Crocodile Rock Cafe in Allentown could be demolished, but a new venue may be built nearby
Late last year, there was talk that Crocodile Rock Cafe, a hotspot for club-sized concerts for 14 years, could reopen pending approval from the city of Allentown. Now, six months later, the owner has a much different plan in mind.
According to The Morning Call, owner Joe Clark may sell the property to City Center Investment Corporation, Allentown’s largest developer, after the company requested zoning board approval to tear the building down to make way for a new $200 million apartment and office complex.
“Of course I’ll miss it, but it’s a very small part of my business,” Clark, who owns over 80 residential properties in Lehigh County, told The Morning Call. “I feel like I started something there, but times have changed there. There’s a lot more competition now.”
After closing its doors four years ago, the Sands Bethlehem Event Center and Musikfest Café at the SteelStacks in Bethlehem have popped up nearby, and the massive PPL Center opened just two blocks down from Crocodile Rock’s Hamilton Street location in 2014.
All hope for a new or similar small venue is not lost, however – City Center Investment Corporation announced just a few months ago that they plan to build a 1,400-capacity concert hall as part of a $250 million Five City Center complex just a few block away from the old Croc Rock on 7th Street.
Featuring a retractable wall that could open its stage up to an adjacent park, the developers hope to host 200-250 events a year, booking acts similar to those at the House of Blues Chicago, Irving Plaza in New York City, and other rock clubs. The park would feature a beer garden and outdoor LED screens that could show movies or sporting events, though this is all still in the planning stages.
“Part of revitalizing a city is to gain popularity,” said City Center development partner Jerry Deifer Jr., who helped design the Sands Bethlehem Event Center.
“If you have 8,000 people down here, they all have restaurants to go to for happy hour. They don’t have anything else to do. Activity builds success, and I feel like what we’re building here is what is needed in downtown Allentown just to add to the continuing excitement.”
It its heyday, Crocodile Rock was “the 50th bestselling venue in the world,” selling over 50,000 tickets a year, but a shooting after a rap concert by Fabolous in 2009 left two people wounded, eventually leading to the venue losing its liquor license in 2013. After being labeled a nuisance bar by the state Liquor Control Board, Croc Rock was denied its appeal and promoter SLP Concerts pulled its remaining shows, ending with a heated public fallout in the media with Clark. He put the property up for sale on Craigslist for $5 million, but there were no takers.
Former patrons of Crocodile Rock either loved or loathed the small 1,100-capacity club, but it was still an integral part of the Pennsylvania music scene for over a decade, bringing in countless national touring bands who had few other places to play between Philadelphia and New York and giving local musicians a chance to open for these acts. With a lack of club-sized venues and concerts for all ages in Northeastern Pennsylvania, many local concertgoers drove there to see rock, metal, punk, pop, and hip-hop acts since it opened in 1999.
Clark has publicly stated numerous times that the club could make a comeback before this recent offer from City Center.
On Dec. 18, 2016, one of his Facebook posts garnered plenty of attention when he teased a photo of modernized architectural plans for the building.
“Like I said, good things are coming! Coming to a Crocodile Rock Cafe near you…,” Clark said, with this digital illustration below:
The next day, he reposted the image, which includes an attached Motel 6 and what appears to be an open lounge area with large windows in the front entrance, saying, “Thank you to the many many many many well-wishers. My plan is working because I flushed out a few of the tenants that I had to evict over the past few years. Thank you, thank you.”
In the comments, he confirmed that it would host live music “and much more,” though “it depends on the approval from the city. We have all our ducks in order with national companies.” The old building would be demolished to accommodate the new design.
While it would be sad to see Crocodile Rock Cafe bulldozed after so many years of memorable shows, the new project proposed by City Center sounds even more promising, but it’s all just talk for now. Would this concert hall help the local music scene or hinder progress already made by established venues nearby by creating too much competition? It will be interesting to watch as this story develops.