In 2012 AEDC purchased a property located at 1021 Turner Street, a dilapidated building in the Old Allentown Historic District that had once seen much better days. Abandoned for over two decades, the property once functioned as an auto parts store and, before that, a fully operational dairy- complete with dairy cows inside!

Tackling Urban Decay

In alignment with its Urban Sites program, AEDC originally agreed to purchase the vacant building from the Allentown Redevelopment Authority (ARA), with plans to match the project with a developer capable of revitalizing the site. AEDC and the ARA maintained a cooperative relationship thanks to previous transactions and the fact that they share a similar mission: tackle urban decay. Both organizations champion the redevelopment of properties and turn “Blight to Bright” as the ARA states. Although similar in concept, the Authority’s main focus is converting and/or restoring residential row homes, while AEDC concentrates on rehabilitating non-residential and larger properties. Typically, AEDC purchases sites known as brownfields, which then undergo a reclamation process. Repurposing brownfields is a means of creating opportunities for employment by expanding the region’s manufacturing sector.

Once the property acquisition was complete in 2012, AEDC maintained ownership of the building for several years. It wasn’t until the end of 2017 that the nonprofit began negotiations with Lucienne Di Biase Dooley and Christine Ussler of Artefact, Inc, an architectural firm based in Bethlehem. The two women expressed interest after being informed by the ARA of the available property. No strangers to adaptive reuse, the duo had a lengthy list of challenging albeit successful restoration projects. With its spiral staircase, exposed brick walls, and the building’s long, narrow floor plate, a developer with an eye for creativity who specialized in historical properties was precisely what the Turner Street project required. The business partners eagerly conveyed their passion in their proposal, specifically citing the building’s “funkiness” and their hopes of adding it to their Allentown portfolio.

…And so, they did!

The agreement of sale was finalized in March of 2018. After the property settlement took place in May of 2019, the new owners began construction plans for a mixed-use space. Di Biase Dooley and Ussler saw the project as an ideal spot to construct a live/work environment, complete with an art gallery. The layout would appear similar to an Allentown mansion renovation they were working on at the same time. Their vision was to create an urban healing arts hub- a concept Lucienne found compelling while living in Europe. Inspired by the European concept, the women reconfigured the building layout into six residential units and a single retail space to be used for the art gallery. The mission was clear: cultivate a healthier community overall by creating a mixed-use design that encourages personal development and growth.

Fast Forward to Present Day

After a near-halt in construction caused by the pandemic, the partners are thrilled to progress in their plans. Headway cleaning up the interior is being made, and all new windows are being installed- 66 to be exact! On the exterior, renovation of the masonry shell includes a complete roof replacement and brickote removal and repointing of the burnt clay brick.  Next, the owners will move forward with structural framing stabilization before creating the six individual entries to the residential units- a creative vision by Lucienne and Christine to accommodate the building being deeper than it is wide. Of the six apartments, five will be two-story units, with spaces ranging from 849 sq. ft to over 1,000 sq. ft.

C. Ussler and L. Di Biase Dooley of Artefact, Inc. inside Allentown's 7th St. Mansion. Photo/Stay Calm Industries

Neighborhood Improvement is a Group Effort

Di Biase Dooley and Ussler’s enthusiasm for their project is widespread. The owners have gained the support of the Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley (CACLV) and are currently working with senior housing specialists to receive funding assistance. CACLV and Neighborhood Partnership Programs like Allentown’s Future are collaborating to utilize recent redevelopment efforts within the city’s Neighborhood Improvement Zone to benefit and grow surrounding communities.

As development efforts continue within the NIZ, firms like Artefact, Inc., and city rehabilitation programs are determined to give equal thoughtfulness to the neighborhoods surrounding the Zone in order for the entire downtown area to reach its full potential.

AEDC’s Board Chairman, Don Bernhard, notes the importance of public-private partnerships working together to execute complex, comprehensive revitalization strategies. “Private sector attention to the rehabilitation of center city neighborhoods is brought into focus through DACDI, the Downtown Allentown Community Development Initiative,” says Bernhard. “DACDI is an informal collaboration of 15 CEOs who share a mutual interest in extending the newfound prosperity of Allentown’s Central Business District to the surrounding neighborhoods.”

How does the “NIZ” work? The Neighborhood Improvement Zone (commonly referred to as the “NIZ”) is a special taxing district created by state law in 2011 to encourage development and revitalization in center city Allentown and along the western banks of the Lehigh River. To date, more than a half-billion dollars in redevelopment activity has resulted from the incentive program. During the early stages of the NIZ, AEDC played roles in developing several projects including PPL Center, the Trifecta Building, and City Center Three.

Because the Turner Street property is not located in the NIZ, the developers at Artefact, Inc. will not receive any tax incentives from the project. But by teaming up with CACLV, the partners are receiving assistance thanks to an Investor Program by TD Bank. The program matches facade dollars with owner investment in health and safety upgrades made to residential units. In addition to TD Bank, the partners have also received support from the City of Allentown Department of Community and Economic Development (CED) in the award of a HOME grant.

“We are optimistic that the availability of various funding for projects like this one will inspire others to take action. Through collaboration efforts, developers working within the Neighborhood Improvement Zone, and those outside of the NIZ, can enhance the area’s attractiveness. We have the opportunity to create an equally healthy business district with that of the surrounding community,” says Di Biase Dooley.

The Future of Allentown

There’s still much to be done to prepare 1021 Turner for tenant occupancy. Like any challenging project worth investing in, good things take time. With all of the creative vision, resources, and expertise pouring into the site, it will be an exemplary project and once again, an asset for the city. The completed restoration project is sure to depict the potential, efforts, and successes of Allentown’s economic revitalization.

Lauren Matthews