Developable land for manufacturing in the City of Allentown has been extremely hard to come by for many years as the city continues to develop and grow. So, finding a nearly 20-acre site in the heart of the city that has been abandoned for decades is a diamond in the rough of sorts. Or at least that’s how Kevin Serfass of Serfass Construction Company sees it.

Located between Basin Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, the site dates back to the mid-1800s and has been home to several different businesses, three railroads, and the municipal incinerator, which closed in the 1950s. A change to I-3 zoning, initiated by Allentown Economic Development Corporation and approved by the city, now allows for it to now be used for general industrial uses instead of the more restrictive B/LI designation for business and light industrial uses it had previously been zoned for. The site is also located in a Federal Opportunity Zone and is eligible for New Markets Tax Credits.

Serfass Construction company entered into an agreement of sale with Allentown Commercial and Industrial Development Authority, through its agent, AEDC, on July 30, and is expected to close on the sale in first quarter 2021. Serfass plans to build a 175,000 sq. ft. industrial facility to house manufacturing and industrial end users.

Often referred to in the construction industry as a “spec” project (short for “speculative”), the building end-user has not yet been determined, although it is expected to be a boon for the city once it is done and open. The project is predicted to generate nearly 200 permanent and 80 temporary jobs and is forecasted to generate an estimated $400,000 in taxes between reoccurring real estate and employee payroll taxes. Serfass is currently in conversations with a few potential users about future development.

“This project gives us a chance to reuse a brownfield site instead of using a greenfield for this development. It’s one of the last infill sites in the city. We hope to break ground in fall 2021 but we need to handle the site access first as well as the remediation,” Serfass said.


Site Development & Remediation

Since vehicular access to the site is nonexistent at present, to prepare the site for development Serfass will need to build a new bridge over the Little Lehigh Creek to connect to Martin Luther King Jr. Drive near Parkettes. It will also need to build a driveway into the property.

“There will be a due diligence period before we can start construction, during which time environmental testing, geotechnical testing, and the development of site concepts will take place,” Serfass explained.

The construction company will need to conduct significant remediation work to the site due to various environmental challenges. Work is expected to include rock removal in order to prepare the grounds for redevelopment. Although heavy metals are present in the site soil, they will likely be handled through a process known as “capping”, in which contaminants are safely covered and isolated as opposed to being entirely removed. Serfass will also need to obtain city approvals from the zoning and planning departments, in addition to state approvals regarding Earth disturbance, and storm water and bridge permits.

An existing rail bridge that accesses the site received a cursory structural analysis during which it was determined that it would need a modest amount of improvement to be used again if the site owner wanted to add a railroad spur off the neighboring lines operated by RJ Corman Railroad. The potential also exists for the rail line to be extended to nearby Allentown Metal Works, a 17-acre site currently undergoing redevelopment to restore it back to an operational manufacturing facility. Serfass finds the benefit rail enticing and thinks a future manufacturer will too.

“Having the opportunity to have freight delivered or shipped out via railroad instead of by truck is a definite advantage of the site if the railroad spur is developed in the future,” he said. “I-3 zoned sites with rail access are hard to come by!”


Benefits to Allentown

Serfass says his company has received support from several elected officials in favor of the project and its many benefits. One benefit is the site’s proximity to public transportation and its location within walking distance of its potential workforce. The site location is an important aspect of the project, which will improve community development, Serfass says.

“The remediated site is a benefit to the city. Infill development is a benefit to the city. The reuse of an existing industrial site is a benefit to the city. The jobs it will create will be a benefit to the city and the neighborhood, as will putting a vacant property back on the tax rolls. All in all this project is a big win for Allentown!” Serfass said.

A portion of the parcel is slated to be deeded to the City of Allentown for future development of a park and extension of its existing trail network, which will connect to the regional D&L Trail.

Based in North Whitehall, Serfass Construction’s commercial construction arm was founded in 1948. It later added office and industrial construction, which has been its focus for the past decade. “We build to suit our clients and do value-add type of work, as well as projects for speculative end-users,” he said. “We have been here a long time and know the local market well. We have a deep knowledge of it and the potential users for a site like this. We have no investors or board of directors to answer to, which makes it easier when it comes to working with clients and deciding what projects we want to take on as a company. A spec building project like this is right up our alley.”