It all started with some new lampposts and a so-called “road to nowhere.”
The economic rejuvenation of South Side Bethlehem could be traced back to a few key development decisions going back as far as two decades, according to Lynn Collins Cunningham, Senior Vice President of Bethlehem for the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce.
Among them was Lehigh University partnering with the city to install new lampposts on Third Street and South New Street, and the government-funded construction of a 4,200 foot road into parts of vacant Bethlehem Steel property which, though publicly criticized at the time, made possible future development on the site.
Since that time, Southside Bethlehem has seen significant road improvements and the establishment of Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem, Southside Greenway, the Bethlehem Skatepark, the ArtsQuest Center at Steelstacks, the Levitt Pavilion, PBS39 Media Center, and the Hoover-Mason Trestle.
“The developmental activity in this area has been mind-boggling,” Collins Cunningham said at a Bethlehem Chamber event called “Southside Booming!” held at the National Museum of Industrial History in Bethlehem on June 27.
“The amount of private/public money invested into the South Side is unprecedented,” she told a crowd of more than 100 attendees. “All of that development made it possible for what’s happening now.”
The event focused on that ongoing development, with speakers from Peron Development, ION Development Group, Lehigh University, Northampton Community College, D’Huy Engineering, and the Southside Arts District.
“Last year, Forbes called Bethlehem a rejuvenated former steel town, naming it as one of the top places to retire in the country,” said Alicia Karner, Bethlehem’s Director of Community and Economic Development. “That’s appropriate, because Bethlehem has become so much more today than a former steel town.”
John Callahan, Director of Business Development for Peron Development, discussed the company’s plans for Five10Flats, a five-floor, 95-unit luxury apartment complex at 510 E. Third Street, across from Northampton Community College. Starbucks will be the anchor retail tenant, and the first apartment occupants will be moving in this summer.
“This is an important project for a lot of reasons and it’s going to bring a lot of feet on the street in Southside Bethlehem,” Callahan said. “The millennials are coming, and they’re seeking a vibrant urban environment. The question is: do we have the right product for them?”
Dennis Benner highlighted the Gateway Building on Greenway Park, a new six-story building nearing completion at Third and New streets, which is expected to serve as a gateway into the city from Route 378, provide additional foot traffic for South Bethlehem businesses, and bring hundreds of workers into the city.
St. Luke’s University Health Network and Lehigh University will be the anchor tenants at the $20 million building. Benner said there has been a great deal of interest from potential tenants, with only about 100,000 square feet of space still available.
Adrienne Washington, Assistant Vice President of Community and Regional Affairs for Lehigh University, discussed the campus master plan Lehigh and the city agreed upon more than a decade ago, which outlines the university’s efforts to assist with the renaissance of Southside Bethlehem.
That plan has led to the development of several projects on Lehigh-owned properties, redeveloping the former Lehigh Valley Cold Storage building at 321 Adams St. into Brinker Lofts, a 30-unit apartment complex. The university has also broken ground on SouthSide Commons, a new apartment-style residence hall for more than 400 students.
Other projects are still in the pipeline, Washington said, including another resident facility, renovations to Chandler-Ullmann Hall, and a new Health, Science and Technology Building at Morton and Webster streets.