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Lehigh County will get $230,000 from Hamilton Street land sale

By Randy Kraft, WFMZ.com Reporter, RKraft@wfmz.com
Published On: Jul 25 2013 05:44:19 AM CDT
Three City Center, 500 block of Hamilton St, Allentown July 23, 2013
ALLENTOWN, Pa. -

Lehigh County stands to gain $230,000 from the sale of the vacant property on Allentown’s Hamilton Street where J.B. Reilly’s City Center Investment Corp. plans to build another new building.

The county will get even more money if City Center decides to make that proposed building taller than the five stories now proposed.

Reilly’s proposed building, called Three City Center, was approved Tuesday by the Allentown Commercial and Industrial Development Authority – ACIDA.

Lehigh County owns about 23 percent of the property in the 500 block of Hamilton Street, said Cindy Feinberg, the county’s director of community and economic development. The rest of it is owned by ACIDA.

The county commissioners had a first reading of an ordinance to approve that sale Wednesday night, with a vote for approval expected at their Aug. 14 meeting. None of the seven commissioners at Wednesday’s meeting expressed any objections to the sale.

City Center is offering $1 million for the .63-acre property, which includes the county’s $230,000 share.

Although often referred to as the site of the long-gone Colonial movie theater, a two-story county office building also stood on that property, which is next to the old county courthouse.

The county had owned that office building since 1944, said Commissioner Daniel McCarthy. He said the lot has been vacant for nearly 10 years, ever since the movie theater and county office building were torn down.

He noted the county’s portion of the property has been off the tax rolls since 1944.
“It’s an exciting time to be in Allentown,” said McCarthy. “This seems like a wonderful project. It will bring more commercial tenants to downtown. It’s also going to mean more jobs in downtown Allentown.

“And it means the property is going to come back on the tax rolls.”

Three City Center will have two fronts, said McCarthy – one facing Hamilton Street and the other facing the Arts Park on the north side of the building.

The proposed $37-million building will have a total of 110,000 square feet, including 8,500 square feet of first-floor retail space.

The mixed-use building will have four retail “units” on the first floor with four stories of office space above, explained Scott Unger, ACIDA’s executive director. He said it also will have a two-level underground parking facility for 112 vehicles.

Unger told commissioners it could become a six or seven-story building.

“That could happen,” said Unger. “City Center Two was originally supposed to be a seven-story building but ultimately became an 11-story building.” Two City Center is under construction at the northeast corner of 7th and Hamilton streets.

He said if Reilly decides to build more than five floors, he’ll pay an additional $5 for every square foot of leaseable space over 100,000 square feet.

“If they add another 50,000 square feet, that will be another $250,000,” explained Unger.

He said additional proceeds from extra floors will be shared with the county on a pro-rated basis.

If the commissioners approve the land sale, the deal will be completed before the end of the year, said McCarthy. Reilly intends to complete Three City Center by Dec. 31, 2014.

McCarthy did not suggest the county someday may be among the tenants in Three City Center, but he did say the county will need space for future expansion “fairly soon” -- including for court and domestic relations operations.

He explained that’s because the county’s population increased by 10 percent between 2000 and 2010 and Lehigh was the fastest growing county in Pennsylvania between 2010 and 2012.

McCarthy suggested the county earmark the $230,000 it will make from the land sale to help pay for that future expansion. He said it might even do the same with county taxes generated by the property going back on the tax rolls. He said that fund will help pay for the purchase of purchase or lease of space needed in the coming years.