Housing report shows low supply continuing to hold back sales

The Greater Lehigh Valley Realtors released its October data on the local real estate market, which showed low housing supply continuing to hold back sales. (Thinkstock) –

Greater Lehigh Valley Realtors released its October data on the local real estate market, which showed low housing supply continuing to hold back sales.

However, experts see some bright spots for next year, with the potential for continued low mortgage rates in 2020, a move that could support buyer demand and boost sales.

While mortgage rates in October increased slightly from the three-year lows in September, mortgage rates are still about 1 percent lower than this time last year. In addition, the Federal National Mortgage Association (Fannie Mae) said it predicts continued low rates and possibly lower rates could come in 2020.

Also from the October report, new listings decreased 8.2 percent to 924 compared to October 2018, which showed 1,006 new listings.

In addition, pending sales increased 8.6 percent to 767 compared to October 2018, which showed 706.

Meanwhile, inventory levels dipped 26.1 percent to 1,695 units, compared to 2,295 in October 2018.

The report showed prices continued to gain traction. The median sales price increased 6.7 percent to $212,000, as compared to $198,750 in October 2018.

In addition, the days on market figure was down 10.5 percent to 34 days, compared to 38 days in October 2018.

Furthermore, the months’ supply of inventory was down 30.3 percent to 2.3 months, compared to 3.3 in October 2018.

This season is typically a slower time of year for home sales, according to the report.

However, historically low mortgage rates will continue to support buyer demand and may create additional lift to home prices as affordability gives buyers the ability to offer more to secure their home, the report said.

Throughout much of the country, the continued low level of housing inventory also continues to constrain sales activity from where it would likely be in a balanced market.



Builder breaks ground on new $6M luxury apartment project

Huratiak Homes LLC hosted a groundbreaking for its newest project, HH Saucon Square in Bethlehem. (Submitted) –

Luxury apartments continue to be a strong prospect for developers.

One of the newest to go under construction is HH Saucon Square, a 28-unit, two-story project in Bethlehem.

Justin Huratiak, president and owner of Huratiak Homes LLC in Bangor, said his company had an official groundbreaking ceremony for the project and he expects to complete it in the fall 2020.

HH Saucon Square is a $6 million project he acquired from Wagner Homes and redesigned. The site is at 912 Fire Lane on South Mountain near Saucon Park close to the Hellertown border.

Huratiak said he updated the building pads to create an Aspen-type look so the project could follow the contours of the topography and blend in as naturally as possible.
His company performs its own construction management and property management services and hired MKSD architects of South Whitehall Township to design the Bethlehem project. Huratiak and his wife, Melissa, are the two employees of the company.

“We love the location,” Huratiak said. “It’s very close in proximity to Lehigh University, with a nice, peaceful setting.”

Rents will start at $1,650 for one-bedroom units and $1,800 for two-bedroom units, he said. Some of the two-bedroom units will include lofts. Apartment sizes range from 800 square feet to 1,300 square feet.

In addition, the project will include a fitness center, pet wash, conference room, business center and private, detached garages.

Huratiak said he continues to see strong demand for luxury rental properties from empty nesters and millennials.

“Our slogan is, ‘The New American Dream,’” Huratiak said. “They rent by choice these days.”


44-unit luxury apartment project starts leasing

Two New Jersey firms have developed The Mills at Lehigh, a new apartment community in Bethlehem. (Submitted) –

The developers of a $9 million, 44-unit luxury apartment community in Bethlehem have started leasing units.

Two New Jersey firms developed the project, The Mills at Lehigh, as a joint venture — Sterling Properties, based in Livingston, New Jersey, and Kreigman & Smith of Roseland, New Jersey.

The Mills, at 2080 Westgate Drive, is adjacent to Lehigh Valley Hospital-Muhlenberg and the Westgate Mall.

“The location is terrific and what’s happening economically in Bethlehem is terrific with health care, Lehigh University, downtown Bethlehem,” said Nick Hollenbeck, director of sales and marketing at Sterling Properties. “It’s really an area that we think has an opportunity for a lot of growth and potential.”

He estimated the project cost about $9 million to build.

The Mills provides a mix of one and two-bedroom units, with amenities that include a fitness center, resident lounge, barbeque area, and entertaining space. Monthly rents start at $1,275.

So far, Sterling Properties rented four units after opening last Monday, Hollenbeck said.

In addition, the apartments offer private balconies, nine-foot high ceilings, and luxury flooring and quartz countertops.

