A developer plans to buy the once-grand Americus Center hotel, shuttered five years ago, and return the downtown Allentown landmark to its original splendor.
But the principals for the real estate firm would not disclose what they intend to do with the 80-year-old building -- whether they would revive it as a hotel or turn it into apartments or use it for retail space, or a mix.
Still, Mayor Ed Pawlowski said he is "more confident than any other time in the past" that the sale will go through. "I like their ideas, I like their plans."
The firm, RSR Capital, has signed a letter of intent and put down a nonrefundable deposit for the building, owned by Americus Center Inc., said Jerry Holliday, the real estate agent representing the building's owner.
Holliday, of Prudential Patt, White Real Estate, said the firm's principals have been in talks with the city and Americus Center Inc. for about a year. She declined to give the amount of the deposit or talk about any conditions of the sale.
The firm's principals -- Richard M. Citron and Stephen R. Scipione -- and developer Russell Barnaby met with Pawlowski on Tuesday to talk about the 13-story building, which has been mostly vacant since 2002, when the city declared it unfit for human habitation.
Today, scaffolding that the city erected in the spring to protect pedestrians skirts the building, at Sixth and Hamilton streets. The last tenants moved out in March under the city's threat to turn off utilities.
Scipione said RSR Capital expects to "restore [the Americus] to its original luster," but revealed little else.
Mark Mendelson, majority shareholder of Americus Center Inc., did not return a call seeking comment on the potential sale.
Several developers have expressed interest in the Americus, including Garden City, N.Y., developer Metropolis Management, which came close to buying it for $2.5 million in 2006. Mike Leahy, president of Metropolis Management, has said that fell through.
RSR formed in August in Fairfield, N.J., according to a business filing.
The city and the potential buyers said they expect to reveal more details later this week.
Pawlowski estimated the combined cost of buying and renovating the 167,000-square-foot building at $20 million. By contrast, the Allentown Brew Works, which is around 50,000 square feet, cost roughly $7 million to open.
As it did with the Brew Works project, the city expects to seek money from the state to renovate the Americus, Pawlowski said. "This project is a very significant piece to redeveloping downtown."
The Americus opened in 1927, and in 1984, it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Americus Center Inc. bought the Americus in 1985 for $1.25 million. Three years later, the hotel joined the Radisson chain. In 1994, the Americus lost the Radisson affiliation. Four months later, the hotel went to sheriff's sale with $5 million in liens, but no one offered to buy it.
In a brief walk through the ballroom, it's evident how much work needs to be done. Debris dangles from the ceiling, paint is peeling off the pillars and a wall sconce hangs upside down.
The old hotel's beauty and history as a once architectural glory, done in Spanish Moor style, is equally evident.
Pawlowski sees the potential. "It needs a lot of work, but it's got some great architectural features," he said. "It still has some great ambience and features."
Reporters Paul Muschick and Daniel Patrick Sheehan contributed to this story.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun