Allentown, he said.

At a steel beam-signing ceremony last week that celebrated the construction of PPL Center, William Spence, chairman, president and CEO of PPL Corp., described Three City Center as good news for Reilly. With City Center selected to build the five-story building where the Colonial Theater once stood, the city’s vision of revitalization is being turned into a reality by a host of investors, Spence said.

The Allentown Economic Development Corp. performed the requests for proposals, said Scott Unger, the organization’s executive director. He saw the Three City Center project as one that would continue to bring economic growth to the city in the form of new jobs.

“In a lot of ways, it’s a continuation of the momentum that we are seeing,” Unger said. “Some of the employees who relocate may choose Allentown.”

Sara Hailstone, director of the city’s Department of Economic and Community Development, said the Three City Center project shows how much interest there is in new companies wanting to locate downtown.

“They [City Center] are currently planning for 110,000 square feet [of office space] because of how much interest in their properties they’ve had,” Hailstone said. “There’s so much interest in businesses wanting to move to a new site.”

Downtown Allentown appears to be the place that businesses and investors are choosing.

“I think the impact is already happening downtown; I’ve seen a lot more street traffic,” said Gerry Alfano, president and CEO of Alliance for Building Communities Inc. of Allentown and chairman of the Allentown Commercial and Industrial Development Authority.

Besides City Center Lehigh Valley, two other organizations made proposals for the property. Think Loud LLC and Alvin H. Butz Inc. applied for the project as one entity, according to Alfano.

“It’s another addition to the downtown that for years we were struggling to develop,” said Mayor Ed Pawlowski. “It’s a great location with the Arts Park, the symphony hall. … We think it would make a great addition to the downtown.”

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Brian Pedersen

Brian Pedersen

Reporter Brian Pedersen covers construction, development, warehousing and real estate and keeps you up to date on the changing landscape of our community. He can be reached at brianp@lvb.com or 610-807-9619, ext. 4108. Follow him on Twitter @BrianLehigh and read his blog, “Can You Dig It,” at http://www.lvb.com/section/can-you-dig-it.

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