Construction on region’s largest tower to begin in fall

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Interior rendering of the tower prepared by W2A Design Group, Allentown
COURTESY OF W2A DESIGN GROUP
Interior rendering of the tower prepared by W2A Design Group, Allentown COURTESY OF W2A DESIGN GROUP

Thirty years after introducing a plan to build a 33-story tower in Allentown, the developer for the project says he will finally break ground this October.

The $70 million project at the corner of Ninth and Walnut streets includes retail and office space, residential units and a parking deck. The building, which would be the tallest in the Greater Lehigh Valley, would be completed in the third quarter of 2016.

The property is in the Neighborhood Improvement Zone, resulting in tax incentives that are a strong draw for tenants, according to developer Bruce Loch, a Certified Public Accountant who leads an accounting and consulting firm in Allentown.

Under the NIZ, tax revenues flow back to developers and help to subsidize the monthly mortgage payments. The developers, in turn, can then offer low monthly rents to businesses.

“The tax credits that the tenants could get in some cases could equal the rent they are paying,” Loch said. The tax credits would occur for 30 years after the year the NIZ was established, in 2012.

“We are actively negotiating with several major tenants,” said Loch, whose firm is Loch, Elsenbaumer, Newton & Co. “I have six reservations on the residential units, and we haven’t started marketing them.”

All of the residential units would be higher than the tallest building in Allentown, the PPL building, according to Loch. At about 430 feet, the tower would top PPL’s building height (322 feet).

“The views are going to be spectacular,” Loch said.

Residents would be able to see the Mountaintop Campus at Lehigh University and Martin Tower, both in Bethlehem, according to Loch. Martin Tower in Bethlehem is 330 feet tall.

The tower would be 85 feet wide up to the sixth floor, where it would increase to 90 feet wide the rest of the way, Loch said. With an exterior of glass and metal panel, the tower would be built on a 5,200-square-foot plot.

The building would include three floors of penthouse units, nine floors of residential condominiums, 20 floors of office space, a parking deck and retail space on the first floor, Loch said. The plan is flexible and could be adjusted.

The developer has a 20-year lease with the Allentown Parking Authority for 250 spaces in the adjacent parking deck.

NorthStar Construction Management of Upper Macungie Township is the construction firm for the project. W2A Design Group of Allentown is the architect.

The Dietrick Group is promoting the property, and Loch said he will announce tenants as the date approaches for the groundbreaking.

“We are really pretty far down the pike at this time,” he said.

The project is called the Allentown Landmark Tower, although the name could change if a large tenant signs on and wants naming rights, Loch said.

“The ability to put your name on the building, it’s a big deal,” he said.

Glenn Lichtenwalner, chief architect, chief operating officer and principal of W2A Design Group, said there are many office buildings in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh built on similar plots that use a cantilever, a concept that allows portions of a tall building to overlap its base.

“High-rise residential developments are really taking off in offices in New York City and Philadelphia,” Lichtenwalner said. “We’re hoping that Allentown will continue that trend. We’re the third largest city [in Pennsylvania]. We need to be proud of that and to allow structures like this to exist and dominate our skyline.”

Lichtenwalner grew up in Allentown and described the PPL building as a great structure. He said the Landmark Tower would be a unique marker for the city, similar to the buildings found in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

Since 1984, the project design has changed and W2A revised the project to provide more modern amenities.

“It provides an opportunity for businesses to come into the area and really make a statement,” Lichtenwalner said. “For residential, it really provides a premium location with urban amenities.”

Sy Traub, chairman of the Allentown Neighborhood Improvement Zone Development Authority, said the developer has not presented the project to the organization’s staff. Proposals that come before the ANIZDA are reviewed by the organization in a multistep process to see if they are in compliance with the intention of the NIZ, according to Traub.

Traub said it was premature to comment on the tower project and that Loch needs various city approvals before presenting the project to the ANIZDA board.

For city approvals, Loch said he would only need Planning Commission approvals since the building is zoned for what the planned uses are going to be. He said he would go before the Planning Commission in August or September and shortly thereafter approach ANIZDA.

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. 108. Follow him on Twitter @BrianLehigh and read his blog, “Can You Dig It,” at http://www.lvb.com/section/can-you-dig-it. Brian also has a strong interest in health and fitness. He works part-time as a personal trainer at Steel Fitness Riverport in Bethlehem and earned his personal fitness trainer certification from World Instructor Training Schools.

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