A project designed to redefine Allentown’s skyline, attract millennials, boost innovation and enhance public and green space for the community got its introduction Tuesday.
City Center Investment Corp. disclosed its revised plans for Five City Center, an office/residential project, to the Allentown Neighborhood Improvement Zone Development Authority at its project review committee meeting. The plan calls for building a $200 million to $250 million complex at Seventh and Hamilton streets around the Wells Fargo building.
The project, now called Five City Center Urban Innovation Campus, is designed by Gensler, a global architectural firm that also designed the Comcast Innovation and Technology Center in Philadelphia, J.B. Reilly, president and CEO of City Center Investment Corp., said this morning.
The project encompasses the entire block of Seventh and Hamilton and Eighth and Hamilton streets, including Seventh and Walnut and Eighth and Walnut streets to the rear. The plan now includes a 17-floor innovation tower with mainly offices and some retail on the ground floor and a 19-floor residential tower of 175 apartment units, with office and retail included.
Other highlights include nearly two acres of open public space and a parking garage for about 700 vehicles.
“I think it’s an excellent addition to the landscape of downtown Allentown,” Sy Traub, chairman of ANIZDA, said this morning. “I think it’s going to define what the Allentown of the future will look like.”
As the master plan for City Center’s mixed-use development in Allentown evolved, it needed to focus on innovative designs, Reilly said.
“To be able to attract the businesses that we need to attract, we need to be focused on the design elements that would create innovative work environments,” Reilly said.
He also recognized the need to enhance the public spaces and add a residential component that would complement urban living, he added. The project includes space for a grocery store and child care services.
Providing child care services could attract millennials, while the residential tower may attract baby boomers who want to leave their homes in the suburbs, Traub said.
Also, the addition of spaces for people to collaborate and exchange ideas in the office tower will help create an innovative district that could tap into the talent of local universities, Traub said.
“Some of the universities want to come downtown so they can engage directly with the businesses,” Traub said.
The project also adds a health care element by providing space for physician and dental offices in the residential tower, Traub said.
“We wanted the master plan to speak to the neighborhood better,” Reilly said. “We are ultimately trying to build a community downtown.”
The towers would be on Hamilton Street, and the structure of the development transitions to the park area to the south.
When the Neighborhood Improvement Zone legislation was put together, it was not just about spurring economic development in City Center, but also about community development, Reilly said.
“I think this plan continues to point us in that direction in terms of incorporating the neighborhood,” he said.
Traub said Reilly could be appearing before the board in August for ANIZDA to give approval to extend his line of credit from $185 million to $320 million to finance the project. The campus is expected to cost between $200 million and $250 million to build.
While approvals are still needed from the city and ANIZDA, Reilly said if everything goes right, City Center could break ground on the project in the first quarter of 2016.
“Ultimately, we need to sign leases and get commitments from businesses,” he said. “We are talking to a number of companies right now.”
By adding innovation to the design, it’s making the project attractive to a lot of the companies City Center is talking to now, he added.
Traub described the project as a bold, new concept that defines Allentown as a major city but does so in a way that’s consistent with the traditional nature of its past.
City Center will demolish some buildings to develop the project; it owns all of the properties where the campus will go up. Reilly said City Center began planning and acquiring properties for this project several years ago after it was certain the arena at PPL Center would be built in downtown Allentown.
“This is going to be the kind of project that will have a similar impact that the arena project had,” Reilly said. “It’s going to redefine the skyline in Allentown.”