Immigration financing fuels part of Allentown's revitalization

Immigration financing fuels part of Allentown's revitalization
October 31, 2015

Allentown developer City Center Investment Corp. has been credited with resurrecting the city's struggling downtown business district.

Several hundred thousand dollars of publicly subsidized office, retail and apartment construction situated around PPL Center, the city's signature arena, has created new jobs, an invigorated restaurant scene and even a demand for luxury urban living.

To that list, add one more thing.

It's helping 40 wealthy foreign families become permanent U.S. residents.

Like the Pennsylvania Turnpike, Comcast Corp. and SEPTA, City Center has tapped a program administered by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services that allows foreign investors to secure green cards for themselves and family members by investing in jobcreating development projects.

"It is new incremental financing; it's $20 million of capital we are able to bring in to increase the level of investment in downtown," City Center CEO J.B. Reilly said. "In effect, it is allowing us to now get into Five City Center and several other new projects."

"Without this program, we will do $20 million less investment downtown. That's a fact."

Five City Center is the next phase in City Center's development plan, a $225 million complex that will bring an office tower, highrise apartments, parking complex and terraced public park to the block bordered by Hamilton, Walnut, Seventh and Eighth streets.

The Immigrant Investor Program, known as EB5, has been lauded by supporters for encouraging private foreign investment in projects that would otherwise require government subsidies, but criticized by opponents for allowing wealthy foreigners to buy their way to the front of the immigration line.

City Center's fiveyear, $20 million loan is backed by equity in its Renaissance Hotel and Three City Center office building, and personally guaranteed by Reilly and his City Center partner Joe Topper, according to Reilly and property records filed in Lehigh County.

The regional center's lending partner, CanAm Enterprises, based in New York City, lists the $20 million City Center investment on the "track record" page of its website, listing 40 investors in the loan at the minimum $500,000 a person.

Reilly said CanAm, which has a "sterling record," acts essentially as his lender and that he does not know anything about the 40 investors.

"The whole intent of the program is to attract foreign capital that makes jobcreating investments, investments that create significant jobs," Reilly said. "By doing that, issuing visas to those people is appropriate, because for every 10 permanent jobs, they issue one visa."

"If job creation is important, which I think it is, then I think the program is appropriate," Reilly said.

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