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New York company looks to breathe new life into old Allentown brewery

By Len Righi, WFMZ.com Reporter
Published On: Jan 30 2013 12:20:14 PM CST
Updated On: Jan 03 2013 10:59:32 AM CST

Old Neuweiler Brewery

ALLENTOWN, Pa. -

A former brewery building in Allentown could be part of the beer-making business again after more than 40 years of inactivity.

The authority overseeing projects in Allentown's Neighborhood Improvement Zone was told Wednesday that New York City-based Ruckus Brewing Co. would like to establish a brew pub on the site of the former Neuweiler building in the 400 block of Front Street, and lease excess tank space to other micro-breweries in the region.

In June, plans were announced by filmmaking company Mango Cross Media of Los Angeles to establish a state-of-the-art movie studio in the building, which has been vacant since 1968. But the project has been slow to develop, so late last year other plans for the property were sought by the city.

Allentown Neighborhood Improvement Zone Development Authority officials could supply only a few details on the Ruckus Brewing proposal during and after Wednesday's meeting. But Alan Jennings, who heads ANIZDA's project review committee, called the proposal "exciting."

Jennings said the committee gave its blessing to the broad outlines of the project because "it pushed the right buttons."

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On its Web site, Ruckus advertises six products: Euphoria, Hedonism and Nor'easter ales; Fatboy Lager; a five-hop, three-malt blend called Hoptimus Prime, and a Belgian beer called Midnight Wit. According to the site, the company's brewery is located in Wilkes-Barre.

According to a statement from Ruckus, the new 'Brewer's Hill' will "reflect and reinterpret Allentown's rich history as well as serve as a catalyst for the city’s continued renaissance.“

“As a graduate of Lehigh University, I have intimately experienced the potential of Lehigh Valley and look forward to helping the community continue its economic revitalization,” stated Josh Wood, co-owner and principal at Ruckus Brewing Co.

After the meeting, ANIZDA chairman Seymour Traub noted that the Ruckus proposal was submitted to the building's owner, the Allentown Commercial and Industrial Development Authority, which would have to approve the project. ANIZDA would get involved if Ruckus would ask for financing, he said.

Jennings noted that Ruckus already has financing for its plan approved by a bank, which he said was "a strong endorsement of merit and viability" for the idea. He also said Ruckus' proposal was an indication of "the power of the NIZ and the importance of what we're doing."

Robert Lovett, who was chosen at Wednesday's meeting to replace Jennifer Mann as the authority's vice chair, was more circumspect about the idea. "It's not enough to just have bank financing if that facility is ever to look like what we'd like it to."

In other business, the authority approved a request by Alvin H. Butz Inc., construction manager for the $158 million hockey arena project, to add an extra level to the parking deck near the arena in the 700 block of Linden Street.

Sara Hailstone, Allentown's director of community and economic development, said the $1.5 million project would add another 100 to 105 spaces to the proposed 680-space deck. The extra level would be paid for by City Center Investment Corp., which will use the extra spaces for apartments and retail projects it is building in the NIZ, she said.

The authority discussed having more oversight on the spending of the $224.3 million raised in a bond sale for the 8,500-seat hockey arena project.

Lovett, who heads the authority's finance committee, said it is "nerve wracking" having arena developer Hammes Sports Development Group essentially overseeing its own work. "We need to be more involved with the stewardship," he said.

Traub replied, "We do a lot of oversight," noting that Hammes provides a complete list of draw downs from both taxable and non-taxable bonds, and those requests are studied by the city accounting department as well as Hailstone and Scott Unger, executive director of the Allentown Commercial and Industrial Development Authority.

Lovett said he is "not comfortable" with the process. "The person running the project is also making the assessment. That's not a good scene."

Jennings added, "We owe it to the community to have the proper kind of oversight."

The board decided to study the matter further and consider hiring an independent auditor at its Feb. 6 meeting.

In the meantime, the authority's accounting firm, Concannon-Miller, will be asked to keep an eye on how the money is being spent.