By Kathleen Parrish

J.B. Reilly ’83, whose real estate development company is responsible for revitalizing downtown Allentown, received the EY Entrepreneur of the Year 2019 Award in the real estate category for the Greater Philadelphia area. 

The award recognizes entrepreneurs who are excelling in areas such as innovation, financial performance, and personal commitment to their businesses and communities, while also transforming the world. Reilly, co-founder and president of City Center Investment Corp., was selected by an independent panel of judges, and the award was presented at a gala event at Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts June 19. 

“This is really a City Center team award and another recognition that our company is helping transform downtown Allentown into a regional center of excellence for business, recreation, and city living,” said Reilly, a member of Lafayette’s Board of Trustees. “We’re proud to be recognized by EY and that this honor helps showcase the great work happening in Allentown to a regional audience.”

Since City Center launched in 2011, it has helped transform downtown Allentown into a vibrant urban community with more than 2.5 million square feet among five Class A office towers, the Renaissance Allentown Hotel, six residential complexes, retail and restaurant space, and a co-working space called Velocity. City Center Investment Corp.’s total investment in downtown Allentown is more than $600 million, with another $400 million under development and in planning. 

Entrepreneur of the Year celebrates those who are building and leading successful, growing, and dynamic businesses, recognizing them through regional, national, and global awards programs in more than 145 cities in more than 60 countries.

As a Greater Philadelphia award winner, Reilly is now eligible for consideration for the Entrepreneur of the Year 2019 National Awards, which will be announced in Palm Springs, Calif., Nov. 16.

We caught up with Reilly on his cellphone during one of his busy days.

Why Allentown?

“About 10 years ago, there were some economic-development incentives created for Allentown, so that certainly drew my interest to some of the possibilities. Allentown is the third-largest city in Pennsylvania and the largest city in the Lehigh Valley, but it’s a city that was in decline for the past three or four decades. Considering the overall strength of the Lehigh Valley economy and given that Allentown is my hometown, I thought there was a unique opportunity for investing in Allentown and allowing the city to be part of the broader economy of the Valley.” 

How’s the project going?

“We’re very pleased with the progress. The first buildings are now five years old. We achieved our early goals, but there’s still a lot more work to do. We developed 2.5 million square feet of our master plan. Long-term sustainability depends on achieving scale so that there is a critical mass of people living and working in the city to support the environment. We’re not there yet, but we have real traction and momentum.” 

What do you want Allentown to be known for? 

“We want Allentown to become a vibrant urban community for living, working, and playing. We also want the downtown to be recognized as the regional center of excellence for finance, professional offices, and corporate headquarters, and that’s exactly what’s happening. We just completed our fifth new office building, and our buildings bear the names of our anchor tenants Morgan Stanley, Merrill Lynch, BB&T, Lehigh Valley Health Network, and payroll company ADP, all leaders in their industries. Interestingly, ADP was searching nationwide for a city in which they could consolidate offices into one building and grow. They chose Allentown for its walkable urban environment and its cost-effectiveness while still being near New York City and Philadelphia.” 

How has your Lafayette education helped you succeed?

“I developed a lot of confidence at Lafayette. It exposed me to lots of different people and opportunities. I had a chance to study abroad, I developed my ability to think through problems, and I learned communication skills. I started my own business shortly after graduating and have been a real estate entrepreneur since the mid to late ’80s. I credit Lafayette with opening my world in diverse ways.” 

What advice would you give to a student who wants to be an entrepreneur?

“One thing I would say is that it’s easier to take a risk when you’re younger and have nothing to lose. You also need to be an optimist and really persistent because you’re constantly failing. You just have to keep going. That’s why it’s so rewarding, because it’s not easy.”

Categorized in: Alumni, Alumni Profiles, Alumni Success Stories, Careers, Featured News, News and Features

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