Downtown Allentown now has global recognition for the scope of its redevelopment efforts.
The city’s revitalization district is among 13 real estate development projects from around the world that won the 2017-2018 Urban Land Institute’s Global Awards for Excellence.
According to ULI, a global nonprofit based in Washington, D.C., eight of the winners were from the U.S, two from Canada, one from Europe and two from Asia. None of the other U.S. winners were from Pennsylvania.
Pennsylvania’s Neighborhood Improvement Zone tax incentive legislation jump-started Allentown’s downtown revitalization and it’s one of the reasons for the success of the transformation that’s still going on.
State Sen. Pat Browne was instrumental in crafting the NIZ legislation, which features a tax incentive that allows for reduced rental rates and has helped to fuel more than $1 billion in construction of new buildings and renovations of existing ones.
“Downtown Allentown really does owe enormous gratitude to Sen. Pat Browne,” said J.B. Reilly, president and CEO of City Center Investment Corp., the firm behind a significant amount of the redevelopment. “The NIZ is the foundation from which all the development is occurring in downtown Allentown.”
Reilly said the global award validates the effectiveness and purpose of the NIZ legislation, which was to revitalize blighted cities in Pennsylvania.
“This will create a national and, frankly, international awareness for downtown Allentown’s revitalization,” he said. “We think that will stimulate interest in businesses moving here from outside the area, outside the state or possibly, outside the country.”
Reilly said he was impressed with the group of finalists, noting they all had really strong projects.
“I think the judges were impressed with the scope and breadth of this revitalization project. The place-making dimension of the project was important to them,” Reilly said. “The way we were able to incorporate retail, hospitality and residential really stood out.”
City Center’s mixed-use development includes more than 1.4 million square feet among three Class-A office buildings, plus a hotel and several apartment buildings, as well as numerous spaces for retailers and restaurants.
The PPL Center arena, which is in the NIZ, was built by Alvin H. Butz Inc. of Allentown and anchors the block containing many of the new buildings.
The Awards for Excellence program focuses on the full development process of the project and recognizes real estate projects that achieve the highest standard of excellence in design, construction, economics, planning and management, according to ULI. Criteria include innovation, public/private partnerships and environmental protection and enhancement.