Development on former Allentown State Hospital site would include housing options, retail, medical offices, restaurants, more
ALLENTOWN, Pa. — A project that would offer "missing middle" apartments, townhouses, duplex/triplex/fourplexes, cottages, single-family homes and senior living options on the former site of Allentown State Hospital is being proposed by City Center Investment Corp.
The Northridge development, on 195 acres between River Drive and Hanover Avenue, also would include separate healthcare, educational and retail buildings.
- City Center Investment has proposed a development that would offer multiple housing options as well as retail, banking and medical buildings at the site of the former Allentown State Hospital grounds
- City Center is detailing the project at a community open house 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. today, Aug. 5, at East Side Youth Center, 1140 E. Clair St., Allentown.
- The sale of the site in 2022 was controversial, with some declaring it as noncompetitive
Banks, pharmacies and medical providers will be on the campus as well as restaurants and cafes.
The residential dwellings will be offered at "market rate," City Center said in a release.
Listed goals of the development include supplying different housing types that enable economic, demographic and generational diversity.
J.B. Reilly, president and cofounder of City Center Allentown, said he believes that it may be able to satisfy a lot of requested needs on the East Side of Allentown.
He said representatives from the company are soliciting feedback about the types of services, housing and concerns nearby residents and potential residents have.
Center City is detailing the project at a community open house 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. today, Aug. 5, at East Side Youth Center, 1140 E. Clair St., Allentown.City Center news release
City Center detailed the project at a community open house Saturday at East Side Youth Center in Allentown.
"We've been meeting with people outside of these meetings as well," Reilly said. "So we're trying to be as transparent because we really do want to get good feedback."
Reilly noted recreation and health care access as a major demand, and said that a small grocer was something being explored, given the site's emphasis on walkability.
"You've got a really dense populated area in East Allentown and West Bethlehem that have very limited health care services," Reilly said.
"You're driving 20 minutes often, and that's what we've been hearing from residents so we think there's a real demand for health care services, primary care, specialty services and such.
"Things just like dry cleaners and grocery and all those things that people need on a day-to-day basis."
The proposal is set to come before Allentown City Council and zoning officials later this year. Reilly said that if all goes well, some uses of the project may be able to break ground mid- to late 2024.
No specific tenants have yet been proposed for the project.
Saving green space, creating jobs
City Center representatives said the site is one of the City of Allentown's "last significant and prominent development sites."
No tax breaks will be used to invest in or develop the site based on current plans, Center City said.
As proposed, it would contain 42% "open green space," with bike lanes and walking trails throughout the area near the river and through residential areas, along with space for recreation.
The plan also proposes dog parks, and "new access to the site’s wooded wildlands and trails" that will "welcome residents and visitors, supporting a high quality of life for the community."
Developers say the project will create 385 permanent jobs, as well as more than 2,000 temporary jobs for construction, with a projected increase in annual tax revenue of $9,353,638.
"Free outdoor entertainment in the Center Green will celebrate arts, music, culture and diversity."Developer City Center in a news release
In addition, it would create opportunities for small business, City Center said.
Also, "free outdoor entertainment in the Center Green will celebrate arts, music, culture and diversity," the developers said.
The Northridge concept follows the Allentown Vision 2030 Plan, which calls for transforming the site into a vibrant, healthy, inclusive environment that welcomes, strengthens, and serves the community, City Center said.
Allentown City Council President Daryl Hendricks at the open house spoke highly of both the developers and the project, believing the variety and density of housing offered would help with affordability, while also glad that development was occurring on the site.
"I can't wait for it to get started," Hendricks said. "This has been an area of concern for us for a long time, and when you consider, it's probably the last developable piece of land within the city of Allentown.
"I have complete confidence in what they're going to prepare and bring before us will meet all the required requirements necessary in furtherance of their development."
Allentown State Hospital, at 1600 Hanover Ave., was a psychiatric hospital serving nearby counties, originally built in the early 1900s. It was closed in 2010.
The building was demolished in December 2020. Prior to its demolition,film crewsutilized the building in the M. Night Shyamalan movies "Unbreakable" and "Split" sequel, "Glass."
Traffic a main concern
Many residents came to the open house concerned over traffic, with many coming to a booth dedicated to the issue to voice concerns over increased cars on the road and the speed at which cars drive down Hanover Avenue.
The plan would extend some roads as entry points, with upwards of 60% of trips into the site anticipated to be from Hanover Avenue.
Many residents noted traffic on that corridor and the addition of cars on the road as a major concern related to the development and its planning.
