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Allentown planners approve apartment development around parking deck

February 13, 2018

The Allentown Planning Commission Tuesday gave the go-ahead to a plan by City Center Investment to wrap an apartment building around an existing downtown parking deck.

Planners approved the proposal to add 61 one- and two-bedroom apartments around the parking deck at Sixth and Walnut streets.

The property is just outside Allentown’s Neighborhood Improvement Zone, so it is not eligible for the beneficial financing City Center used to build its other projects downtown. As the first major development just outside the special financing district, the apartment project is “a real milestone in terms of the impact of the NIZ,” said City Center President J.B. Reilly.

“The confidence we have about the continued success of the Neighborhood Improvement Zone has led us to expand our development outside of the NIZ boundaries and extend the revitalization of downtown Allentown,” Reilly said.

The project, which he said would cost $10 million, will add more market rate apartments downtown, a step that Reilly says must continue if the office and retail projects that have dominated downtown’s redevelopment are to have long-term sustainability.

Construction of the project, called Walnut Street Commons, is scheduled to begin in July. According to City Center, work could be complete in May, 2019.

The 70,000-square-foot building will be five stories tall, tapering down to four stories on the northern edge of the property. It will use the existing car entrance and exit points and have a pedestrian access point at the building’s southwest corner. Reilly said the first floor Walnut Street-facing apartments will have street access, helping to blend the building with the existing residential neighborhood.

City Center will pay the Allentown Parking Authority $195,000 for the grassy area around the deck, said authority Executive Director John Morgan. The authority will continue to operate the deck, he said, and make rental spaces available to the apartment residents.

The project complies with a 2014 downtown redevelopment study, which identified a parking deck with a wraparound apartment building on the tract — even before the deck was built. The study by the Boston firm Goody Clancy called the project “a critical opportunity to enhance Walnut Street’s character as a residential street.”

The deck opened on the site in November, 2015 and contains 960 parking spaces.

City Center also is planning a parking deck with a wraparound apartment building at 8th and Hamilton streets.

City Center has already developed two apartment buildings just north of the planned development, and is in the process of completing another at Sixth and Linden streets. The first two are fully leased and the third is 68 percent leased but only partially complete. When complete, those three buildings will contain a total of 308 units.

City Center also is building 68 more apartments in a mixed-use building at 520 Hamilton St. That project is scheduled to open in September.

Written by Tim Darragh; Originally published in The Morning Call

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