Bringing STEAM learning to Downtown Allentown

The Da Vinci Science Center is under construction at 8th and Hamilton streets in Allentown. PHOTO/COURTESY BARRY ISET & ASSOCIATES
The Da Vinci Science Center is under construction at 8th and Hamilton streets in Allentown. PHOTO/COURTESY BARRY ISET & ASSOCIATES –

The Da Vinci Science Center celebrated a major milestone with the groundbreaking of its new three-story, 67,000-square-foot facility in downtown Allentown last April, with an anticipated completion date in the spring of 2024.  

While the groundbreaking and ribbon cutting typically get the most fanfare, we’d like to call attention to some of the work that happens between these major milestones. 

Engineering work at the new site began in partnership with the project architect, MKSD architects, involving civil land development including design coordination and concept site plans, followed by land development and facilities planning, permitting, and construction coordination.  

Additionally, structural engineering was tasked with a unique request to include a 50-foot-tall interior courtyard which would serve as a central focal point and home for larger-than-life exhibits. 

Located at 8th & Hamilton Streets in downtown Allentown, the new science center will provide increased access for all with a special focus on downtown Allentown residents, at nearly triple the size of the existing space on Cedar Crest Boulevard.  

The Da Vinci Science Center at PPL Pavilion will serve as an educational hub for hands-on Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math (STEAM) learning and career development.  

The new facility will be within walking distance for the thousands of students who live nearby, providing valuable STEAM learning opportunities for downtown residents as well as out-of-area visitors and school field trips. The $65 million dollar project is made possible with support from various federal, state, and local programs in addition to private donations and sponsorships. 

In addition to the STEAM Learning Center, featured exhibits will include Science in the Making, allowing curious minds to explore scientific principles and their application in the manufacturing process with a focus on Lehigh Valley companies; Lehigh River Watershed, which will surround visitors with the flora and fauna of the Lehigh Valley in partnership with Wildlands Conservancy; and the My Body exhibit, featuring interactive installations celebrating the human body exploring how it works, in partnership with Lehigh Valley Health Network.  

At the core of the Da Vinci Science Center at PPL Pavilion is the grand courtyard spanning all three floors acting as the central hub of the building. The center will also allow space for temporary traveling exhibits. 

Barry Isett & Associates Inc.  is working alongside MKSD Architects; Alvin H. Butz, the construction manager; and other partners for various services on the project.  

Isett’s engineering and consulting services include civil and structural engineering, environmental consulting, landscape architecture, and survey. As a multi-discipline firm with numerous in-house capabilities, Isett is able to provide single-source engineering and start-to-finish project involvement to streamline the completion of the project. 


Chris Williams is civil operations manager for the Lehigh Valley office of Barry Isett & Associates. 


Shift4 CEO, SpaceX astronaut sponsors new science institute

Jared Isaacman in his SpaceX suit. PHOTO/FILE –

Jared Isaacman, founder and CEO of Shift4 Payments in Allentown, and his wife Monica, have sponsored a new program to encourage science learning through the Da Vinci Science Center. 

Isaacman, besides being a successful businessman, was recently commander of the first all civilian human spaceflight to orbit the Earth on SpaceX. 

Isaacman said he knew he wanted to travel to space ever since he was a young boy, but he didn’t take a direct or clear path to achieve his goal.  

“I’m proud to support educational efforts that encourage students to explore the world around them, to make connections that aren’t always obvious, and to ask, ‘What If?’,” he said. “This is the kind of thinking that will create solutions to challenges humanity faces here on earth today and make progress for the future we all want to live in for tomorrow.” 

The Isaacman Next Generation Science Institute will officially launch on Saturday. 

Designed in partnership with area school districts and national experts to provide learning opportunities for teachers, students, parents, families, administrators, and school board members to prepare for next-generation science teaching and learning,  

 “We can’t thank Jared and Monica enough for their investment,” said Lin Erickson, executive director and CEO for Da Vinci Science Center. “Not only does the financial support help ensure that this new initiative will achieve its goals, but Jared’s personal journey also exemplifies what we want children, and adults, everywhere to aspire to do – to embrace bold thinking and reach for the star.” 

The development of the Isaacman Next Generation Science Institute is in response to the need for new teaching strategies that enable students to explain natural phenomena and design solutions to problems that are important to them.  

When students use the same practices that professional scientists and engineers use, the emphasis is on “figuring out,” rather than simply “learning about,” and they become better equipped with transferable knowledge and skills that can be applied in all facets of their lives. Earth and Space Science, one of the disciplinary core ideas in the new standards, promotes interdisciplinary learning across the major fields of science and engineering.  

Allentown officials, Governor break ground on Da Vinci Science Center

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf participates in a ceremonial groundbreaking at the Da Vinci Science Center in Allentown. PHOTO/PACAST –

Governor Tom Wolf today joined Allentown area officials to celebrate the groundbreaking of the $65 million Da Vinci Science Center in the city’s Neighborhood Investment Zone downtown. 