While Sterling Properties has built single-family homes, this marks the company’s first rental project.

L2i Construction, based in Wyomissing, built the project.






Collaborative artist space underway in Easton

Renovations are underway for the second phase of Eleven20, a building in Easton that offers art studios and workspaces. (Submitted) –

Citing a lack of available space for artists to work in a collaborative environment, a few local business people decided to fill the void by creating a place.

They are ready to start the second phase of renovations to a vacant building they bought in 2016 at 1120 Butler St. in Easton. Situated in the city’s West Ward, the site once was the former home of a Dodge and Desoto Dealership, then the Pollock Brush Company, and then Circle Systems, a manufacturer.

“We realized when we bought this building, we decided we were going to turn it into artist studios,” said Clint Newton III, a senior project manager at Barry Isett & Associates in Upper Macungie Township, and an artist who lives in Easton. He has a business partnership with his sister, Mary Newton, who has a side business, and his friend, and fellow artist Bert Furnari to create studio and workshop space for local artists.

“I like the idea of working alongside other artists instead of just being alone,” Newton said. “Being in a collaborative environment is much more useful. It’s very difficult for artists to rent space that’s affordable.”

The spaces rent for $275 to $450 per month depending on size, Newton said.

In addition to the actual studios, tenants have use of the gallery space for displaying artwork. The building also provides modern bathrooms and a large sink. Tenants also have access to work space in the lower level for larger projects if needed.

With about 20,000 square feet on two levels, the space includes a gallery surrounded by nine drawing and painting studios, all occupied with tenants, he said. He has plans to add more spaces once the project is complete.

The building has dual overhead doors that provide drive-in access for loading and unloading. He plans to fit out the downstairs space with an additional pair of accessible bathrooms, a kitchenette, a lounge/meeting area, and an additional 12 to 15 individual workspaces surrounding large common workshop spaces accessible to people both upstairs and downstairs.

Newton said they are self-performing most of the construction and estimated the renovations would cost about $150,000. He said he is able to get some materials for free, since many of the materials are repurposed.

The fact that the site once served as a dealership helped make the space easier to convert, he added.

The trio bought the building in October 2016 and spent the last two years completing renovations for the first part of the project.

Before starting phase two, they are hosting a celebration on Nov. 16 from 6 to 11 p.m. to show off the space, he added.




What can you do with an empty big-box?

Large store vacancies, such as this one in Bethlehem Township, often remain vacant for years. (Photo By Brian Pedersen) –

The large, vacant structures loom over many empty parking lots dotting retail landscapes throughout the Greater Lehigh Valley. They are the former homes of Kmart, Sears and BonTon.

The once thriving big-box retailers are now desolate spaces marked with inactivity that stretches into months and even years. They beg the question, what do we do with these large, vacant spaces?

While they appear to be eyesores of a bygone age, the land they occupy is valuable for reuse as something.

While brick-and-mortar retailers struggle with declining foot traffic and sluggish sales thanks to online competition, the physical store is far from dead.

But as more and more of these large-footprint stores fade from the retail landscape, their replacements will look a little different. Some may be rezoned for industry, others could become parks and green space, and some will be reborn for retail use in a more specialized or entertainment-focused manner.

“I think the shopping centers in the valley that have Kmarts and other large [vacancies,… are going to get downsized,” said Steve Cihylik, a broker for Howard Hanna The Frederick Group of South Whitehall Township. “You can’t retool them because of the dimensions. You can’t multi-tenant a box like Kmart or BonTon because of the size of it.”

This opens the potential for new uses that can include Amazon opening grocery stores or companies acquiring space to cook food for several restaurants for delivery to consumers, he said.

“With the increase in food delivery, there are companies opening up a kitchen and cooking for five or six restaurants,” Cihylik said. “There are restaurant groups that have a separate kitchen producing products only for delivery. These are all potential candidates for a ‘pad site,’ a portion of a site.”


Starting over

For empty big-box sites, developers would likely turn to the wrecking ball and build something new because it’s too difficult to reuse them, Cihyik said. Then developers can create entertainment and retail centers similar to what the owners of the Lehigh Valley Mall did. They added a Bonefish Grill, an Apple store and several other tenants that are separate from the mall, but close by.

For the Phillipsburg Mall, which has seen a large number of tenants vacate, including major anchors, Cihyik envisions some light industrial uses going into the indoor mall,.

Developers are becoming more and more reluctant to build large retail stores because of the expense of real estate, and the time-consuming process of getting the plan approved, he said. The land under those old retail sites becomes more valuable every day because it’s already an approved use, he said.

