Monday, April 14, 2008

A Vision for the Americus

There's a buzz going on over at Mrs. Dottie's blog about our visions for the Americus Hotel. The following is a vision statement I presented to Mayor Pawlowski and the city's economic development team over a year ago. Their response was enthusiastic; the problem is the building is still in the hands of Mark Mendelsohn, and until it can be transferred to a sane owner, nothing is going to be done. As for the Neuweiler Brewery, Symphony Hall, etc., I look forward to talking about these things at the House of Chen on the 25th.

My apologies for being a neglectful blogger--too busy attending meetings and trying to earn a living.

Let me know what you think of this vision.

Americus Design Center

Restoration of the landmark Americus Hotel and its conversion into a high-style design center, catering to the trade in the fields of interior design, decoration and architecture, will create an arts-related commercial anchor for the Allentown arts district, bringing design professionals and their clients into downtown Allentown to do business in a sophisticated atmosphere of historic elegance.
Americus Design Center will offer manufacturers and design professionals a glamorous venue for displaying and marketing their products and services, comparable to design centers in New York, Philadelphia and Washington, but with the added attractions of substantial savings in rental cost and a convenient, easily accessible location—close to a large, high-income client base but outside the increasingly congested business districts of the major cities.
Product showrooms, featuring upscale home and office furniture; fabrics and textiles; wall and window treatments; art and antiques; kitchen and bath fixtures; and other architectural and interior-design accessories, will be open exclusively "to the trade," allowing customers of registered design professionals access to an array of products unavailable to the general public. This exclusivity, and the convenience of a central location, will encourage design professionals, as well as manufacturers' sales staff and service providers, to locate their offices in the building. Some might even wish to live there; one or more floors could be devoted to apartments/condominiums.
In contrast to the showroom areas on some upper floors, the hotel's grand ballroom, roof-top restaurant and street-level storefronts will be open to the public, creating a regional entertainment and shopping destination related to activities at the Americus and nearby cultural institutions such as the art museum, symphony hall and the historical society. Design-themed public events, such as fashion and flower shows, will bring back to downtown Allentown the stylish ambience formerly associated with Hess's department store. The basement movie theater will once again screen films. Arts-and-design-related retail and service businesses—galleries, bookstores, clothing stores, restaurants—will open in the street-level spaces and in nearby buildings to take advantage of the traffic generated by trade professionals, buyers and their clientele. The Center will also be a stimulus to the revival of design-related manufacturing in the city.
In short, Americus Design Center will be the Lehigh Valley's most beautiful and exciting location to do business, host a conference (or wedding reception), entertain corporate clients, and even reside. It will transform the image of downtown Allentown, restoring the grandeur of its largest and most architecturally important commercial structure, and signaling the completion of the city's comeback as a vibrant cultural and business hub.

7 comments:

Mrs. Dottie said...

Hi Joe,

Wow,I think this is a very ambitious vision! I'm really not qualified to comment on high style design and sophisticated elegance, since that's not my artistic leaning, but I guess if you are interested in attracting high income clientele to Allentown in support of the arts, then this would be a good idea. Bringing back the glamour of high fashion shows and flower shows like Hess's would be neat. Your vision probably fits in more with what the city planners would like to see. What worries me is that it focuses more on attracting wealthy people rather than serving the needs of the people who are already here. Maybe this vision could have something for everyone,
with a focus on design. Maybe a retrospective on the history of the silk/textile industry in Allentown could be included.

joseph skrapits said...

Hi Mrs. Dottie,

Thanks for your comment. The nut of the problem (besides the owner) is that renovation of the Americus is a $25-30 million project. Someone has to pay the rent. Besides, as a struggling artist myself, I wouldn't mind having some interior designers and their well-heeled clients coming to downtown Allentown to look for home furnishings. They might even want art to hang on their walls. Wouldn't that be nice?

Mrs. Dottie said...

Joe,

How was the Vision for Hamilton St. meeting last night? I did not see anything in today's paper about it.
I would like to attend one of the future meetings if I can get babysitting.

I guess it could be a while until someone with 25-30 million comes along to renovate the Americus! It's such a shame that it was not taken care of.

joseph skrapits said...

Mrs. D.,

The visioning meeting was very well attended--125-130 people--and the facilitators from the Pa. Downtown Center did a great job of organizing it and keeping everyone on task. The mood was up-beat and enthusiastic--we focused on building on our strengths, and it was interesting that almost everyone there considers the city's ethnic and racial diversity one of our strengths, not a liability. The stress on the positive was probably because this was a self-selected group of people who want to move beyond the rehashing of complaints and are interest in effecting change. I came away from it with a much clearer understanding of what needs to be done. I hope you'll be able to attend the next meeting.
BTW, the Morning Call didn't even send a reporter to the meeting. They are understaffed and maybe they just didn't have anyone available, or maybe an upbeat community forum didn't fit the image of Allentown they seem to want to portray.

Sarina said...

I really like your idea for the revitalization of the Americus. What a great idea to combine a commercial venture with an artistic one. If only Mendelson would just give up the building. He's so irresponsible.

I didn't get a chance to attend the Visioning meeting either. Hopefully I can get to the one in May.

Mrs. Dottie said...

Joe,

I e-mailed HALA about the artist get together on the 25th, and I am hoping that some artists there will participate.

joseph skrapits said...

Mrs. D.,

I've been telling some people, too. I was at the Brewworks tonight and met a woman who wants to open a cooperative art gallery on the 4th floor, and she wants to come to the meeting.
Word is getting around. Better tell the House of Chen to expect a crowd.