|By Scott Kraus and Matt Assad, The
Morning Call (Allentown, Pa.)McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Nov. 14, 2012--The owners of the former Center Valley Club hope to bring a 120- to 140-room hotel to the now-vacant and overgrown golf course.
There's nothing formal to announce, but Pete Talman, the broker who represents owner Sierra Management of Doylestown, said he can put one persistent rumor about the 203-acre golf course to rest: The Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem has no interest in the property.
Trust him, said Talman, a senior vice president with international commercial real estate services firm Jones Lang LaSalle. He called Sands about four or five months ago, as soon as he heard the rumor, only to be told the casino wasn't interested.
Several sources said they'd heard that Sands was looking to expand its resort model -- which consists of a casino, hotel, mall and concert hall -- to include a golf course that could lure more wealthy gamblers from New York and New Jersey.
"There's no truth to that rumor," Sands spokeswoman Megan Verholy said Tuesday when asked whether Sands would buy the former golf course.
What is true is that Sierra Management thinks a hotel would be a great fit for the growing roster of businesses, shops and universities in the area, Talman said.
"We are looking for something that is business-friendly and fits well sitting across the street from the Promenade Shops," he said.
The headquarters of Olympus and Avantor, an office of D&B, the Promenade Shops, DeSales University and Penn State Lehigh Valley are all in Center Valley.
In April, Lehigh University announced it had received 755 acres of prime land east of the Promenade Shops from the Donald B. and Dorothy Stabler Foundation, opening the prospect of future development.
A business hotel makes sense, said Michael Stershic, president of Discover Lehigh Valley, the regional tourism agency. There isn't one in the vicinity.
"There had been some discussions early on about multiple hotels around that area, including in the business park," Stershic said. "You have a lot of future development that is going to occur down there. You are going to see substantial changes in that vicinity."
A high-quality business hotel might also put pressure on other hotels in the region to upgrade, he said.
The new hotel plans aren't as grandiose as Sierra Management's previous effort to build a hotel on an adjacent 17-acre parcel in Center Valley. The company announced plans in 2001 to build a $40 million, 200-room luxury hotel modeled after Greywalls in Scotland, but was never able to obtain financing.
Talman envisions something like the Hyatt Place or Hilton Garden class of hotels at the former Center Valley Club.
A business hotel also fits Upper Saucon Township's "enterprise" zoning for the parcel, Talman said. "It a nice amenity and it works for the community."
The zoning allows a wide variety of uses, from commercial day care and health care to office and town-center type developments like the Promenade Shops, he said.
The township has not received any formal plans, said Community Development Director Sharyn Heater.
Sierra abruptly closed the golf course in October 2011 after Bank of America began looking at the property as the possible site of a nearly 1-million-square-foot corporate data center.
But that fell through, and in March, Sierra co-owner Greg Kessell said the company was designing plans for a mixed-use development that would include office, commercial, hotel and maybe even high-end apartments.
Talman said the current plan is to start with the hotel, leaving the majority of the 203-acre golf-course parcel open for future development.
Center Valley Club once was a premier golf course that offered nine holes of traditional golf and nine holes of Scottish links-style golf at rates of $70 to $80 a round. It hosted the PGA-sanctioned Nike Lehigh Valley Open in 1998 and 1999. The golf course was built on what was once a zinc mine.
Sierra purchased the course in 2007 from Stabler Land Co. and had hoped to couple it with a proposed $40 million conference center, but the real estate market tanked and credit tightened up, making it impossible to obtain financing.
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