NYC developer selects Serfass Construction for Allentown Grand Plaza project

Somera Road Inc. of New York City has selected a construction firm for the renovation of Allentown’s Grand Plaza on Hamilton Street, which includes renovating the outdoor plaza. (Submitted) –

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.



City Center Allentown plans to add 2 office buildings downtown

City Center Allentown plans to build additional office buildings in downtown Allentown. Here is an image for one of them at 950 Hamilton St. (Courtesy of City Center Investment Corp.) –

City Center Allentown, the real estate developer involved in efforts to revitalize downtown, plans to build two office buildings on two sites in the 900 block of Hamilton Street.

“We’ve been looking at focusing upon the western part of Hamilton Street,” said Rob DiLorenzo, project manager for City Center Allentown. “Those two sites we see as an opportunity for future office development.”

The buildings would be 100,000 square feet each and stand six to seven stories high, he said.

The company wants a smaller footprint for the buildings, with floor plates at about 13,000 square feet, DiLorenzo said.

Potentially, multiple tenants would occupy each building and one tenant, such as a professional services firm, could take an entire floor, he said.

The property at 940 Hamilton St. is a clear site while the property at 950-956 Hamilton includes three buildings that have been vacant for the last five years. The company received city approval on Monday to demolish those buildings.

Demolition is scheduled for spring with construction next year, DiLorenzo said.

The project has no specific name yet, but DiLorenzo estimated the cost could be $28 million per building.

The sites are in the Neighborhood Improvement Zone, a tax incentive that has helped rejuvenate the city by spurring more than $1 billion in new construction and renovation in downtown Allentown.

“We see Hamilton Street as being our premier destination for organizations to be located in the Lehigh Valley,” DiLorenzo said. “When we look at office development, it’s really in most cases situated on Hamilton Street.”




New York firm plans to open food hall in Allentown’s Grand Plaza

The owner of the Grand Plaza in downtown Allentown said it plans to open an eight-vendor food hall next summer within the retail space at the building at 835 Hamilton Street. (Submitted) –

Somera Road Inc. of New York City said it plans to open an eight-vendor food hall next summer within the retail space at Allentown’s Grand Plaza on Hamilton Street. The company bought the Class-A office building in April after it had been in foreclosure.

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.

The firm said it is accepting proposals from area food and beverage operators and entrepreneurs interested in leasing space at the property.

Somera Road will call the food hall “will&co.” paying tribute to William Allen, the founder of Allentown.

The company plans to update the interior design first and then rejuvenate the outdoor plaza space in front of the building next year.

Plans include adding seating, event space and greenery to the outdoor space.

With more than 6,000 square feet, the food hall will offer six interior dining options, including a coffee shop and full-service bar. Two outdoor kiosks will contain a permanent vendor in addition to a rotating seasonal option.

Once it opens, will&co. would be the second food hall in downtown Allentown.

City Center Allentown opened its Downtown Allentown Market in September, which has nine merchants offering a variety of food and beverages inside a 12,000 square foot space below the Strata West apartments.

Basel Bataineh, vice president of Somera Road, was not immediately available for comment.


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.