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Approval advances plan for 33-story Allentown tower

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RENDERING COURTESY OF W2A DESIGN GROUP
This architectural rendering shows a street view from Ninth and Walnut streets of a proposed 33-story tower in Allentown.
RENDERING COURTESY OF W2A DESIGN GROUP This architectural rendering shows a street view from Ninth and Walnut streets of a proposed 33-story tower in Allentown.

Thirty-one years after introducing a plan to build a 33-story tower in Allentown, the project’s developer earned approval from the city’s planning commission.

The $70 million Allentown Landmark Tower project at the corner of Ninth and Walnut streets includes retail and office space, residential units and a parking deck.

Michael Hefele, Allentown’s director of planning and zoning, confirmed the commission’s Tuesday approval this morning and said the project requires two variances. As such, the developer needs approval from the city’s zoning hearing board. Also, the project would require financing approval from the Allentown Neighborhood Improvement Zone Development Authority, Hefele said.

The property, in the Neighborhood Improvement Zone, would bring tax incentives that could be a powerful draw for tenants. Under the NIZ, tax revenues flow back to developers and help to subsidize monthly mortgage payments. The developers, in turn, can then offer low monthly rents to businesses.

If built, it would be the tallest structure in the Lehigh Valley.

The project’s developer, Bruce Loch, is a Certified Public Accountant who leads an accounting and consulting firm in South Whitehall Township. He originally proposed the tower in 1984; since then the design has changed, including the addition of modern amenities.

This morning, Loch said all of the residential units would be higher than the tallest building in Allentown, the PPL building.

At about 430 feet, the Landmark Tower would top PPL’s building height (322 feet). Martin Tower in Bethlehem is 330 feet tall.

Landmark 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.

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

Loch, who is looking to use the NIZ benefits, said he is hopeful that construction could start by late fall.

The building would have two floors of retail, 24 floors of office and seven floors of condominiums, three of which will be penthouse suites, Glenn Lichtenwalner, principal and chief architect for W2A Design Group, said this morning.

All residential suites will have 360-degree views of Allentown and many spots throughout the region, Loch said. To the west, viewers could see into Berks County, to the north, over Blue Mountain, to the south into Coopersburg and to the east into New Jersey, he said.

He said he will market the residential units once construction begins and noted that he is in negotiations with leases for several office tenants. One potential tenant could take up all of the office space in the building.

The cantilever design, which has a narrow base that widens from the bottom to the top, is popular in many big cities, Lichtenwalner said.

“If you drive to Philly or drive to New York, it’s happening in all the major cities,” he said.

He said the design was unique to Allentown and appropriate for this site.

“I think it’s a great project,” Mayor Ed Pawlowski said this morning. “It will be great to see another building pop up in the city skyline. We are entering a whole new era in the city. It’s great to see new developers stepping up.”

The tower will have a direct connection to an adjacent new parking deck, which will be able to serve the building from the second and fifth floor, as well as the ground floor, Lichtenwalner said.

For Loch, the project has been a long time coming.

“It takes a while for a project of this size and type,” he said. “The concept is new; it kind of has to grow in increments.”

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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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