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CEO says Lehigh Valley’s Amazon pitch shows power of Allentown’s revitalization

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J.B. Reilly, president and CEO of City Center Investment Corp., speaks at the Renaissance Allentown Hotel
J.B. Reilly, president and CEO of City Center Investment Corp., speaks at the Renaissance Allentown Hotel - (Photo / )

Could Amazon choose downtown Allentown for its second headquarters?

It was a question on people’s minds during a presentation by J.B. Reilly, president and CEO of City Center Investment Corp., at Renaissance Allentown Hotel on Wednesday. He discussed the downtown revitalization efforts his company has been making at a meeting of the Executive Forum of the Lehigh Valley.

Of course, Allentown is competing with virtually every other major city in the nation to claim Amazon’s second home. Reilly said Don Cunningham, president and CEO of Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corp., is submitting a response to the request for proposals to the online retail giant to make a bid for the Lehigh Valley.

“Our team is supporting him to market the region,” Reilly said. “There’s conversations going on about that. I think we deserve to be considered.”

The fact that the region could submit an RFP that meets Amazon’s criteria speaks to the power of the revitalization efforts that have taken place and the regional and national attention the downtown has received, he added.

In looking ahead at City Center’s redevelopment efforts, Reilly showed various slides of buildings yet to be constructed, noting that every successful region has a strong downtown.

“There has to be a skyline,” Reilly said. “It’s about creating a strong core that we can all be proud of. A lot of times, we forget what this place was like three or four years ago.”

He displayed several before-and-after images of buildings that have since been razed and replaced with modern office buildings, retail spaces, apartments and the downtown’s anchor, PPL Center.

So far, $600 million has been developed in downtown Allentown by City Center, “which is really extraordinary for a city of this size,” Reilly said. Including development by other investors, the total tops $1 billion.

With a strong focus on millennials, City Center will have built almost 400 new apartments in downtown Allentown by next year at this time, Reilly said.

“What we are finding is there is a shortage of apartments,” he said.

He gave a brief rundown of projects under construction and those to come.

• Strata Symphony will have 71 apartments and should be completed by January.

• Meanwhile, 570 Hamilton St., the site of the former Croc Rock venue, will have 69 apartments, mainly one-bedroom units and studios. The first floor will include co-working and retail space and should be complete by next August, he said.

• Construction continues on Tower 6, an office building which should be complete by May.

• The next big project is the $250 million to $300 million Five City Center Innovation Campus, expected to begin construction shortly and foster growth in collaborative office environments to meet modern working needs.

Many workers who have been in suburban work environments want those same attributes in a city environment, he said. Therefore, development is focused on including green space and park areas.

“When we think about the next wave of development, we are really thinking about education and environment,” Reilly said.

His firm also is planning to invest in public projects, such as creating a circle design at Center Square in front of PPL Center so that it becomes more of a gathering space for people.

Rob Baker, president and CEO of Christmas City Studio of Bethlehem Township, introduced Reilly at the forum and spoke about how businesses can be a part of the renaissance.

“It’s nice to be able to bring our families back to Allentown,” Baker said.

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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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