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Mystery owner plans private driving course for classic cars in Allentown

By Randy Kraft, WFMZ.com Reporter, RKraft@wfmz.com
Published On: Feb 12 2013 07:22:49 PM CST

The long dormant site of an east Allentown drive-in theater soon will be given new life as the private driving course for the unidentified owner of a collection of antique automobiles.

Plans for the project, which includes a curving Auto Park Drive, were presented Tuesday afternoon to the city’s planning commission.

It was described as “a network of roadways and walkways in a park-like open space setting” and “a private enterprise for the enjoyment and entertainment of the property owner” –identified as Allentown Classic Motor Car, Inc.

Outdoor movies once again will be shown on the property, but not for the public. Fences and a buffer of evergreen trees will surround it and all entranceways will be gated.

"This is a private enterprise,” explained Atty. Richard Somach, who represented the owner. “It is not a public site at all.”

That owner stores antique vehicles in several warehouses adjoining the proposed site. Those vehicles also are restored and repaired on-site.

Curving roadways and circular drives on the property will be used to take them out “and exercise them,” said Somach.

“It will create a park-like drive without taking these old cars out onto public streets,” said Christian Brown, who is a member of the planning commission but stepped down for this case because he is the project’s landscape architect.

“And if they break down they are very close to the repair shop,” said Somach.

Somach and other representatives of Allentown Classic Motor Car at the meeting   would not name the owner. He described that individual to planners as being “somewhat philanthropic.”

The 20-plus-acre property off Union Boulevard is flanked by N. Ellsworth, E. James and N. Fenwick streets.  Its address is 740 N. Fenwick.

“It’s not commercial recreation by any means, it’s for private, personal use only,” confirmed Michael Hefele, Allentown’s planning director.

“It is kind of unique,” said Somach.

For decades, the heart of the site was the home of the popular Boulevard Drive-In. The outdoor movie screen is still standing and remnants of the tiered patron parking remain.

That screen again will be used to show movies – but only for invited guests of the owner. It will be “for private entertainment,” said Somach, adding: “Old movies with old cars.”

A new multi-purpose building will be constructed where the former projection building, which also housed a concession stand and restrooms, once stood. That building will be used as a private gathering space for aficionados of classic cars. Some of those cars will be displayed inside the building and lots of windows will allow those inside to watch classic vehicles motoring across the grounds.

A grounds and maintenance building also will be added to the site.

Keith Flickenger, owner of Precision Motors Cars at 808 N. Fenwick St., said he is curator of Allentown Classic Motor Car and does restoration work on vehicles in the collection. He said that collection contains about 80 cars built between 1927 and the 1950s.

Three cars from the collection currently are on display in Allentown’s America on Wheels Museum at 5 N. Front St, said Linda Merkel, executive director of the transportation museum. They are a 1932 Lincoln Model 244B, a 1936 Pierce Arrow 1602 Coupe and a 1933 Buick Phaeton convertible.

The planners were told the property is before them as an “accessory use” to an already approved warehousing use for 740 Fenwick and 801 Ellsworth.

The planning commission could not approve the project Tuesday because it had not yet received an official review letter from the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission.

Lack of a final review letter from the regional planning commission also delayed approval of plans for a Bennett Infiniti dealership at 2109 Lehigh St. in south Allentown.

The four-plus-acre site is across from Queen City Airport, between Bennett Toyota and the Wawa convenience store. A so-called “gentlemen’s club” once stood on part of the property.

The Bennett Infiniti dealership is now located along Tilghman Street near the Pennsylvania Turnpike entrance. The company plans to relocate the dealership to the “Lehigh Street Auto Mile” this year, complete with a new showroom and maintenance and repair shop.

It also must seek relief from the city’s zoning hearing board to a requirement that it must plant trees. “Trees and cars don’t get along,” commented Somach, who also represented Bennett.

Back on the east side of town, planners approved plans for a Taco Bell Restaurant with drive-through window at 1102-22 Airport Road.

They initially reviewed the plan last September. The developers were waiting approval from the state Department of Transportation.

The Taco Bell will replace Jimmy’s Place on the west side of Airport Road between Congress and Highland streets. It also replaces a Taco Bell along Union Boulevard that closed Dec. 31.

The new fast-food restaurant may open by August, according to Sally Inmon, vice president of Summerwood Corporation, which operates 75 Taco Bell and KFC restaurants in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware – including the Taco Bell along MacArthur Road in Whitehall Township and one along Lehigh Street in Salisbury Township.