Redeveloping a former manufacturing brownfield could be compared to turning around the U.S.S. Nimitz: it doesn’t happen easily or quickly. So, having a strong game plan for the site coupled with a clear vision is critical for success.

When Allentown Economic Development Corporation Executive Director Scott Unger looks at the former Allentown Metal Works steel fabrication site on the city’s southside, he sees its potential. That’s why he agreed to have AEDC purchase it from a private equity firm in 2012 after it fell into disrepair from being vacant.

“Bringing manufacturing to the City of Allentown, as well as growing what’s already here, is the main mission of our nonprofit organization,” said Unger. “Once the 17-acre industrial brownfield site is fully completed, it will be home to either one large or several smaller manufacturers with the potential to support 75-400 jobs. There are three existing buildings totaling more than 200,000 square feet on the site, several with extra high ceilings, heavy crane capability, and the potential for rail service.”

Demolition and infrastructure upgrades

When planning such a large redevelopment project, Unger says its necessary to think big picture. “We don’t want to just make improvements to some portions of the site now because we can afford to get them done. Infrastructure such as utility laterals, stormwater improvements, as well as parking and vehicular circulation improvements need to be carefully thought through and planned out. So, while this additional funding cycle has slowed the progress on the project temporarily, it also allows us to expand the initial scope of work for the site.”

In June 2017, AEDC completed selective demolition of four buildings totaling 58,000 square feet that were determined to be functionally obsolete. The three remaining buildings will be renovated in several phases. A second round of environmental remediation was also completed to address areas of lead-based paint and asbestos. AEDC executed and recorded an environmental covenant in late 2017 with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, which is the culmination of the Act 2 Land Recycling Program.

Aligning funding with rehabilitation

This past August, AEDC received a second $500,000 state Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program grant, bringing the total funds available for the project to $2.5 million when combined with other funding sources.

“We are presently applying for matching funds and hope to gather up to $5 million in funding for this phase. If additional matching funds are secured, we can consolidate two phases into one, which may yield some cost efficiencies through a larger construction scope. And it’s not like we’ve been sitting still this past year. We’ve continued to advance some of the permitting that will be required for future phases of development.”

Funding for various components of the site’s acquisition and rehabilitation has been provided through AEDC’s direct equity investment, City of Allentown’s EPA-funded Brownfield Revolving Loan Fund, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Community Development Block Grant program, Pennsylvania’s Business in Our Sites Program, the Lehigh Valley Community Foundation, and the BB&T Economic Growth Fund.