|By Daryl Nerl, The Morning Call,
Allentown, Pa.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Dec. 7--Once-grand plans to take a downtown Bethlehem parking lot and build the Lehigh Valley's tallest skyscraper -- with an upscale business hotel, penthouse condominiums and a fancy Italian eatery -- have now been reduced to a simple six-story hotel based on a corporate prototype.
But Bethlehem Mayor John Callahan is not complaining about revised plans for a Hyatt Place hotel at Guetter and North streets, which were filed this week in the city's Planning Office.
Also this week, the hotel's developer, Joseph C. Posh, received approval from the Pennsylvania Economic Development Financing Authority for a taxable $14.9 million state loan, which will finance the majority of the $16.5 million project. Posh will pay about 5.25 percent interest on the loan.
The city is getting 125 new downtown hotel rooms at a time "when many communities have lost their urban anchor hotels," Callahan said Thursday. To Callahan, even the loss of the restaurant -- still a part of a much-scaled back plan in July -- may not have been such bad news.
"In a limited-service hotel, those folks that are staying there are going to have to go somewhere to find a bite to eat or to do some shopping," Callahan said.
Initial plans called for a 100-seat restaurant to be developed by Mick Acquaviva, owner of the River Grille in Easton and another restaurant bearing his surname in New Jersey. Callahan said the city is working with Acquaviva to find another site.
A softening housing market led Posh to eliminate as many as 70 condominiums from the project earlier this year. Once that portion of the development was cut, it began to make sense to eliminate the restaurant to reduce inflating construction costs and to bring the new hotel in line with the new Hyatt Place prototype, according to Posh and Callahan.
The plans call for a driveway entrance from Guetter Street into a porte cochere where the corner-facing front entrance will lead to a one-story lobby. The driveway will exit onto North Street. Landscaping plans call for 20 different types of shrubs, trees and plants.
When it is opened, the hotel will be operated by Meyer Jabara Hotels, which owns the Holiday Inn Conference Center in Breinigsville. Posh said he intends to continue owning the property.
Global Hyatt Corp. introduced its Hyatt Place brand in June 2006, aiming it at business travelers inclined to mix work with pleasure. Hyatt hotels are known for glitziness, luxury and contemporary style. And unlike many hotels chains, Hyatts do not always share the same architectural features. But Hyatt Place is different, with a "cookie cutter" style that can be duplicated for rapid development. Hyatt's stated goal was to have 120 of the new hotels open by the end of this year.
Nonetheless, the chain was prepared to allow Posh to put a unique architectural stamp on the Hyatt Place Bethlehem when the new hotel affiliation was first announced in August 2006. At that time, the estimated construction cost was $50 million.
At that time too, the city was prepared to allow the project to benefit from the Local Economic Revitalization Tax Assistance program, which would have spared the developer a percentage of property taxes for 10 years. The revised project will not benefit from the tax abatement program. City Council voted in October to cut in half the size of the zone, eliminating this former Bethlehem Parking Authority property from the map.
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