By Leila Pervizpour
In 1927, the city of Allentown celebrated the opening of a high class hotel on Hamilton Street that soon became known as the Grand Lady of Hamilton Street. However, in the 1970s, the newly developed Lehigh Valley Mall quickly gained attraction from wealthy white residents of Allentown, who previously flocked to center city to shop at Hess’s department store, attend concerts at the symphony hall or view paintings at the city art museum. This major transfer of spending and consumerism to other areas of Allentown significantly contributed to the downtown area’s decline, and the hotel also fell into disrepair and ended up in bankruptcy
Albert Abdouche purchased the Americus Hotel in 2009 and made it his mission to refurbish the hotel and ensure its reopening. The Americus Hotel is a part of the Neighborhood Improvement Zone (NIZ) in Allentown, a distinct taxing district created for the revitalization in downtown Allentown. Unlike many of the other developments within this designated 128 acre area, such as The PPL Center and The Waterfront development, The Americus Hotel faced a multitude of issues, and additionally, Abdouche faced them on his own.
Abdouche’s problems with restoring the Americus Hotel began when he applied for funding. Abdouche knew that the directors of the NIZ did not believe he could do it. The directors of the NIZ rejected his ideas, applications, estimates, and anything else that he attempted to showcase to them to prove that he could bring the property back to life. Abdouche recalls and understands that the NIZ was “probably interested in selling it to another investor,” and that the NIZ also thought it would simply cost them way too much to restore it.
In hopes of moving the renovating process forward, Abdouche created his own company to do the work of the restoration, and to save the hotel money. Having already spent money out of his own pocket towards the restoration of the hotel, Abdouche had to be resourceful. One of the ways that he did this was by showcasing renovated areas of the hotel in hopes of attaining the remaining amount of funding that was needed to complete the total renovation of the rest of the building. He encountered more difficulties here when he needed an estimate on how much restoring the whole building would cost. There were different estimates from his own appraisal of the building and the appraisal that the NIZ conducted of it. He and the NIZ shared the cost of hiring a third party equally to conduct the estimate. The third party estimate was $16 million, and Abdouche was given almost $10 million for restoring the property. The remaining $6 million came out of his own pocket.
Meanwhile, up the street Hamilton Street was seeing enormous projects go up. The PPL Center, a multipurpose arena which opened in 2014, was a nearly $300 million project, and was constructed within the agenda to revitalize Allentown’s downtown area. The PPL Center hosts concerts, hockey games, and other events, and has been highly ranked alongside other top venues in the world. According to the NIZ website, “The state-of-the-art PPL Center continues to solidify its status as the main catalyst to the revitalization and growth of downtown Allentown through the consistent delivery of diverse event line-ups and high profile talent, drawing more than 500,000 fans to downtown each year.” The PPL Center is one of the many multimillion dollar projects that ANIZDA, the NIZ development authority, has completed or has begun constructing or planning.
Among these multimillion dollar projects, is The Waterfront properties, being developed by Jaindl Properties. This project, like the PPL Center, wil cost $300 million dollars, and is being constructed over what was the industrial site of Lehigh Valley Steel. New projects like The Waterfront Development and the PPL Center do bring economic promise to the city of Allentown, however, when historical properties like the Americus Hotel exist already, and have the potential and the will to reopen, why are the same amounts of effort and resources not provided?
Abdouche sees the importance of the Americus Hotel being in Allentown because of its historical attributes, its prime location in the heart of center city, and the economic contributions it will have. Abdouche also notes the benefits of the Americus Hotel for the people of Allentown. Its specialty is its history, which is unique to it being a part of the NIZ. “This hotel will bring something to Allentown because it is the only one like it” In mid-November, Abdouche celebrated the reopening of the hotel with a ribbon cutting ceremony that showcased the building with lights and decorations for the holiday season. Abdouche hopes that the Americus Hotel will give residents of Allentown job opportunities. “It will be there for them.”