“It takes years,” Cihylik said, noting it took eight years for Hamilton Crossings to see the light of day.

That project, which opened in 2016, involved the construction of a massive shopping center in Lower Macungie Township, that includes nearly 560,000 square feet of retail space.


Thinking outside the big box

These outdoor malls, sometimes referred to as lifestyle centers or power centers, differ from the traditional indoor malls and appear to be doing better. Hamilton Crossings may include familiar department stores such as anchor tenants Target and Cosco, but it also has restaurants, Whole Foods and pedestrian paths that encourage walking.

Tim Harrison, who developed Hamilton Crossings along with The Goldenberg Group, said there is a range of options when considering what to do with large, vacant retail sites.

On one end of the spectrum, developers often repurpose an old retail use with a new retail use, or they could demolish the old structure and build a new space, such as multi-family homes or townhouses. A former department store could become home to a large food store.

“There are all kinds of options within the spectrum,” Harrison said. “A lot of what you see is space repurposed.”

Vacant department stores often find new life as space for entertainment, such as indoor athletic fields, miniature auto race parks, trampoline parks, climbing gyms, or indoor soccer fields, he added.

“The space might be divided into smaller spaces such as a food hall or a series of restaurants,” Harrison said.

Sometimes, these buildings become houses of worship, or health care and educational facilities. Another option is back offices for large companies, he added.

“As the internet becomes an ever more popular tool for facilitating retail sales, it’s become painfully obvious that we are substantially overbuilt from a retail standpoint,” Harrison said.

There is still demand for large retail stores but in very limited locations, he added. This is true for underserved areas, such as food deserts, communities with less affluent populations where people cannot easily access a grocery store.

“You have a substantial number of areas in neighborhoods that are underserved with grocery stores,” Harrison said. “The economics of operating in areas like that are difficult. It’s hard to make the numbers work. One solution is government and community support.”

Another example would be an affluent area where the barriers to new development are very high. In those cases, a retailer looks for years for a location and just cannot find one.


With closings come opportunities

Despite the ability of developers to find new uses for older, vacant retail properties, online shopping will continue to increase store closings, both big and small.

“The more that a particular retailer is selling what you could characterize as standard merchandise, there’s less reason to leave the comfort of one’s home,” Harrison said.

The retail sector is in an exciting time, said Jody King, first vice president of CBRE, a real estate firm in Upper Macungie Township. King represents property owners and tenants in retail centers, land development projects and medical office buildings. She sees retail spaces adapting to changing needs.

“People have to kind of reinvent themselves,” King said.

People of all ages who visit bricks-and-mortar retailers are looking for creativity and experiences, she added.

Medical use is a type of tenant King sees frequently taking over vacant retail spots.

“Most shopping centers were planned for high traffic, easy access, heavy parking, and the retail centers definitely have that mix,” King said. “We are also seeing gyms; we are also seeing things that you can’t necessarily get online.”

When considering how to reuse a large retail center, a building will often be divided up so that more than one tenant can take up the space, King said. This strategy allows retail centers to attract more people because of the diverse offerings.

She also doesn’t see traditional retail bricks-and-mortar sites disappearing entirely. Nordstrom recently opened a store in New York City, and stores such as Target offer online merchandise pickup at their stores.

“I think the Lehigh Valley has really done a great job adapting to what people need,” King said. “Landlords have to be adapting their shopping centers to bring in those people.”


Don’t write off malls yet

Is there still a place for malls with the increase in store closures?

Stephanie Cegielski, a spokesperson for The International Council of Shopping Centers, a global trade association of the shopping center industry based in New York City, shared some details about what she’s seeing on the national level.

“Closures are not indicative of the overall health of the industry, which is strong,” Cegielski said.

More than 90 percent of sales still happen in physical locations and mall occupancy rates remain high. In addition, malls remain an important part of the communities they serve.

As they adapt to changing demographics and community composition, they are increasingly becoming venues for entertainment such as concerts and fashion shows and have co-working, health care and fitness facilities, she added.

“Retailers are increasingly experimenting with different store formats including smaller footprints, placing less inventory on the floor and temporary leases like pop-ups,” she said.

Large vacant retail spaces have many options, she added.

“What will go into big box locations varies based on the needs of the community,” she said. “We’re seeing grocery, fitness and other non-retail tenants moving into shopping centers. A large space can also be subdivided to accommodate several retailers.”








