Sacred Heart Hospital's plan to buy one building and make improvements to another took a big step forward Wednesday.
The Allentown Neighborhood Improvement Zone Development Authority approved the use of $4.8 million in tax funds -- $3.6 million to buy and refurbish an office building owned by a private physicians group at 451 West Chew St. and $1,2 million to renovate Seton Hall at the corner of West Chew and North 4th streets.
CEO and president John Nespoli said the medical office is now about one-third empty, and if Sacred Heart fills it, about 40 new jobs will be created. "One doctor [brought in to the building] brings four other jobs with it," he noted.
Seton Hall is now about half-full, he pointed out, and the hospital hopes to relocate 70 home-care nurses now working outside the city there.
Nespoli assured a group of people lobbying for NIZ jobs for Allentown residents tht "we are committed to hiring people [who live] in the city. ... We are trying to make this work for neighborhood residents."
The authority also gave its blessing to City Center Investment Corp. operating the 180-room hotel it is building next to the downtown hockey arena at 7th and Hamilton streets under as a Marriott Renaissance.
City Center chief operating officer Jim Harbaugh said Renaissance "is one of Marriott's top brands."
Authority member Alan Jennings greeted the news enthusiastically, saying getting the Marriott Renaissance designation was "unbelievably cool."
Harbaugh said the Greenwood Hospitality Group has been hired to manage the hotel.
Jennings informed Harbaugh that the authority would like the jobs the hotel would create to be listed with the Allentown Employment and Training Center at Lehigh Carbon Community College's Donley Campus near 7th and Hamilton streets, so neighborhood residents have a fair shot at them.
He also asked Harbaugh if he knew how many jobs would be created, and what the wage scales might be.
"We know, but we don't know," Harbaugh answered. "We [City Center] don't know how to run a hotel. That' why we hired Greenwood. ... That conversation [about jobs and pay scales] will have to be with them."