Nonprofit eyes downtown Allentown for new science center

Brian Pedersen//October 25, 2019

Nonprofit eyes downtown Allentown for new science center

Brian Pedersen//October 25, 2019

Da Vinci Science Center’s Science City project, once touted for the corner of South Third Street and Larry Holmes Drive in Easton, now has a new potential home.

Lin Erickson, CEO of Da Vinci Science Center, has expansion plans. (File Photo Stacy Wescoe) –

In May, the nonprofit pulled its plans for a $100 million science center in downtown Easton but today, said it chose to build a new science center on the site of The Farr Lot, a surface parking lot at north Eighth Street next to PPL Center in downtown Allentown.

Da Vinci’s current home is next to Cedar Crest College in Allentown.

Upon learning of the news, one top official expressed support for Da Vinci’s potential to bring a boost in educational and economic growth and development to Allentown.

The site is within the Neighborhood Improvement Zone, a tax incentive that spurred more than $1 billion in construction and renovation in downtown Allentown.

When city and state officials created the NIZ, the zone strived to go beyond simply providing opportunities for constructing new office buildings, according to State Rep. Peter Schweyer, who had been an Allentown city council member at the time.

“When we created the NIZ, it wasn’t just to build new Class-A office space and it wasn’t just to create new and different housing downtown, but also [to create] community development opportunities for everyone,” Schweyer said. “When Da Vinci chose downtown Allentown, they did it because that’s where their numbers directed them to. The real beneficiaries of it are going to be the people in the neighborhood.”

He described Da Vinci Science Center as a regional asset, and one that would have a sizeable increase in its current space. In addition, with the move to downtown Allentown, all the school districts will benefit, he said.

“I think the biggest winners in the decision are the people who live in the neighborhoods of the downtown community,” Schweyer said.

Schweyer said Da Vinci and Allentown officials have to flesh out some details of their plan but he’s expecting the nonprofit could capture some of the NIZ benefits.

In a news release, Da Vinci Science Center said the new center will have an expanded exhibit floor that aims to foster active learning that combines the disciplines of science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and the arts. By doing so, the organization said it would ensure companies have talented employees as the region continues to grow.

“A newer, larger Science Center will give us the opportunity to bring science to life in a bigger, bolder way, and bring even more lives to science in the midst of our renaissance here in downtown Allentown and in the Lehigh Valley,” said Vince Sorgi, chairman of the Da Vinci Science Center board of trustees.

In a statement, Mayor Ray O’Connell said the center has the potential to attract hundreds of thousands of visitors annually to the downtown and he sees this project as an excellent complement to the PPL Center arena and that it would greatly advance the city’s efforts to transform downtown Allentown into a day-out and night-out destination for both residents and visitors.

Da Vinci Science Center has begun working with HGA, a national architecture firm based in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on the concept design, which is set for completion in 2020.