As extreme weather increases, resilient buildings gain prominence

ArtsQuest Center at SteelStacks in Bethlehem is an example of what architects consider a resilient building. (Submitted) –

Designing a building to withstand the ravages of time is something architects strive to do.

They aim to design buildings that are not only functional, comfortable and aesthetically pleasing, but will last.

To that end, the effects of climate change may bring heightened awareness to how designers create buildings these days, but it’s not necessarily a trend.

Aside from changes mandated by the International Building Code in the use of specific materials, architects tend to design with sustainability and resiliency in mind.

“What’s happening is, they are bringing awareness,” said Joseph Biondo, principal of Spillman Farmer Architects of Bethlehem. “The concept of resilient design is not new and has been around for generations.”

Buildings constructed in the late 19th and early 20th century often had an abundance of natural daylight, robust structural frames and lifetime materials. In addition, they generally had efficient and narrow floor plate designs.

Climate change, however, is making more designers aware of how weather affects buildings.

“We as designers need to understand those local environmental conditions and weather patterns,” Biondo said. “It’s making us aware and it’s pushing the idea of sustainability further. It’s making more people aware of building with quality.”

Designers also should be aware of how they use the materials and consider where it comes from. Architects should also design electrical and mechanical systems so property owners can easily maintain them and respond to disasters, he added.

“I don’t think resiliency is related to new materials,” Biondo said. “Time-honored materials should be considered. We are no longer designing fixed spaces but flexible spaces that can withstand the test of time.”

Those buildings are resilient, he added.


Climate change

The International Building Code is addressing climate change by revising its codes.

“Anytime there’s extreme flooding or hurricanes, you do have architects who do research with other building professionals to understand why the building failed,” said Silvia Hoffman, founding partner of MKSD architects of South Whitehall Township.

Researchers will examine all the components of the building, she added.

In some cases, design changes can result. The building code recently updated the type of fasteners required for garage doors on houses, she said. Increased wind not only can damage doors but also destroy roofs.

In addition, the American Institute of Architects has a resiliency group that does research in this area.

“They are making an effort to work with local authorities and building code modifiers,” Hoffman said.

The building code also has site-specific guidelines, such as more stringent guidelines for California, which has been dealing with fires, and Florida, which suffers more from flooding.

“For us in this area, we are kind of in a lucky space,” Hoffman said. “We don’t suffer extreme conditions. It does impact the building code but not in areas where there’s a slimmer chance of this happening.”

However, in areas where people are building closer to a coastline, guidelines call for building structures higher above ground, usually an entire floor, including all utilities, she added.

“I definitely think there’s material improvements, but more importantly, it has a lot to do with how buildings are constructed,” Hoffman said. “It’s a combination of [the] building code [and the] means and method of construction. Material improvements can make buildings more resilient.”


Getting to zero

Climate change is having a profound effect on how architects design buildings but more importantly, how it affects updating existing buildings, said Illya Azaroff, owner and principal of PlusLab Architect in Brooklyn, New York.

“All our codes are based on what we find after the last disasters,” Azaroff said.

Members of the International Code Council make changes to the code after why a building failed in a weather-related disaster.

“It’s the older buildings we are concerned about,” Azaroff said. “It has a profound effect because how we retrofit buildings is constantly changing. I think some of our challenges come from existing buildings that were built to older code standards.”

As technology has evolved, architects have discovered over the past 20 to 30 years that older buildings often do not meet today’s challenges, Azaroff added.

However, he said, there is a better awareness today of a building’s components and how they rely upon each other.

For example, insulation is thinner and performs better, Azaroff said.

He works in coastal towns in the New York and New Jersey area and has clients across the nation, from Puerto Rico to Hawaii, Texas, and South Florida.

“Retrofit of existing buildings, that’s our challenge,” Azaroff said. “It is the odd client that is not asking about resilient measures.”

About nine out of 10 clients are asking about how to make buildings more resilient.

To address climate change, The American Institute of Architects, a Washington, D.C.-based organization, adopted the 2030 Commitment, a program to create uniform public policies. AIA firms and engineers compile and share energy-use data collected from various, according to a news release from AIA.

Buildings consume nearly 40 percent of U.S. energy, according to AIA. The organization’s 2030 Commitment hopes to eliminate carbon emissions by adopting key energy targets, in addition to providing a comprehensive data tool that allows the companies to track their progress to net-zero carbon-use buildings by 2030.








Builders pitch in to rebuild camp for low-income kids

L-R: Eric Luftig (Victaulic), Christina Schoemaker (Valley Youth House), Jim Eck (Quadratus Construction Management, Inc.), Eric Scheler (Commerce Construction Co./Majestic Realty Co.), Rick Koze (Kay Builders), Jason Engelhardt (Langan), Tom Harrington (Valley Youth House) –


A number of Greater Lehigh Valley construction companies have joined forces to help Valley Youth House of Bethlehem make improvements at the nonprofit’s Orefield campgrounds.

Kay Builders, Majestic Realty Co./Commerce Construction Co., Brooks Development Group, Quadratus Construction Management Inc., Langan, and many others are helping Valley Youth House build new cabins at Camp Fowler, a project valued at $1.4 million.

“These cabins will be built by the heart to last another 100 years,” said Richard H. Brooks, president, Brooks Development Group, one of the companies assisting with the project, in a statement released Thursday.

Valley Youth house said the cabins on the 43-acre property were built 75 years ago and are unsafe, with uneven and damaged flooring, leaking roofs and rotting wooden siding.

These renovations are expected to improve safety and expand the usefulness of the camp for Valley Youth House clients, and the community groups that use the camp.

The camp serves youth of all ages with a focus on those who would otherwise not have access to camp experiences. This population includes low-income children and youth, youth in foster care, and homeless youth, many of which have experienced significant trauma in their lives.

“Camp Fowler allows youth of all ages to dream, learn and discover their strengths in a unique setting.  It is a very special place and an essential element in Valley Youth House’s programming,” said Eric B. Luftig, chair of the board of directors for Valley Youth House and vice president at Victaulic in Easton.

Church buys land for $2.2 million for future home

Grace Church Bethlehem will build a new church at this location in Bethlehem Township. (Submitted) –

A Presbyterian church bought land in Bethlehem Township for $2.2 million for use as its new home.

Grace Church Bethlehem bought the 24.32-acre property at 4301 Hecktown Road from the Order of the Barnabite Fathers Inc., a Catholic organization, according to Northampton County property transaction records.

Cindy Miller and Tom Skeans of SVN Imperial Realty in South Whitehall Township represented the buyer in the transaction, according to a news release. David Fretz of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Fox & Roach of Lower Macungie Township represented the seller.

SVN Imperial Realty worked with Grace Church since August 2018 on the acquisition, said Skeans.

The team from SVN Imperial Realty created a full market assessment for the church’s architect and marketing team.

Right now, Grace Church Bethlehem is planning its vision for the property.

“We are thrilled to have found a wonderful new location for our vibrant and growing church,” said Marnie Crumpler, senior pastor of Grace Church Bethlehem. “We are grateful for the years of ministry that the Barnabite Fathers had on the property and see ourselves continuing our ministry. We look forward to being a part of the community and love that our church will be in one of the fastest growing parts of the Valley.”

The church is in its planning process, including determining its current and future needs, getting to know its neighbors, and capital fundraising, Crumpler said.

Grace Church Bethlehem currently worships at Bethlehem Catholic High School, she added.

The church has 1,800 adult members, and is looking forward to having its own campus, she said.

“We will begin construction next year,” Crumpler said.

The work would involve demolition of the Barnabite Retreat Center so Grace Church can build a new church, she added.





Tower Health opens Weight Loss Surgery & Wellness Center

Tower Health expanded its weight management program and moved its Weight Loss Surgery & Wellness Center to a larger location at 1220 Broadcasting Road, Suite 100 in Wyomissing. (Submitted) –

With a focus on teaching healthy habits to teens, Tower Health of West Reading opened a Weight Loss Surgery & Wellness Center in Berks County.

The healthcare organization expanded its weight management program and moved to a larger location at 1220 Broadcasting Road, Suite 100 in Wyomissing. Its former location was in the Reading Hospital SurgiCenter at Spring Ridge. The move expands space for programs and activities, from 5,299 square feet in the old location to 20,238 square feet in the new space.

D&B Construction Group of Sinking Spring renovated the space.

Tower Health declined to provide an estimated construction cost of the project.

The new location includes a commercial teaching kitchen where patients participate in hands-on healthy meal preparation and education from Tower Health dietitians, and a free clothing closet to supplement patient wardrobes as they go through weight loss.

In addition, patients can access a fitness center with weights and cardio equipment.

Specialists can build an individualized, sustainable nutrition and fitness regimen for each patient to keep them motivated and empowered to achieve lifelong wellness, according to Tower Health.

The center employs 27 people and brings together physicians, dietitians, and psychologists to combine weight loss care.

