The long-shuttered Boyd Theatre, once a beloved vaudeville and movie house in Center City Bethlehem, will be demolished to make way for a $22 million apartment and retail project under a proposal owner Charles Jefferson plans to submit to the city.
He said Tuesday that the 120-apartment project would bring residents to a sleepy block just around the corner from historic Main Street, injecting more vibrancy into a downtown that grew up around the city’s original Moravian settlement. The first-floor retail would augment a stretch known as Restaurant Row.
Jefferson said he tried to find a reuse for the West Broad Street property, but the economics would not work. One critical component for the proposal, he said, was the use of the federal opportunity zone, a tax incentive written into the 2017 federal tax cut.
The designation seeks to entice developers of commercial or residential projects into economically disadvantaged areas by giving them breaks on capital gains taxes.
Jefferson said he expects to submit formal plans by the summer to the city for review. With approval, Jefferson said he would like to start construction before year’s end.
Mayor Robert Donchez said he’s pleased redevelopment of the Boyd property, which has been shuttered for eight years, is showing signs of moving forward. That key block, the mayor said, holds a lot of potential and has been underused far too long.
“It would have been nice had the Boyd been renovated, but sometimes the cost outweighs the benefit,” he said.
The Boyd is just outside the city’s historic district and not listed on the city’s preservation plan.
The Boyd property, at 30-40 W. Broad St., once housed four stores, a basement nightclub, second-floor offices and the nearly 1,200-seat theater.
The Boyd was closed since 2011 after a windstorm damaged the roof. In 2015, water damage shut down several storefronts, and the city began a process that could have led to seizure by eminent domain. By the end of 2015, Jefferson’s Bethlehem-Boyd LP bought the property for $1.35 million, Northampton County assessment records show.
The theater got its start in 1921 when Charles and John Kurtz, locals who owned a cabinetry and furniture-making business and restaurant, opened it as the Kurtz Theatre. Three years later the venue was renamed the Colonial after being bought by the Wilmer and Vincent Theatre Co., which owned the Colonial Theatre in Allentown.
It got its current name in 1934 when A.R. Boyd Enterprises of Philadelphia bought it — along with the Globe Theater in Bethlehem and theaters in Allentown and Easton. The Heydt family bought the Bethlehem building in 1970.
Like other single-screen theaters, the Boyd struggled in its final years as multiplexes with easy parking in suburban malls offered bigger screens and a choice of movies.
Over the years, there has been interest in the Boyd. In 1989, before SteelStacks was even a glimmer in anyone’s eye, the young nonprofit that started Musikfest studied whether the Boyd could be converted into a performing arts center, but the study ultimately did not recommend a historical restoration.
Moravian College also once considered bringing live theater to the building but could not secure enough donors.
The proposal for the Boyd is the latest project to bring more apartments near the historic downtown. Last year City Council approved a rezoning critical to the development of a five-story apartment building, Skyline West, overlooking the Colonial Industrial Quarter.
Reporters Steve Esack and Jacqueline Palochko contributed to this story.