The Waterfront

The Waterfront

When Zac Jaindl looks out onto the Lehigh River from either side of Allentown’s Tilghman Street bridge, the river looks more like a lake than a river.

Dammed on both sides to control flooding, the Lehigh River at that location “is perfect for boating — it’s fully navigable, which means you’ll see kayaks, jet skis, and motorboats from spring to fall,” says Jaindl, chief operating officer of Jaindl Enterprises. With this water scene as its backdrop, Jaindl Properties is creating The Waterfront, a mixed-use development that is poised to become the centerpiece of the city’s riverfront area.

The 26-acre site, former home of Lehigh Structural Steel Co., sat idle for decades as various uses for the property came and went, obscuring sweeping views of the river, Jaindl says. Now the former industrial site will give rise to a new community of offices, apartments, parking facilities, retail establishments, restaurants, plazas, and other open areas.

The $425 million project along Waterfront Drive will be completed in two phases. Phase one, which is already underway, includes two office buildings, two apartment buildings, two parking garages, part of the river walk along the Lehigh, an outdoor amphitheater, and two plazas. Phase two includes three office buildings, two residential complexes, and parking.

The Waterfront is bounded by American Parkway to the north, the Lehigh River to the east, the former R. J. Corman Railroad line to the west, and the Tilghman Street bridge to the south.

“Overall you’ll have 650,000 square feet of office space and housing for 800 residents in 450 apartment units,” Jaindl says.

The 26-acre Waterfront is the northernmost project in Allentown’s Neighborhood Improvement Zone, a special taxing district created in 2009 to attract projects on 128 acres of Allentown.

Allentown Mayor Ray O’Connell says The Waterfront will serve as a new gateway to the city and expose residents, employees, and visitors to views of the Lehigh River that haven’t been seen in decades. “Young adults are interested in settling in areas that offer walkable communities,” O’Connell says. “That’s what we are going to have in that location. I think it is going to be a very desirable and popular spot in the entire region.”

Jaindl says $12 million has been put into the site already for the demolition of old buildings as well as grading and installation of infrastructure, including underground conduits connecting the various building pads, storm water and sanitary water systems, streets, curbs, and lighting standards.

“We haven’t stopped working since the master plan was approved in 2015,” Jaindl says. “If you drive down there, you’ll see fully formed streets with building pads on either side.”

Because The Waterfront doesn’t have an arena, like PPL Center, at its front door, it’s essential that The Waterfront hits critical mass early in its development, he notes.

“We’re looking to bring as many as four buildings out of the ground at once, instead of one at a time,” Jaindl says. “We prepared The Waterfront for vertical construction—you can already see where all the buildings are going. The goal is to announce tenants and bring everything out of ground.”

“You’ll see vertical construction soon,” he adds. “We’re in position to announce tenants now that the weather is improving.”

One of the latest and creative additions to the second phase of the project is a beer garden to be built on an old train trestle spanning the Lehigh River.

Jaindl Enterprises recently purchased the truss, to the north of the American Parkway bridge, which offers views of the entire river toward the Route 22 bridge down to the Hamilton Street bridge.

“You’ll enjoy a nice beer sitting there in the sunshine, perhaps watching the Lehigh and Lafayette rowing teams compete, and at night there will be lights spanning the entire trestle out on the river,” Jaindl says. “The Lehigh Valley doesn’t offer anything quite like this.”

For every aspect of the project, the Lehigh River is the differentiating factor.

Jaindl describes the river water quality as “pristine” because Lehigh Structural Steel Co. operated as a fabrication site, keeping the land free of pollution.

“Environmentally, it’s already up to residential standards,” Jaindl says. “Because it was a steel fabrication site, the river adjacent to it remained clean over the years.” Jaindl pictures residents 12 stories up in their apartments looking out onto the river and seeing the Coca-Cola Park fireworks less than a half-mile away over the American Parkway bridge.

“You can sit in your living room and have a water view and essentially go downstairs to a restaurant overlooking the river,” he adds. “We’ll have festivals, food truck pods, programming planned every weekend throughout the year, an ice rink, and outdoor recreation for visitors.”

There will be boat docks and slips and even outdoor grills and fire pits, all connecting to the popular D&L Trail.

The design and architecture of The Waterfront properties have also been intentional and deliberate.

“I am an architecture buff. I believe that design can really be a key differentiator between a site feeling organic and forced,” Jaindl says. “To date, we’ve used a different architect for every building. Different styles, layouts and concepts are introduced to give tenants versatility but also to make sure it doesn’t feel like an office park.”

“Essentially it’ll feel like a little city that will bloom into something much larger,” he adds. “Ultimately, this will be the catalyst to move development down on the Lehigh River.”

Jaindl believes that The Waterfront will be desirable to the aging millennial generation, which is starting to settle down, members of the rising Generation Z, who are looking for low-cost living, and empty nesters who may decide that an urban community is a better option than paying taxes and maintaining a five-bedroom home.

“You’ll still have a spare bedroom for when kids come home and pay less overall,” he says.

“Our cost of living index in the Lehigh Valley is low compared to the national scale,” he says. “Here you will have all the amenities, be close to Philadelphia and New York, and won’t break the bank to live and work remotely.”

Jaindl calls The Waterfront “the smart urban campus.”

“People will not sacrifice the natural elements of the suburbs,” he says. “You’ll wake up on the river and be surrounded by walkable amenities.”

Jaindl Enterprises

In his junior year at Lehigh University, Zac Jaindl took a course that involved putting together a feasibility study to support a regional project.

“I was assigned Lehigh riverfront apartments and ultimately called my dad to consult on the class,” he recalls. “He founded American Bank in 1997, and he came in and we talked about it and did the numbers and deemed at the time it was not feasible without powerful tax incentives.”

When Allentown’s Neighborhood Improvement Zone was created in 2009, the class project was reborn, inspiring a father-son collaboration in The Waterfront development and other projects.

Founded by Mark and Zac Jaindl in 2014, the father-son team combines five generations of entrepreneurial experience to “promote smart urban growth,” says Zac Jaindl, grandson of Fred Jaindl, the patriarch of the Jaindl family.

The Jaindl Enterprises portfolio consists of Jaindl Properties; The Waterfront Development Company; Vault 634, which transformed the Lehigh Valley Trust building in downtown Allentown into an upscale wedding and events hall; and SteelRock Property Management.

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