The Pennsylvania House of Representatives has voted 200-1 to move forward with the demolition of the Allentown State Hospital on Hanover Avenue in Allentown and hold a competitive-bid sale of the property after the work is complete.
A Republican Berks County representative was the lone no vote.
The bill now returns to the State Senate to concur with what were described as “minor technical word changes” in the house version.
The bill, which was sponsored by State Sen. Pat Browne (R- Lehigh County), had already been approved by the state senate in a 49-0 vote and it’s expected that the changes will be quickly approved by the senate at be sent to Gov. Tom Wolf for signature.
“We’ve been working very closely with the state Department of General Services on this and fully expect Governor Wolf to sign it,” said State Rep. Mike Schlossberg (D-Allentown), who voted in favor of the bill.
Schlossberg said he was not sure what the timetable would be on moving forward with the project once it receives the expected governor’s signature, but he said the goal is to move forward as quickly as possible so the nearly 200-acre property can be sold to a qualified developer that will find the best reuse for the property and get it back on the tax rolls.
The buildings had been sitting mostly vacant for the past 10 years.
While the demolition appears now to be a done deal, it has not been without controversy.
A petition was signed by several thousand area residents seeking to stop the demolition of the buildings on the property, especially the 107-year-old main hospital building, which was recently featured in the M. Night Shyamalan movie “Glass.”
The movie generated extra attention to the fate of what many consider to be historic buildings.
Also, an Allentown Developer, Nate Hyman, had filed a lawsuit, which he later withdrew, that tried to stop the demolition. He said he had the redevelopment experience to renovate and retain the structures.
But the bill that has just been approved countered the arguments Hyman had made in his lawsuit and he previously told Lehigh Valley Business that it was unlikely he would continue his fight.
Part of the bill puts a guiding hand over the future of the property.
A committee would be established to review bids. On the committee would be Browne and Schlossberg, the secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of General Services and a representative of the city of Allentown.
That committee would take bids, but consider them based on what is best for the community and not just the highest dollar amount.