When Route 33 was extended to Interstate 78 in 2002, it quickly led to retail and, later, health care development in southern Northampton County.
Logistics centers and warehouses, meanwhile, were slower to develop along the Route 33 corridor in Northampton County.
The 2015 opening of the long-awaited Charles Chrin interchange in Palmer Township has led to scores of millions of dollars in distribution centers near Route 33 in the township.
The interchange is even driving industrial growth north along Route 33 in the Slate Belt and southeast to Forks Township, also near Route 33.
Put another way, now is the time for explosive growth along the artery that extends from Interstate 80 in Monroe County all the way to its I-78 junction in Bethlehem Township. Developers from all over the country have shown interest in leasing space to industrial users at a location that offers access to the entire Eastern seaboard.
“Route 33 is an underutilized major corridor in the Lehigh Valley,” said Jeffrey D. Palmquist, senior vice president of the Northeast U.S. for Duke Realty in Conshohocken.
Indeed, the corridor is one of the few remaining areas of the Lehigh Valley that has ample availability of large land parcels of 20 or more acres with immediate highway access.
“The primary focus over the last 10-15 years has been on the growth at Route 100 and the areas of Bethlehem that provided available land and access to Route 22,” Palmquist said.
PLANNED FOR TWO DECADES
Developer Charles Chrin Companies completed the new overpass and interchange over Route 33, but it was a long time in coming. It had been in the planning stages for nearly 20 years and construction did not begin until 2013.
Between the exits for Routes 248 and 191, the Palmer interchange and overpass ushered in a wave of development of industrial properties on the land surrounding it but also has now made the Route 512 interchange further north in Plainfield Township and Wind Gap another marketable site for manufacturing and distribution centers.
Furthermore, the Palmer infrastructure project also offered a direct route to a new industrial park in Forks Township, making those properties attractive to developers.
“With most of these submarkets reaching maturity with little land available to develop, developers and users are having to look for available land sites that offer similar transportation metrics and labor with land sites that meet the needs of today’s warehouse users,” Palmquist said. “This has led to areas like Lower Macungie [Township] and Wind Gap getting the attention of developers, where there is more available land and townships working to attract those uses.”
PARCELS IN PALMER
At the 33 Logistics Park at Chrin Commerce Centre in Palmer Township, construction now is focusing on smaller-end users as larger parcels get developed.
Two of six warehouses are under construction in the industrial park, with manufacturing and distribution users filling these properties and giving the region a national profile.
Chrin Companies owns about 1,000 acres of land in the industrial park interchange area, with about 700 of the acres in Palmer and some of the land in neighboring Tatamy.
Despite the large parcels that developers have been snapping up for warehouse and distribution centers, smaller parcels exist for light manufacturing and smaller commercial businesses, including retail.
“The Charles Chrin Interchange has certainly been a big thing for Palmer Township,” said Dave Colver, chairman of the Palmer Township supervisors. “Now that these bigger parcels are in now, I think we will see these smaller fill-ins.”
RETAIL AND SERVICE
Last fall, Chrin Companies appeared before township commissioners with a plan for a four-story hotel, bank, medical office building and restaurant to be built at the industrial park, Colver said.
Convenience stores and service-type entities could be next on tap.
About 20 percent of the industrial park has been zoned for big box type developments while about 50 percent is zoned for smaller, light industrial buildings, Colver said.
“Given the new interchange at Main Street and Route 33, it unlocked the potential for several large pieces of nearby land,” Palmquist said.
LOTS OF INTEREST
Palmquist’s Duke Realty, a real estate investment trust, is heavily invested in the area.
Last spring, it completed Building One, which totals 1.1 million square feet and is 100 percent leased to Amazon on Van Buren Road off Route 33, Palmquist said. Duke Realty has a second building under construction, totaling 629,000 square feet, expected to be completed in June.
“We do not have a tenant for this building yet, although we are experiencing a lot of activity,” Palmquist said.
Duke Realty has another remaining site that can accommodate a 1.1 million-square-foot building, he added. Blue Rock Construction built the first building; Duke Realty will handle construction for the second and third buildings.
SIX NEW BUILDINGS
Also at the Palmer site, DCT Industrial completed a 425,000-square-foot distribution facility for FedEx and XPL Logistics, built by Quandel Construction, which has an office in Bethlehem.
IDI Gazeley LLC just got approval for a 240,000-square-foot facility on Van Buren Road, while on Newlins Mill Road another one at 180,000-square-feet is under construction by J.G. Petrucci Co. Inc., Colver said.
The industrial park has a total of six new buildings. Two are operational, another two are under construction and expected to open in 2017 and two more are at the site work stage, Colver said.
“In the big picture, it’s working out just as planned,” he said.
FINDING GROWTH IN FORKS
Meanwhile, Forks Township has also benefited from the construction of the Palmer interchange and overpass.
J.G. Petrucci, which has an office in Bethlehem, built an industrial park in Forks Township about a mile and a half from the interchange, said Joseph Correia, executive vice president for J.G. Petrucci.
Correia said his company is building a site for Norac, a French baked goods manufacturer in the park that should be complete in June.
‘A LOT OF FOCUS THERE’
Next door to Norac, Dermody Properties built a 475,000-square-foot industrial property which is now complete.
During the groundbreaking in the fall 2015, officials spoke about how the Palmer interchange project made that site viable and attractive to developers.
Though the building is now finished, there is no tenant secured, said Gene Preston, partner at Dermody Properties.
“We have seen increased activity there since the Chrin interchange opened,” Correia said. “There’s a lot of focus there with the Route 33 corridor.”
WINDING UP IN WIND GAP
North of Palmer and Forks, J.G. Petrucci has a 349,000-square-foot industrial property under construction at the Route 512 exit along the Route 33 corridor in Plainfield Township next to Wind Gap.
Site work is underway, with vertical construction expected to begin in about 40 days, with shell expected to be completed in August, Correia said. No user is in place, he added.
The project, The Wind Gap Logistics Center, is at 1380 Jacobsburg Road.
ANOTHER SPEC PROJECT
Petrucci also owns a property across from the logistics center and may build on spec there, too, Correia said.
That footprint is 32,000 square feet and the company is targeting an industrial user, though Correia said he would like to get a manufacturer.
“With the whole Route 33 corridor and its proximity to [Interstate] 80, access is tremendous,” Correia said.
The Wind Gap site is equidistant to both I-80 and I-78, two major highways, he added.