The state has made an $11 million state investment, through the Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program (RACP), to expand the Da Vinci Science Center’s footprint with this second location to provide even more opportunities for hands-on science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics (STEAM) learning.  

“The Da Vinci Science Center has long been an innovative hub where children of all ages could experience hands-on STEAM learning,” said Gov. Wolf. “This investment in the center’s expansion is an investment in a bright future for every child who walks through the door and the local economy alike.” 

Plans are to construct a 67,300-square-foot new science center which will be home to more than 30,000 square feet of STEM-based interactive exhibits, an 8,600 square-foot STEAM Learning Center, a 150-seat demonstration theater, a grand courtyard and exhibit space.  

“The Da Vinci Science Center is grateful for the generous support from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to make our new facility in downtown Allentown a reality,” said Lin Erickson, executive director and CEO of Da Vinci Science Center. “This project would not be possible without the support of Governor Wolf and the Lehigh Valley delegation and will ensure that Da Vinci Science Center is poised to inspire our students today to be the STEAM workforce of tomorrow.”  

Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program funds support critical expansion projects, provide opportunities for job creation and employment training, and community revitalization across the commonwealth. 

The Science Center will be located on Hamilton Street between 8th and 9th streets. 

Groundbreaking on Da Vinci Science Center planned for Friday

Rendering of the planned Da Vinci Science Center at PPL Pavilion. FILE –

The Da Vinci Science Center is getting ready to start construction of its new state-of-the-art facility in downtown Allentown, and it will hold a groundbreaking ceremony at its future site at 18 N. 8th St. on Friday to mark the start of the project. 

Groundbreaking festivities will begin with a construction safety program for students presented by team members of Alvin H. Butz, construction manager for the project, and self-tours of the “main floor” site plan that will be drawn onto the existing site and complemented by renderings of each exhibit space.  

“We are honored that Governor Wolf, Congresswoman Wild, Senator Browne, Mayor Matt Tuerk and other public officials and community leaders will join us for this momentous event. This project would not have happened without public support,” said Lin Erickson, executive director and CEO of Da Vinci Science Center. “We also want to put a different twist on a traditional groundbreaking program and are looking forward to having members of the Allentown School District’s color guard and choir, as well as students from Grace Montessori School, be part of the festivities plus a few other surprises that I will not share now. Suffice it to say, in true Leonardo form, the celebration will exemplify the concept of STEAM – the integration of Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math.”  

Companies involved in the design and development of the new downtown facility include MKSD Architects, Barry Isset & Associates, HB Engineers, EMS Consulting, Ideum and Roto Design Firm. Alvin H. Butz is the construction manager; Gross McGinley, the project attorneys; and PFM, financial advisors.  

The Da Vinci Science Center at PPL Pavilion is slated to open in spring of 2024. 


Da Vinci Science Center to build new facility in downtown Allentown

The Da Vinci Science Center is building a new museum in downtown Allentown to offer three times the exhibit space and more interactive educational programs.

Lin Ericson, CEO, said the 60,000 square-foot facility on Hamilton Avenue between 8th and 9th streets, will offer exhibits only found in major cities.

The center, a $65 million project, is looking to the Allentown Neighborhood Improvement Zone Development Authority (ANIZDA) for help with reaching the funding goal.

Tuesday night, the public review committee recommended the project to the full board, which will vote on the allocation of funds at 5 p.m. Sept. 1, said Michelle Reid, executive assistant for the ANIZDA.

To date, the science center has raised $42 million toward the goad. Ericson said funding from the ANIZDA will be a major boost for the project.

The NIZ is a special taxing district created by state law in 2011 to encourage development in center city Allentown and other cities across the state. According to the NIZ website, projects get money up front and are granted tax relief to pay debt services on bonds and loans they receive for the projects.

Ericson explained that the taxes a business would normally pay get funded back to the company to pay down the loan. “We will pay the money back over nine years with the taxes we would normally pay to the state and federal government,” she said. “All taxes (except real estate) can be used to pay down the loan, even during construction.”

The science center, she said, will have three times more exhibit space with immersive programs in health care and manufacturing, the two major industries in the Lehigh Valley.

“We will also be recreating the Pocono ravine with river otters,” she said. The Lehigh River Shed is an important natural resource and the science center will be a good educational tool for children to learn about it, she said. “We will even have a 30-foot waterfall.”

There will be an exhibit where people can see themselves in a three dimensional 60-foot state, she said. “We are working with Olympus (Center Valley), a local health care company to educate people about the body,” she said.

“We have been working closely with the ANIZDA from the beginning. The nice thing is that we get the money up front. It’s a wonderful program,” she said. “Even as a non-profit, we pay taxes. That includes all the taxes we pay for contractors and caterers, almost everything.”

The science center will break ground in March and Ericson said she expects the new center to open in early 2024. “It’s a great location and walkable from neighborhoods. We project more than 400,000 visitors a year which will bring people into downtown during the day, which will boost other business.”

