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After years of blight, Allentown Metal Works property prepares for new life

jody marcon metal works.jpg
Tom Shortell
Jody Marcon, president and CEO of Marcon Industries, leads a tour of the Allentown Metal Works as Allentown Mayor Matt Tuerk looks on Wednesday, May 15, 2024. The century-old industrial center is slated to become the new home of Eastern Exterior Wall Systems next month.

ALLENTOWN, Pa. — After more than a decade of planning, remediation and redevelopment, a century-old industrial site in South Allentown is weeks away from reopening.

Leaders in state and local elected governments, nonprofit organizations and the private sector gathered at the Allentown Metal Works Wednesday afternoon to celebrate the completion of construction of Plant No. 1 on the 17.5-acre property.

Mayor Matt Tuerk and state Rep. Josh Siegel, D-Lehigh, praised the project as an investment in a working-class neighborhood that will provide living wages to residents. With the support of Tuerk and Siegel, a former city councilman, the project received $1 million of the city's American Rescue Plan funding because it would provide union jobs and strengthen the local economy. Future employees would even have the potential to walk to work, they said.

“We're excited now to see it restored to its rightful place a center of jobs for Allentown residents,” Tuerk said.

The 175,000-square-foot facility will house Eastern Exterior Wall Systems, which currently operates a plant in Palmer Township. The business makes prefabricated facades and employs between 100 and 175 people. Charles Marcon, whose businesses own both the property and company, said Eastern Exteriors will move in June.

Marcon said most of those positions are currently filled by existing employees. But the larger facility would give the business the opportunity to grow, he said. New hires would go through union apprenticeship programming to gain the skills and knowledge required for the job, officials said.

Construction on the site's Plant No. 2 is due for completion by the end of the year.

Allentown Metal Works.jpg
Tom Shortell
The 175,000 square-foot Plant No. 1 at the Allentown Metal Works is expected to reopen to business in June 2024. Construction on the neighboring Plant No. 2 is expected to be completed by the end of the year.

The property served as an industrial hub for most of the 20th century and predates Sout 10th Street, its current address. It started operations in 1905 as part of Mack Truck's first factory. By the time the Allentown Metal Works closed in 2011, it was making steel parts such as bridge and power plant infrastructure.

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney visited the shuttered factory in 2012, highlighting it as an example of the failed economic policies of President Barack Obama. Obama had visited the location in 2009 to promote it as one of his administration's success stories.

The Allentown Commercial and Industrial Development Authority and Allentown Economic Development Corp. took over the site in 2013 and spent years cleaning it up. Scott Unger, executive director of the AEDC, said the organizations pulled out more than 300 tanks — some filled with solvents and other chemicals — from the property along with lead, asbestos and electrical equipment.

“Brownfields by their very nature take time. This is probably the single largest project by acreage that we've ever done,” he said.

Along with $1 million of ARPA funds, the $49 million project also received $6 million of federal tax incentives provided through Community First Fund, a Lancaster-based nonprofit. The organization, which works to improve economic development in low-income communities, also provided a $2 million leverage loan.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Charles Marcon is a founding funder of LehighValleyNews.com. He has no influence on editorial or business operations.