In addition, the new Healthy Teens Program offers weight loss options for ages 13 to 17, to help them take control of their weight.

“I think that you can help younger people take control of their weight by teaching them healthy habits and having them develop their treatment plans,” said Dr. Renee Riddle, a pediatrician, in a statement.

By reviewing healthy food choices with them and goals for daily living such as more servings of fruits and vegetables, less sugary beverages, fewer than two hours of non-school related screen time and adding in one hour of exercise each day, the center can help them find what is most important for them to work on first, she said.

“Once they decide, we can help them develop a plan and provide resources as needed,” Riddle said.

Involving the teen in the plan is important so that it is sustainable and they feel invested in the changes, she said.

She said it is also important to discuss how the whole family can be involved in healthy family activities that do not involve food.

“Also, having the teen participate in the food shopping and preparation can be useful for them to feel more motivated to make changes.”

Everyone is aware of the pediatric obesity crisis now, but how to help is not always evident, she added.

“We need creation of accessible and affordable healthy foods for children,” Riddle said. “This can start with ensuring the nutrition of school breakfasts and lunches. The food industry and marketing of unhealthy products to children also needs to be addressed. Prevention is easier than treatment and if we did enough we could impact this problem.”




200-unit residential community headed to Wind Gap

With $23 million in financing arranged, DLP Real Estate Capital moves forward with construction of DREAM Lehigh Valley, a luxury residential community in Wind Gap. (Submitted) –

Developer DLP Real Estate Management, under its parent company, DLP Real Estate Capital, plans to build a 200-unit residential community in Wind Gap that would include a mix of luxury one- and two-bedroom apartments, carriage homes and townhouses.

Jones Lang LaSalle said it arranged $23 million in financing for the development of the project, DREAM Lehigh Valley. JLL, on behalf of the developer, arranged a floating-rate construction loan through a regional bank, according to a news release.

This is the DLP’s first ground-up construction multi-housing community.

DLP, headquartered in Hanover Township, Northampton County, hired Justin Huratiak, president and CEO of Huratiak Homes of Bangor, to lead development of the new community. MKSD architects of South Whitehall Township designed the project.

Huratiak said his company is the general contractor for the project and will build 120 luxury apartments, 72 carriage homes, and eight townhouses on the nearly 30-acre site on East West Street near the Route 512 interchange off Route 33 in Wind Gap.

“Site work is already under way,” Huratiak said. “It was an old quarry. It has an existing pond feature. The land was graded and restored to meet the needs of the project.”

His company hopes to start the first building in two weeks, and the projected is expected to take 18 to 24 months to complete.

Officials will host a topping off ceremony in early spring 2020, to signify construction has begun, Huratiak said.

The project will include nine garden-style residential buildings and a two-story clubhouse with lounge, game room, fitness center and pool, as well as a nature trail. The property will include one-, two- and three-bedroom units averaging 1,210 square feet. Units will include fully equipped kitchens, ceramic and marble tile flooring, smart home features and in-unit washers and dryers, with select homes offerings balconies, patios and private garages.

Michael Pagniucci, director of JLL Capital Markets, and Jason Bond, managing director, led the JLL team representing the borrower.


Nonprofit eyes downtown Allentown for new science center

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.






Taco Bell to open near Route 33 in Plainfield Township

Taco Bell will open its doors in the Slate Belt next year.

A Taco Bell will open in Plainfield Township near Route 33 by next summer. (Submitted) –

Construction is set to begin at the former site of the Wind Gap Professional Center on Sullivan Trail and South Broadway (Route 512) off the northbound exit of Route 33 in the Plainfield Township area of Wind Gap, according to a news release.

The eatery will have a 2,700-square-foot restaurant with a wrap-around drive-thru and parking. The Taco Bell will join several other nearby fast food establishments.

Summerwood Corp. of Conshohocken will operate the fast food franchise.

Scott Horner, vice president of Colliers International’s Upper Macungie Township office, brokered the deal.

Horner said he represented the buyer and the seller in the transaction.

Construction workers will level the professional office building to make way for the Taco Bell, Horner said.

Joe DePascale, development manager for Summerwood, said he plans to start construction in March 2020. Before that, workers need to perform demolition, remove asbestos and have the utility company move some utility poles. He plans to have the restaurant open by June or July.

“It’s a phenomenal location right off the exit ramp,” DePascale said. “Everybody else is already there. It clearly is a good location.”

He has no construction firm selected at this point.