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Monthly Archives: May 2019

From Meat to Twine to Classic Cars, Old Downtown Allentown Industrial Building Gets New Life

RB Collection at 107 W. Hamilton St., Allentown

Redeveloping a long-vacant and historical industrial building into a vintage car showroom and restoration center is a project that not every business owner would want to take on. But when brothers Al and Alex Ruozzi of RB Collection Restoration Center saw the former A&B Meats building at the base of the Hamilton Street Bridge across from America on Wheels, they saw the potential for what it could be.

“We liked the location, the building’s character, the brickwork, the red maple wood flooring, and the big windows,” said Alex Ruozzi. “We knew that we wanted to keep as much of the original building as possible when we renovated it into our new showroom, workshop garage, office, and seven high-end upstairs apartments.”

The 13,650 sq. ft. downtown Allentown building, today known as the Klein Building, has four times more space than their old location in Breinigsville, where the business had been located for eight years. Their business was growing so they needed expanded space to work on the classic cars they restore, as well to display them for sale. 

They found out about the Klein Building thanks to their existing connection to the staff at the museum of over-the-road transportation across the street. They connected with Allentown Economic Development Corporation Executive Director Scott Unger who shared their love of the building, and who was happy that they planned to keep it and update it rather than raze it.

As happens with most projects that involve the purchase of land and an existing historic building that needs rehabilitation, there was a funding gap that needed to be filled in order for the project to move forward.

“Getting started was hard due to setting up the financing along with the building’s poor condition from years of weather that led to damage,” explained Al Ruozzi. “The City of Allentown was very supportive of the project from the beginning. They were very committed to making it happen since this building had been vacant for forty years and it’s a gateway to the waterfront.”

AEDC Program Manager David Dunn worked with the Ruozzis, operating as ACR Development, to help them secure three loans for $100,00 each through the Allentown Enterprise Zone Revolving Loan Fund, Allentown Development Company Loan Fund, and the Allentown Economic Development Revolving loan fund.

“AEDC was able to utilize three of our loan pools to provide the gap funding ACR Development needed to get their project off the ground,” said Dunn. “We were eager to participate with QNB as the lead bank because the funding would bring a blighted building back into productive use.  We also recognized that having the Ruozzi’s car renovation business here would bring a well-known, successful business to downtown Allentown. With America on Wheels across the street, we hope this is the start of an automobile-focused business cluster and the beginning of a revitalization of that core area of our city.”

Once the funding was in place, the sale of the property completed in May 2016. The nearly $3 million renovation project maintained the existing façade and overall architectural concept. Custom-made windows and trim were added, and the warped wood flooring was fixed and refinished, including completely redone floors on the entire second floor. The new showroom can hold up to 12 cars, while the restoration shop can hold up to 15. 

“Al and Alex did an outstanding job transforming a long-vacant structure into a very attractive mixed-use project,” said Unger. “The renovation combines both historic and new elements and provides a new addition to the intersection of Front and Hamilton.”

AEDC Shares Bridgeworks Story at Annual Incubator Conference

On Tuesday, April 16, about 60 business incubation professionals came together to learn about making their programs self-sustaining. The three-person team presenting the conference session represented nearly 80 years of expertise in the industry.

“It was an honor to be invited to present with Jim Greenwood and Mark Long at this year’s International Conference on Business Incubation,” said Program Manager Anthony Durante of Allentown Economic Development Corporation. “I learned so many best practices from both of them over the years of attending conferences and training sessions. Bridgeworks wouldn’t be in the place it is if it weren’t for the lessons they shared with me. To have been on the same stage with them had me feeling a bit humbled.”

Held in Minneapolis, the 33rdannual conference is put on by the International Business Innovation Association (InBIA). This year over 400 professionals representing incubators, accelerators, coworking spaces, and economic development organizations attended the conference to sharpen their skills and network with their peers.

“The conference is my favorite event to attend each year,” said Durante. “Because what we do is so regionally focused, none of us are competitors. That results in an extremely open atmosphere where people are willing to share what their initiatives are, what’s working, and what’s not. I learn so much just from chatting with incubator professionals in between sessions or over dinner.”

The late morning session that Greenwood, Long, and Durante presented was entitled “Strategies for Increasing Self-Sustainability Potential for Your Entrepreneurship Center” and focused on teaching methods for centers to become less reliant on outside funding. Greenwood and Long presented on applying best practices to privately funded and university-funded incubator models; then Durante presented AEDC’s Bridgeworks Enterprise Center as a case study on how to apply these lessons in a real-world environment. Several themes carried across the material the three presenters laid out.

Maximizing the amount of leasable space available in a facility and pricing it in a way that allows the program to run breakeven with some vacancy was a key lesson all three presenters shared. Durante explained that at least 65 to 70 percent of a center needs to be leasable space. From there, the pricing model needs to work so that if that leasable space is only two-thirds occupied, the center still runs at breakeven.

“If your center needs to be 100 percent occupied in order to keep the lights on,” explained Durante, “or if you allow the architect to design your center as his or her swan song with grandiose lobbies and common areas, your business model is going to hit major roadblocks before it ever gets going.”

Another common theme during the session focused on reducing the dependency on outside funding to keep the center running day-to-day.

“Jim, Mark, and I all emphasized the fact that a center’s day-to-day operational budget can’t be tied to an outside funding source,” said Durante. “Too many state budgets are running at a deficit where funding of key programs is getting cut. Also, administrations change, whether it’s at the state or university, and a program can suddenly go from being the favorite child to being the unwanted dinner guest almost overnight. If you have a self-sustaining program, those kinds of changes have a far less severe impact on the center.”

The session was very well received by the crowd with several attendees engaging the presenters after it was complete. Ultimately, the presenting team had one message for the crowd:

“A center needs to be run as a profitable nonprofit,” concluded Durante. “You can reinvest that surplus into the program to continually make it better. We’re trying to teach businesses to focus on growth and to become profitable – we need to lead by example. In the end, if there’s no money, there’s no mission because there is no organization left.”

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