"I know what that traffic was like — it's scary," presentation attendee Evette D'Amore said. "Hanover Avenue is always a mess. It's not safe as it is, and bringing all these people in, what's that going to be like traffic-wise."
"I know what that traffic was like — it's scary. Hanover Avenue is always a mess. It's not safe as it is, and bringing all these people in, what's that going to be like traffic-wise."Presentation attendee Evette D'Amore
Reilly said traffic calming, dispersal and safety measures are being anticipated as part of the plan.
"We're going to need to build, you know, traffic lights and traffic infrastructure to make sure that we address the traffic demand," Reilly said.
"I think having traffic-calming devices like traffic signals on Hanover will be helpful. And so we expect that there, we have to signalize the main entrance, which is not signalized now, and we think that will have the added help of just slowing traffic down on Hanover."
He said the primary roads within the community will be public and city-owned, while the development likely will be governed by a homeowners' association.
Residents praise some aspects
Rental and home owning options would be available, he said.
Attendees spoke highly of many aspects of the project, such as the open green space proposed and services proposed for the site.
"I kind of like the idea of an educational center where maybe the neighborhood would have access to that. If you don't have a computer right now, you go to the library, but to go to library I have to get my car and drive there."Presentation attendee and nearby resident Chris Grencher
"I kind of like the idea of an educational center where maybe the neighborhood would have access to that," attendee and nearby resident Chris Grencher said.
"If you don't have a computer right now, you go to the library, but to go to library I have to get my car and drive there."
Other residents questioned whether the housing presented would be accessible to the "middle income" demographic that the development claims to be geared toward.
"How affordable is this housing for middle class people?" D'Amore said. "I'm thinking it may not be at all. Right now a lot of people are struggling."
'Kinds of communities people want'
State Rep. Josh Siegel was in attendance, and spoke positively about the proposal as an Allentown resident and spoke to the desirability of pedestrian focused denser developments like this.
"This is the kind of smart, sensible dense walkable and development that we need if we're going to respect the Lehigh Valley's open space, make good use of our land, especially as we've continued to sort of over-develop in many respects. And these are the kinds of communities that, frankly, people want to live in, reside in."State Rep. Josh Siegel
"This is the kind of smart, sensible dense walkable and development that we need if we're going to respect the Lehigh Valley's open space, make good use of our land, especially as we've continued to sort of over-develop in many respects," Siegel said.
He also noted the recent approval of the Lehigh Valley Town Center project in Lower Macungie Township and the desires of younger generations of homeowners.
"And these are the kinds of communities that, frankly, people want to live in, reside in," Siegel said.
"I think this is preventing some of, I think, the sins of the past, like suburban sprawl and historically building our communities further and further away from economic opportunity and the sort of amenities that families want."
A controversial sale
In September 2022, then state Sen. Pat Browne introduced a bill that let the 195-acre property be sold for about $5.5 million to the Center City.
It was a controversial move, with opponents arguing the sale should have happened through a competitive bid.
State Sen. Jarrett Coleman, R-Lehigh, spoke of trying to stop the sale in December, citing the noncompetitive nature of the sale.
"For the life of me, I can't understand why we can't have a competitive bid of this type of property," Coleman said.
At the time, state Rep. Mike Schlossberg, D-Lehigh, — whose district included the Allentown State Hospital property for years before it was moved out in recent redistricting — said it could be too late for Coleman to change the course of the deal.
“I cannot recall a single instance where a sale in progress was canceled by the general assembly in opposition to the actual sitting senator, the sitting representative and the local government — all of whom support the property redevelopment as it’s currently been passed,” Schlossberg said. “So I don’t see that happening.”
State Sen. Nick Miller, a Democrat who recently won election to the state’s 14th District and whose district includes Allentown State Hospital property, said he supports development of the property.
“I think Sen.-elect Coleman and I have the same goal — we all want this land to be developed," Miller said in December. "I don’t have a comment on Sen.-elect Coleman’s desire to block the sale, but it’s my belief that it’s due time to develop this land for the benefit of the entire region.
City Center Investment Corp., a prominent developer in the City of Allentown, announced and sent postcards to residents saying that it plans to bring a mix of housing units and retail to that site, in a project now known as Northridge.
"It's a challenging site, and that's probably why there weren't many people," Reilly said of City Center's purchase, noting environmental and infrastructure issues. "There wasn't much interest from developers when the state went out to solicit proposals for the site."
"We were one of the few that showed any interest."