Dallas Basha, ’17, always had an interest in owning properties.
While studying for 4 o’clocks during his junior year, Basha decided to put his books aside for a moment and open up Zillow to see if anything was for sale around Lehigh.
During his online search, Basha came across a vacant lot on 13 W. Morton St. and immediately contacted the real estate agent for more information — it was posted one day earlier, and he wanted to make sure no one had purchased it yet.
A few weeks later, he had interested investors put money up for the lot.
Two years later, on Aug. 20, 2018, Basha’s building plan for the lot — a four-story apartment building between Tulum and Saxby’s — received conditional approval by Bethlehem’s Historic and Architectural Review Board, pending a few adjustments. His plan includes a first-floor restaurant and three floors of student apartments.
The second, third and fourth floors will each consist of two units: a two-bedroom apartment and a three-bedroom apartment.
Basha received conditional approval by the city’s Planning Commission on July 13, 2018 for the engineering aspects of the building. After Basha makes adjustments to his plans, construction companies will bid to build it. He said construction will start in spring 2019 and is expected to be complete by the end of the year.
In addition to working on the apartment building for students, Basha is also renovating the historic Grace Mansion to create housing options geared toward young professionals and professors. Basha said the mansion’s close proximity to Lehigh’s campus makes it an accessible and attractive option.
Basha has made his real-estate ventures his full-time job.
He went so far as to drop out of his master’s program at Lehigh and quit his job so he could pursue working on startups and ventures full time. He said he never wanted to work for anyone else — instead, he wants to be the owner and boss of his own work.
He has investors pay for the projects, who he finds through his own professional network.
Plans to build a four-story building on 13 W. Morton Street
After waiting six months to get final approval from the Historic and Architectural Review Board, Basha searched for a construction company to build the apartment building. He had to return to the review board several times to show revisions to his plan, which included adjusting it to fit historic standards and not violate height restrictions. Previous plans were seven and six stories high.
Although Basha said the approval was a long process, he thinks it is an important one to have in place.
“I commend them for it because it’s definitely important to have those standards, and making sure any type of new construction or renovation are to the historic board’s standards,” Basha said. “You don’t want to have an odd-looking building in the middle of a beautiful community.”
Andrew Twiggar, ’94 ’99G, is the principal, co-founder and co-owner of real estate company Dunn Twiggar in Bethlehem as well as an adjunct professor at Lehigh.
Twiggar was introduced to Basha by another Lehigh professor and has held a mentor role for Basha and is involved in his investment projects. He said he likes Basha’s project because it maintains the historic value of Bethlehem and builds on previously used land instead of destroying existing resources.
Twiggar said typically, people of Basha’s age work with real estate companies to gain experience before starting their own real estate endeavors.
“He’s jumping in new without breadth of knowledge, but he is doing a good job since he is committed and dedicated,” Twiggar said. “He has a good future in real estate.”
Ben Metz, ’22, said he likes that the new apartment building will be close to campus as well as the restaurants and shops in South Bethlehem. He said students will probably use the restaurant on the first floor a lot because of its proximity to on-campus and off-campus housing.
The renovation of the historic Grace Mansion property
Grace Mansion is the former home of Bethlehem Steel President Eugene Grace, at 114 W. Fourth St. Basha said after seeing it deteriorate in quality, he was eager to restore its beauty.
He will renovate the entire building into five one-bedroom apartments, each with a kitchen and bathroom in each unit.
When Basha was initially interested in investing in the home, the seller removed the listing.
Basha, who said he was passionate about restoring the South Side home, still reached out, knocked on the door of the home and met with the seller to discuss why restoring the building meant so much to him. The man promised he would keep him in mind if he ever could sell it.
It took about six months for Basha to convince the seller to sell it to him.
Basha said he chose Lehigh locations to work on investment projects because he loved his time at the university and loves the historic Bethlehem community. He said he wants to do something positive for the South Side.
“I think it is good that (Basha) is interested in giving back because he is familiar with Lehigh,” Metz said. “So, he knows what students need.”
Basha said he doesn’t think there is competition between his new apartments and other new buildings such as SouthSide Commons. Instead, he said it will benefit students and the community.
“I think they are all great properties and all add value,” Basha said. “It gives students more options.”