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Authority backs two proposed projects near Allentown's hockey arena

By Len Righi, WFMZ.com Reporter
Published On: Jun 05 2013 08:56:56 PM CDT
ALLENTOWN, Pa. -

A major developer in the area where Allentown's new hockey arena is being built received important backing Wednesday for two proposed projects.

The authority overseeing development in the Neighborhood Improvement Zone approved $5 million in credit for City Center Investment Corp.'s $15 million plan to renovate six properties along Hamilton Street and also gave its blessing to a $45 million plan City Center unveiled last week for a seven-story luxury apartment and retail complex across from the 8,500-seat arena now being constructed.

J.B. Reilly, CEO of City Center, summarized both plans for the Allentown Neighborhood Improvement Zone Authority.

He said Center City has acquired a number of properties in the 500 to 800 blocks along Hamilton Street, and that Center City plans to remodel several of the buildings, restore their facades and use the first floors for retail and restaurant space and the upper floors for office space for entrepreneurial businesses.

Reilly said Center City would concentrate initially on six properties on Hamilton Street: 530, 532, 536, 538, 732 and 806.

The $45 million project, to be financed with private money, unveiled last Friday by City Center and its Philadelphia-based partner, Pennrose Properties, would have 160 apartments with rents of $1,000 or more a month.
A 125-car underground would be included as part of the complex, as would 30,000 square feet of retail space divided between the first two floors of the apartment building.
A handful of city residents asked Reilly if his plans include living space for the poor and people who qualify for Section 8 housing. "The public housing list for three-bedroom apartments is frozen," said one woman, adding that "people downtown need housing" and it would "good public relations" if the developer would accommodate some of them.
Reilly responded by saying Pennrose is planning "a significant residential endeavor a few blocks away" from the hockey arena, but he did not elaborate.

The same people also had questions for Rob and Jim Brooks, owners of the Phantoms minor league hockey team that will play in the arena starting next year.

The questions came after the two men presented the authority with multi-media update on their preparations that included a "sneak peek" two-minute video.

The team owners were asked specifically about their hiring policies and accommodations for disabled.
Rob Brooks said a management company that soon will be brought in to run the arena will set the hiring practices, and that five interns already have been hired to give people interested in working in professional athletics some experience.

One woman pointed out that the four interns shown in the Brooks' video presentation "don't look like me," adding that African-Americans and Hispanics have been "overlooked" and need to be given a chance to be part of management, not just the regular work force.

Rob Brooks also said seating for the disabled will be available "at all different levels" of the arena.

Authority chairman Seymour Traub advised the woman that if she knew of people with the right qualifications, "Have them send a resume. That's the first step in getting a job."

Sara Hailstone, the authority's executive director, reported that she is working out the details to create a jobs center downtown that will help train people for employment opportunities in the Neighborhood Improvement Zone.

The center, which will be a joint venture with CareerLink and Lehigh Carbon Community College, could be up and running by the end of the summer, she said.

LCCC will likely offer space for the center in its Donley Center in downtown Allentown, and the college and CareerLink will work with the businesses that will operate in the NIZ, so people can be trained for the jobs that will be available, Hailstone said.

Traub pointed out that the authority set aside $100,000 of its budget to help create the center.