The recent flurry of redevelopment activity that’s drawing tenants to office space in downtown Allentown continues with one firm already in the city looking to get closer to the action.
Jeff Barber, founder of Lehigh Financial Group, bought a property with his wife, Gina, at 122 N. Fifth St. for $250,000 and said he will move the company to the new spot within three months.
“I just wanted to be closer to the urban corridor and what’s happening,” Barber said.
The financial company has been at the historic Max Hess Office Building at 1244 W. Hamilton St. for 11 years, having purchased the property in 2005.
Though Barber sold it in 2013 to finance other business interests, he remained as a tenant for Lehigh Financial Group.
When he bought the building in 2005, Barber remembers people telling him, “you’re crazy” for wanting to move to downtown Allentown. In 2006, he moved in and noted that the city had a 50 percent vacancy rate on properties along Hamilton Street, but it ended up being a risk that paid off as he remained confident the city would turn around.
“I had the building 100 percent occupied in 2006,” Barber said. “You flash forward to 2017, people are looking at Allentown a lot differently than they did.”
Now, people have been asking why he isn’t in the downtown core.
Developers such as J.B. Reilly and the Jaindls would not invest in the city unless they know what the outcome is, Barber said.
Over the past few years, Allentown has seen a new arena, multiple large office buildings and several large residential multiunits cropping up, all in the downtown core, not to mention many new retailers. Additional, massive investment efforts could be on the way, including more office towers and an entertainment complex.
Now that he will be in the middle of all the redevelopment, Barber said he wants to help other business owners enjoy that proximity.
The new location, which backs up against The Morning Call building, includes off-street parking and space for up to three more professional tenants. Though the property sits just outside the Neighborhood Improvement Zone – the city’s tax incentive program – Barber said he would have no problem renting the 2,700 square feet of office space.
“Our intention is to rent out the spaces to small-business owners,” Barber said. “In 2006, that worked back then, and it’s certainly going to work now.”
He described the downtown core as a place not just for big companies but smaller ones.
Barber also credited his Realtor, Paul Antario of Two Rivers Realty in Easton, listing agent Bob Wiley of Berkshire Hathaway/Fox & Roach Realtors and First United Land Transfer in Allentown for helping with the purchase and closing.
Ryan Kinnon of People First Federal Credit Union of Allentown provided the loan to finance the project, Barber said.
Barber’s firm, which has three employees, offers real estate capital solutions and financing options for commercial customers.