Drive down Turner Street in downtown Allentown and you’ll come across a nondescript, vacant two-story building with great potential. In 2012, Allentown Economic Development Corporation purchased 1021 W. Turner St. from the Allentown Redevelopment Authority in the hopes of identifying someone to redevelop the property. And in May 2019 the nonprofit organization found the right buyer with the right vision.

“We wanted to sell the building to focus more of our resources on supporting our manufacturing-related programs,” explained Scott Unger, AEDC Executive Director. “However, we wanted to make sure that the end use was appropriate for both the building and the neighborhood. And we found that in this new project.”

Enter Lucienne Di Biase Dooley and Christine Ussler, Principals in Artefact Architecture based in Southside Bethlehem. Their firm submitted a proposal to turn the building into six residential units and one retail space. The apartments (five of which are two-story units) will range from 849 sq. ft to over 1,000 sq. ft, and the first-floor retail space will be 1,050 sq. ft. The building had originally housed a dairy and most recently had been an auto parts store before it became vacant in 1998.

Their firm has already completed similar redevelopment projects in the city at 417-437 N. 14th St., and 314-322 N. Church St., and will soon begin one at 315, 317, 319 and 321 N. 7th St. “The Redevelopment Authority liked the work we did on those other city projects, so they suggested that we contact AEDC to bid on the Turner Street property,” explained De Biase Dooley.

Her firm specializes in adaptive reuse, especially in historical buildings or unusual buildings.

“Often behind the decay in an old building is beautiful architecture. We’ve worked on an historic mansion in Allentown and are working on creating 10 live/work units with a gallery,” she continued. “We’re planning on turning it into an urban healing hub that is built around the arts where artists live above their studio space and share the gallery. And we’re planning to do that same approach with the Turner Street project, turning the retail space into an art gallery. We like to take funky spaces and buildings and rehab them around the arts.”

Based on a concept she experienced in Europe, the urban healing arts hub concept uses art as a way to help neighborhoods with problems heal while allowing its residents to benefit from personal growth, and the community from social growth. The most successful ones are often public/private partnerships, she explained.

After meetings with mechanical and structural engineers, the Turner Street building’s renovation is expected to be completed in two phases. First will be the rehabilitation and cleanup of the property. Second will be the build out of the retail space and apartments. The roof will need to be completely replaced as will plaster in many areas.

“Beauty can be a calming influence on people, so we intend to use the building’s aesthetics as calming elements,” said De Biase Dooley. “We want to encourage students living in the neighborhood who have an interest in art to come to the gallery when they need something to do and use art to express themselves and as a way to heal.”

Having been involved with the city’s Main Street program for over a decade, Di Biase Dooley said her firm is already looking to the future for what’s next. “Allentown has issues with its housing stock. It takes over a decade to turnaround a neighborhood, and it often starts with a big project like this, but it has to start somewhere. We hope others will invest in improving this neighborhood. We know that the arts community can be an economic driver.”