It’s hard to picture a downtown Allentown without PPL in the PPL Tower Building, but local leaders are saying that despite the sentimental feelings they may have, they are excited about the future with news of the company’s move.
Thursday, PPL Corp. announced it would be vacating the buildings that have served as its headquarters for decades and move into leased space at Two City Center, in a move the company said was “right sizing” its real estate.
J.B. Reilly, president of City Center Investment Group, which owns the building, was, of course, happy to welcome the new tenant.
“We are pleased that Two City Center meets PPL’s requirements to maintain its headquarters in downtown Allentown,” he said in a statement.
But seeing the company leave the building is still a bit sad, said Tony Ianelli, president and CEO of the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce.
“Do I hate seeing PPL vacate that building? Yes. It’s been a symbol and the heart of the downtown,” he said.
It is a sentimental loss.
“Obviously it’s something I’ll be paying attention to. No one wants that tower empty,” said State Rep. Mike Schlossberg, D-Allentown.
But the benefits outweigh any sentimental loss, said Allentown Mayor Matt Tuerk, who noted that the move comes with the company recalling around 400 employees to return to work in the downtown..
“They’re going to be bringing hundreds of employees back to downtown Allentown,” he said.
While he too said he was disappointed to see PPL leaving its namesake building, he noted that it had only been minimally occupied since the COVID-19 pandemic and he’s thrilled that PPL has committed to keeping its presence in the downtown.
Schlossberg agreed that COVID had a major role in the company’s changing needs.
“COVID and the changing real estate market are creating real challenges for office companies like PPL, and I am hopeful that the tower still has a bright and adaptive future ahead of it,” he said. “Perhaps the story of the building will be like the story of the Lehigh Valley – one that adapts, changes, and improves over time.”
But what’s next for the tower?
PPL said it plans to sell the building for adaptive reuse, and while no one can say what the building will actually become, many are already talking about the likelihood that it could be repurposed into apartments or condos.
Most agree that more residential units are needed downtown.
“There is a need and the property is well positioned to take advantage of that,” said Tuerk,
“We have expanded the residential base downtown, but we haven’t hit the saturation point, not yet,” said Ianelli.
Tuerk noted that the building already has a 1,000-space parking deck, which would lend well to residential use.
All agree that PPL making a commitment to stay in the downtown and continue to support such venues as the PPL Center arena is the most important take away from the news.
A move down the street still keeps the company in the heart of the city, even if the shift may cause a few changes in the downtown dynamics.
Ianelli quipped that there’s already a long line at Starbucks every morning, which might just get worse with PPL employees being closer to the shop.
“They’re going to need to hire another barista,” he said.