Allentown hockey arena to spare two properties

Allentown hockey arena to spare two properties

Two buildings being spared hockey’s hit

Renovated Farr shoes, historic Dime bank will remain, upsetting some whose properties will be razed for new arena downtown.

The Farr shoe store building, at Eighth and Hamilton streets, and the vacant Dime Savings and Trust building, near Seventh and Hamilton, will be left standing, city officials say.

Newly renovated, Farr is home to 20 upscale apartments and The Villa urban clothing store. The "Dime bank" is on the National Register of Historic Places.

"The goal with the Farr building is not to even have to acquire it. Because of the improvements that have been made, it is probably the most valuable property on the block," said Sara Hailstone, the city’s director of community and economic development.

Buying the Farr building would be a multimillion dollar acquisition that could unnecessarily drive up the cost of the arena project, she said. And because it’s on the edge of the block, it’s not in the way of what is expected to be an 8,500 seat arena.

With the city aggressively working to buy 33 other properties in the path of the arena, and threatening to use eminent domain to take possession if the owners don’t agree to sell, news that Farr is being spared troubles some.

A reprieve for the building, whose loft apartments feature marble countertops and stainless steel appliances, has reinforced other owners’ suspicions that the city is trying to force out their businesses and urban clientele. It’s unfair, say merchants offering products and services that include tattoos, discount clothing, low cost cellphones and hair extensions to the neighborhood’s low income residents.

"They’re creating class warfare down here," said Sammy Hong, co owner of New York Fashion, which sits a few doors down Hamilton from The Farr Lofts. "They want a certain clientele for their entertainment district and we don’t fit. It’s clear favoritism. I get it."

Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski said sparing Farr’s has nothing to do with its tenants’ income or campaign contributions he got from building owner Michael Leahy, who operates Metropolis Management. Between 2005 and 2010, Leahy donated $5,850 to Pawlowski. The mayor raised hundreds of thousands in that period.

"Are we being elitists? Absolutely not," Pawlowski said. "It happens to be the biggest and most expensive building in the block, and if I can avoid spending money to
tedhairs acquire it, I will. This is strictly about dollars and price."

Leahy spent $4 million to buy and renovate the former Farr shoe store building in 2007, including a $500,000 state loan and $183,000 in city grants. Metropolis attracted The Villa to the first floor and on the upper four floors carved out 20 apartments The Farr Lofts commanding rents as high as $1,275 per month from tenants who include doctors, nurses and business professionals, Leahy said.

Leahy said he’s had no influence on what buildings
tedhairs would be saved.

"I’m happy we’re not in the position that the other owners are," Leahy said. "But honestly, none of it was my decision.
tedhairs I’ve had no discussion with the city about how this would go."

The suspicions of other business owners make it even more important that the city ensures its acquisition process is above reproach, City Councilman Michael Schlossberg said. "We need to make sure they are fairly compensated," he said.

The five story Dime Savings and Trust building the other building that the city plans to save from demolition is a different story.

It’s unoccupied and in disrepair, but with a place on the National Register, has historical and architectural value. The city is negotiating with owner John McClave to buy the building. He bought it for $505,000 in August 2007.

If all goes as planned, the Dime bank, for which the city has long sought a tenant, could be incorporated into the arena’s fa Hailstone said.

"These two are on the edges. We really lucked out in that respect," Hailstone said. "The two most historically significant properties anchor the block."

McClave has not returned several calls seeking comment.

Allentown needs to acquire 33 properties in the downtown block so it can build an $80 million to $100 million hockey arena that could be home to the Philadelphia Flyers’ minor league affiliate Phantoms as early as 2013.

In each case, it has offered to buy the property, but Pawlowski has made it clear the city will file eminent domain papers against any property whose owner does not agree in the next 30 60 days. The list includes the Dime bank building at 12 N. 7th St., Hailstone said, which would be owned by the city.

Hailstone said the city has about half the 33 properties under agreement. Pawlowski said he’s committed to making fair offers to buy property and relocate tenants and businesses, and that the city will file eminent domain on any property not under agreement by August.

In those cases, a judge will determine a fair price, but the project will move forward unimpeded, Pawlowski said. While it may take months or even years to settle on the price, the city will be within its rights to seize the property and begin the project.

Experts say opponents might be able to delay acquisition if
tedhair reviews they challenge the rationale for the condemnation, but that those challenges are rare and difficult to win.

"There are arena projects all over the place where the arena is up and running and they’re still arguing in court over the price of the land taken by eminent domain," Pawlowski said. "It’s not going to delay the project, but we’d like to avoid it. We’d like to come to fair, amicable agreements with everyone.".