Plans revealed for old Dempsey’s Diner

Thursday afternoon the authority tasked with overseeing Bethlehem’s special tax incentive approved two new projects for CRIZ inclusion.

The board overseeing Bethlehem’s special tax incentive zone has backed adding the Wilbur Mansion and old Dempsey’s American Kitchen to the CRIZ.

Earlier this month, Mayor Bob Donchez announced he supported including the projects at two high profile intersections in Bethlehem’s City Revitalization and Improvement Zone.

The city authority tasked with overseeing the CRIZ voted Thursday to add the two projects to the CRIZ, which requires decertifying existing land and applying to the state for the new project’s inclusion. The board also set timelines for construction to start and end or the projects could lose the designation.

Last November, the city put out a call for developers to submit new projects to be added to the zone after the Bethlehem Parking Authority asked to remove the CRIZ status from 1.3 acres of land it owned because its plans for them were no longer feasible.

Authority Chairman James Broughal noted that members of the authority has been frustrated by the slow pace of development in the zone since the city won the designation four years ago for 130-acres.

If the authority is redesignating CRIZ land, Broughal said, “we want it to go to projects that are shovel ready.”

After stops and starts, one project has been completed — Social Still — and two — Greenway Commons and Greenway Park — are underway totaling $32 million of investment into the zone.

Dempsey's dinerDempsey’s diner has sat vacant since it closed in 2005.Sara K. Satullo | For 

With the CRIZ approvals in place, the Dempsey’s corner project can start construction within six months, said Joe Landrigan, president of Sage Design-Build Inc., who is representing the property owner City View Capital LLC. The project should take nine months total.

The former popular 24-hour diner sits in the parking lot of the Westgate Mall at the corner of Schoenersville and Catasauqua roads.

Plans call for tearing down the existing diner, which has sat vacant for 12 years, and constructing a roughly 8,500-square-foot, one-story building with a glass and stone facade.

Three tenants — retail and food and beverage uses — are already in place, said Karen Pittari, of Westgate Mall management. 

“We always let our tenants announce,” she said, declining to specify who they are.

The expected tenants will either be stores or restaurants projected to generate more than 75 jobs. Its estimated the bussineses will generate about $250,000 in CRIZ increment in the first year, Alicia Miller Karner, city community and economic development director.

Authority Member Ann McHale asked if the tenants are existing businesses moving over from the mall or other places. No one is relocating from the mall, Pittari said.

Big projects at 2 Bethlehem intersections get CRIZ boost

Authority members were not initially sold on giving the historic Wilbur mansion project a CRIZ designation, because developer John Noble does not have tenants lined up for the project.

Noble’s plans to restore the mansion, convert it into high-end office space and build a 3,781-square-foot glass enclosed addition onto the building fronting on Route 378 at the base of the Hill-to-Hill bridge. Behind the mansion, Noble has city approval to build a 64-unit high-end aparmtnet building.

While trying to lease the office space, Noble said he’s been unable to compete with the rents available in Allentown’s Neighborhood Improvement Zone and the CRIZ.

Noble’s ultimate goal is to save the Wilbur Mansion, but he believes he needs the CRIZ to get the high-end tenants he’s been courting to sign a lease. He told Broughal he would not be able to meet the six month timeline imposed on the Dempsey project. 

“If I didn’t do something in 12 months I would be prepared to give you back the CRIZ designation,” Noble said. 

Broughal said he had reservations about designating land for a project that might not happen. But he wants to give Noble a shot due to the historic nature of the Wilbur mansion.

Authority Member Donna Taggart said she could support the project as long as the property could still be decertified if the project fails.

“It is giving him the opportunity to see what he can do,” she said.

The projects total $6 million of new investment in the city and occupy less than 4/10th of CRIZ acreage, the mayor has said.

Five developers submitted projects for CRIZ inclusion, some sent in multiple ones, but the city has only selected these two projects thus far.

Sara K. Satullo may be reached at Follow her on Twitter @sarasatullo and Facebook. Find on Facebook.

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