Construction of shopping centers under way in Penn.'s Lehigh Valley

Several shopping malls start construction, scheduled to open in 2009

Despite a weakening economy and talk of a recession, retailers are building more stores in the Lehigh Valley.

Construction of several shopping malls is under way but most of the stores aren't scheduled to open until spring 2009.

Target will be an anchor in at least two of the retail centers under construction.

One is Lower Nazareth Commons, which will be built on 32 acres just south of Wegmans in Lower Nazareth Township.

The developer is Regency Centers based in Jacksonville, Fla., which owns more than 400 shopping plazas nationwide.

When complete, the 235,000-square-foot center will have about 15 stores and restaurants, including PetSmart and Sports Authority.

"We're working on leasing now," said Powell Arms, of the Bala Cynwyd, Montgomery County, office of Regency.

Site and road work are expected to begin as soon as the weather permits, Arms said.

Target also is planned as an anchor of a 500,000-square-foot shopping center at Airport Road south of Route 22 in Hanover Township, Lehigh County. Sam's Club will be the other anchor.

Other stores that have committed to the Airport Center are A.C. Moore, PetSmart and Ross Dress for Less, all of which have other locations in the Lehigh Valley. Two stores new to the Valley that are planned are The Christmas Tree Shops and Golf Galaxy. Romano's Macaroni Grill restaurant is also expected to open.

Site work for this center began at the end of 2007, said Dan Brickner of Metro Commercial in Conshohocken, Montgomery County.

Brickner said the location is what makes the Airport Center a go in a weakening retail economy.

Given the state of the economy, retailers are cautious, Brickner said. However, he said, because of its location at one of the busiest intersections in the Lehigh Valley, "There is more interest in this property than there is space."

As of early this year, retailers had pre-leased 90 percent of the site, he said.

Target has stores in South Whitehall, Richland Township and Stroudsburg as well as Greenwich, N.J.

Another project, the Summit Lehigh Valley at Route 33 and Freemansburg Avenue in Bethlehem Township, is expected to move forward this year.

Plans for the Summit, an open-air lifestyle center, were announced in 2003 about the same time as Poag & McEwen of Memphis, Tenn., announced plans for The Promenade Shops at Saucon Valley. A short while later, it was announced that an area of outdoor, upscale shops would be added to the Lehigh Valley Mall in Whitehall.

The Promenade Shops, which measures about 475,000-square-feet, opened in the fall 2006 while the 110,000-square-foot addition to the Lehigh Valley Mall opened last summer but little work has occurred on the Summit site. At the time, many questioned how many upscale or outdoor lifestyle centers the Lehigh Valley could support.

The Summit is to be a joint project of Forest City Enterprises of Cleveland and Bayer Properties of Birmingham, Ala.

Bob McGurk, regional development director for Forest City, said that the Summit is still coming, only it will take longer than expected.

The project, to cover about 1 million square feet, was held up for almost two years by a dispute between the city of Bethlehem and Bethlehem Township over upgrades to the city's sewer service.

The dispute was settled in November 2007 and will allow plans for the area to proceed. In addition to the shopping center, among those projects affected include St. Luke Hospital's new medical campus, a hotel, a housing development and office space.

McGurk said that since the settlement was reached, Forest City has been working with Bethlehem Township on revising its plan.

"We're looking at reconfiguring and moving buildings around," McGurk said. "We have additional things we want to do."

The next step, McGurk said, is for Forest City to submit revised plans to the township Planning Commission and ultimately the commissioners. He expects that to happen this spring.

This content continues onto the next page...