Now that Somera Road Inc. of New York City has selected a construction firm for the renovation of Allentown’s Grand Plaza on Hamilton Street, the developer is eyeing a June completion.
Basel Bataineh, vice president of Somera Road said the company chose Serfass Construction, a local firm to perform the construction and renovation work for the project, which includes creating an eight-vendor food hall within the retail space and renovating the interior floors for Class-A office space.
The project got a “thumbs up” from the Allentown Neighborhood Improvement Zone Development Authority’s project review committee on Thursday, which is step one in the process, Bataineh said. That committee will make a recommendation to the full board, he added.
The next step is for Somera to submit additional application information to the ANIZDA board. In addition, Somera will borrow $17.5 million through ANIZDA to help fund the project.
Most of the money will go toward the renovation and interior fit-outs for office spaces tenants will lease and a smaller portion will go toward renovations to the existing plaza and lobby, he said.
“The objective is to finish before the Blues Brews and Barbecue Festival,” Bataineh said.
The outdoor festival, scheduled for June 13, attracts thousands to the downtown.
“The last thing we want is a large construction site during the festival,” Bataineh said. “We’d like to be completely finished before the date of the festival.”
Aside from Serfass, Somera is working with ESa, an architectural firm based in Nashville, and Hawkins Partners Inc., a landscape architect also based in Nashville.
“They’ve worked on really high profile landscape projects,” Bataineh said. “They are going to redesign the exterior plaza.”
The building has about 240,000 square feet available. The building was in foreclosure when Somera bought it last April.
“We’ve had a lot of leasing interest in the market, both from tenants in the area and tenants outside the area,” Bataineh said.
The company invests in and redevelops properties around the country that have either been abandoned or blighted and puts them back to active reuse, he said.
“We love to take a building that was once a symbol of hope that has fallen on some tough times over the past few years and breathe some life into it and add some jobs,” Bataineh said.
Built in 2002, the building, formerly known as PPL Plaza, is in the Neighborhood Improvement Zone, a tax incentive that spurred more than $1 billion in construction and renovation in downtown Allentown.
Matthias Fenstermacher, vice president of Serfass Construction of North Whitehall Township, said the firm hopes to break ground and start construction in March.
“The current drawings call for demolition of the entire plaza and converting that back into green space, a flexible space,” Fenstermacher said.
The firm will also work on renovations to the entrance and interior fit-outs as they come up, he said.
Serfass will have about 20 to 30 employees working on the construction at any given time, he said.
In 2018, Serfass Construction completed another downtown Allentown project, 520 Lofts, a six-story building on Hamilton Street that included 68 upscale apartments.