Martin Tower plan shows more than 500 apartments, plus retail, hotel, medical offices

Brian Pedersen//March 14, 2019

Martin Tower plan shows more than 500 apartments, plus retail, hotel, medical offices

Brian Pedersen//March 14, 2019

The plan dated March 12 and submitted to the city planning commission, shows apartments, a hotel, restaurant, gas station, three medical office buildings and two retail buildings.

The master plan will be on the planning commission’s April 11 agenda for discussion, according to Darlene Heller, the city’ planning director.

Lou Ronca and Norton Herrick, the owners and developers of the property, did not return requests for comment. They have spent the past two years demolishing other vacant buildings surrounding the 53-acre site and removing asbestos from the tower, which could come down this spring

The property has been vacant since 2007.

Lynn Cunningham, executive vice president of Bethlehem Initiatives for the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce, reacted positively to the plan’s mix of apartments, medical offices and retail.

“It has a little bit of everything,” Cunningham said. “It brings taxpayers in there. It’s been sitting there for a decade not bringing in revenue that it could be bringing in.”

She also appreciated the developer’s plan for open space at the site, which is at the corner of Eighth Avenue near Route 378.

Her only concern was the addition of a hotel.

“We have a great selection of hotels already but that being said, I thought the rest of the plan was great,” Cunningham said.

The entire tract is nearly 52 acres. The plan shows about 44 acres of developed property.

The plan calls for a residential development with 528 apartments spread across several three-story buildings, as well as a clubhouse and pool. The plan includes 1,063 parking spaces.

It also includes open space facing Moravian College Sports Medicine & Rehabilitation Center on Schoenersville Road.

The middle of the site would host a one-story, 3,100-square-foot retail building facing Route 378. Behind that would be a one-story restaurant at 5,080 square feet and a 132-room hotel of 55,325 square feet. Facing Shoenersville Road in front of the hotel would be a three-story medical office building of 22,584 square feet.

A second medical office building would be erected at the corner of Eighth and Eaton avenues. It would be three stories and 60,000 square feet. A third medical office building would have three stories and 42,000-square feet. Next to that would be a one-story retail building and, closer to Route 378, a 6,050 square-foot-gas station/convenience store.

The plan does not list any potential tenants.

“It’s a long time coming to have the highest and best use possible for that section of the city,” said Don Cunningham, president and CEO of Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corp. “The idea of doing mixed use with the proposed retail makes sense for that corridor.”

LVEDC has taken project after project to developers in the hopes of getting an office user in the tower, he said. But it’s not the type of office space people are looking for, particularly when downtown Allentown has been seeing new Class-A office space going up, he added.

“I think this is the perfect re-use,” Cunningham said. “The reality is, that’s a residential neighborhood with a commercial corridor.”

Cunningham, who grew up near the area, added: “It will blend in nicely with what’s already there.”

Bethlehem Mayor Bob Donchez said the plan is close to what he expected but he said he would like to have seen more retail development. 

In 2015, the city council approved an ordinance allowing mixed uses at the site. At the time, many in the community thought the site would become a large shopping center, similar to the Promenade Shoppes at Saucon Valley, which would compete with Bethlehem retailers.

“There was this fear we would have a massive retail complex at that site,” said Alicia Miller Karner, director of community and economic development for Bethlehem.

Donchez said he would not support a Promenade-type development, but he would have liked to see more retail.