The current science center, 3145 Hamilton Blvd Bypass will remain open through the construction of the new facility. “We haven’t decided about the future of the location, but we might keep the facility for more programming space,” she said. “We are not slowing down at all. We are pushing as hard as ever. We want to inspire kids to be curious, just like Leonardo Da Vinci.”

Peron Development buys Easton property for mixed-use project

Rendering of Peron Developments planned $75 million mixed use project on South Third Street in Easton. PHOTO/SUBMITTED –

The City of Easton has settled on the sale of a property that will bring a more than $75 million mixed-use development project to the downtown.

Peron Development has bought the vacant parcel at 185 S. Third St. from the city for $3,499,080, which Mayor Sal Panto said was the appraised value of the property.

The site is currently largest parcel of vacant property in the downtown business district.

Peron was one of a number of developers that bid to purchase and develop the property, which was the site of the former Days Inn, which the city purchased in January 2018 and then demolished.

It was supposed to be the site of a massive aquarium to be built by Allentown’s Da Vinci Science Center, a plan that was scuttled after a similar, for-profit aquarium was proposed for the nearby Poconos.

Panto said Peron’s proposal was chosen by a panel of 17 residents that reviewed the possible uses for the site.

The developer plans to build an apartment and retail entertainment complex made up of three buildings.

Included in the project are 240 apartments and 50 condominiums.

Panto said there is a need for housing in the area.

“There’s been a very big demand to live in the downtown and the city as a whole. The real estate market has been crazy,” he said.

The project will also feature artist lofts and a grocery store, as well as more than 200 ground floor parking spaces for residents and visitors.

Peron will also construct a pedestrian bridge to connect to the city’s Intermodal Parking Garage next door.

Panto said an important part of the redevelopment of the site is that the buildings and parking area will be elevated out of the flood zone, which has plagued the area surrounding the property.

“We are incredibly excited about the future of Easton and purchasing the property is a significant step forward toward developing the project,” said Mike Perrucci, owner of Peron Development.” We look forward to working with the City as we continue the land development process.”

In addition to Peron Development, other firms involved in the project include Boyle Construction Management, Omnes Landscape Architecture, Civitas Regio, and USA Architects.

Da Vinci gets $5.6M loan for Allentown science center project

The Da Vinci Science Center’s plan to build a science and technology learning center in downtown Allentown received a $5.6 million funding boost from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Center officials called the HUD Section 108 loan a major milestone in the project’s development.

“We thank HUD and the City of Allentown for supporting our vision to create a 21st-century science center that will improve access to high-quality STEAM education, drive economic development, and enhance the quality of life for residents of the Lehigh Valley,” Lin Erickson, executive director and CEO of the Da Vinci Science Center said in a release.

The science center, planned for a space on North Eighth Street near the PPL Center, will offer a range of programs focused on school children and their family members.

Allentown Mayor Ray O’Connell said the center will be a good draw to the downtown area.

“The new science center will open-up Da Vinci to tens of thousands of new visitors and expand their mission of bringing science to life and lives to science,” he said. “This project has the potential to be transformative, setting the future direction of our city for decade.”

The project is within the city’s Neighborhood Improvement Zone, which will also help with the project’s funding.

The new center was originally planned as a more than $100 million project along the Waterfront in the City of Easton, but those plans fell through. The main Da Vinci Science Center is on the campus of Cedar Crest College in Allentown.

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.






Da Vinci axes plans for $100M Science City on Easton riverfront

Rendering of plans for the Da Vinci Science City that had been planned for Easton (File photo) –

Plans to construct a $100 million-plus science museum in Easton have been called off.

Lin Erickson, executive director of the Da Vinci Science Center in Allentown, which has been planning the Da Vinci Science City, said the nonprofit no longer plans to go ahead with the project at that location, which was to be built along Easton’s riverfront.

The organization is now looking for other locations.

First introduced in 2016, the Science City concept originally included a saltwater aquarium, but the organization withdrew that costlier idea in favor of a nature dome. It was also to include displays and programming to promote science and technology education.

In a statement, Erickson said the decision was made after Da Vinci learned that Easton intended to rescind its previous financial commitment to support the project and to provide the Easton-owned site on Third Street.

The city had previously purchased the property for $5.9 million and demolished a hotel that had been located there to make room for the Da Vinci project.

“These commitments were leading factors in the Science Center’s original selection of Easton as the future site of the expansion project,” she said.

While Easton will no longer be the location of the science museum, Erickson said the center is committed to building it, just elsewhere.

“We remain steadfast in our commitment and vision for a major new science center,” she said. “Through the generous support of the State, Northampton County, our staff and board, and community leaders, we’ve made significant progress toward the planning and fundraising for the project which can be transferred and adapted to a new site.”

As of January, Erickson told Lehigh Valley Business that the organization had raised $52 million and had about $45 million “in the queue” towards the project.

Easton Mayor Sal Panto Jr. spoke at Wednesday’s City Council meeting about the project, The Morning Call reported.  Panto said his administration grew leery of the project as it was whittled down to a 70,000-square-foot facility with a “NatureDome” so as to avoid competing with a proposed aquarium in the Poconos, the paper reported.