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.”