As it expands, City Center says the key is building communities

Stacy Wescoe//March 24, 2023

As it expands, City Center says the key is building communities

Stacy Wescoe//March 24, 2023

City Center breaks ground on its $25 million 1010 apartments at 1010 Hamilton St., in Allentown. PHOTO/ DAVE MEYERS
City Center breaks ground on its $25 million 1010 apartments at 1010 Hamilton St., in Allentown. PHOTO/ DAVE MEYERS –

It’s hard to believe it’s been nine years since construction was completed on the PPL Center, the hockey arena that began the massive redevelopment efforts in downtown Allentown. 

But since 2014 City Center Investment Corp.., helmed by JB Reilly, has expanded its development efforts beyond the city’s core, expanding into the western parts of downtown Allentown, the city’s East Side and even the city of Easton. 

The key to the developer’s success, he said, has been community. The work is more than just simply constructing new office and apartment buildings, but creating amenities in and around the properties that make people want to work and live there. 

Robert Di Lorenzo, director of planning and construction for city center, said the early development work following the hockey arena was the Two City Center office building, followed by the One City Center building in 2015. 

To support the new office space City Center then opened its first apartment building, the 172-unit Strata West building at 27 N. Seventh St. 

Since then, the company’s development work hasn’t slowed down. 

The company now has five office buildings and 13 apartment buildings with more in development. 

“The continued growth of the Lehigh Valley as a whole is exciting,” said JB Reilly. “Our expansion into the Downtown West neighborhood is building on the revitalization of center city Allentown and the potential for Northridge to be equally as transformative to the East Side motivates our team to continue to work hard in 2023 and beyond.” 

One of the developer’s more recent projects is in the area of ninth and tenth street along the Hamilton Street corridor, which the company is calling Downtown West. 

There, City Center has a handful of planned apartment projects, one opened, the 107-unit The Gallery at City Space. 

 City Center Residential communities, the 1010 Apartments and Walnut View, and the1130-space Maple Street Parking Deck are also planned. 

The most recent projects proposed for the area, however, aren’t apartments. 

City Center has received planning commission approval to build the Archer Music Hall, which would bring concerts and events to the Downtown West area and is awaiting approval on a boutique hotel for those who come from outside of Allentown to attend events there. 

Adding such amenities, and others like the Arts Walk and pocket park are all part of the developer’s strategy of creating a sense of community around the properties it builds. 

Di Lorenzo said part of that is the design of the actual apartments. 

They build in common spaces where residents can meet and gather. There’s coworking space for remote workers that want some human interaction. The buildings are pet friendly with dog park and pet washing areas and the building managers program events and activities. 

“When you feel like you’re part of a community, you’ll stay longer,” he said. 

The music hall, like the restaurant properties City Center has developed in the downtown, are all part of that effort to make the area they are developing a destination people want to visit, work and live in. 

With the city’s center and Downtown West well on their way, City Center is starting to expand beyond its core area, with projects underway on Allentown’s East Side and in downtown Easton. 

In Easton, the developer is building The Marquis at 27 S. 3rd St. 

That $70 million mixed use project includes 280 apartment units and 305 parking spaces. 

Reilly said the 400,000-square-foot building would be seven stories high, making it the largest apartment project in the city.   

“It’s probably the largest apartment development Easton has ever seen. I think we’re going to see a lot of interest there,” added Di Lorenzo. 

Demolition of existing buildings on the property is expected to begin in June, with construction beginning this fall. 

One project that has everyone talking, is City Center’s plans for the 200 acres on the city’s East Side, that was the former home to the Allentown State Hospital. 

“That project is still in its very early stages,” said Jill Wheeler, vice president of sales and marketing for City Center Investment Corp. “We’ve just started working on that project and will make sure that we’re looking at it in a comprehensive way that has a long-lasting community impact.” 

Much of the interest in the development of the site comes from its history. The State Hospital operated on the grounds for nearly 100 years, before closing down in 2010 and sitting vacant until its recent demolition. 

The other major part of the interest is in its size. The property is nearly 200 acres, although Di Lorenzo notes that only about two-thirds of that land is developable. 

It is one of the largest developable properties in the city and there has been great interest in what will be built there and how it will impact the surrounding community and traffic in the area. 

No firm plans are in place for the development of the property, and Wheeler said City Center is looking at everything from apartments to light industrial for the site and is working closely with the city to make sure it is developed in a way that “makes sure its end use meets the needs of the community.” 

She said the company has committed to utilizing the harder to develop sections of the property as open space and plans to include such amenities as walking trails at the site. 

As City Center continues its expansion outside of its core area, Di Lorenzo said it is important to keep with the values that have made its developments successful so far. 

“We’ve been very fortunate as a developer,” he said. “If nothing else it’s that were much more than building shiny buildings. What we’ve been building is communities where people want to live and work.”