Bethlehem Mayor John Callahan on Tuesday announced that the city plans to lease the Bethlehem Armory and lead an effort to find an adaptive reuse for the building.
The brick armory at 301 Prospect Ave., at the corner of Prospect and Second avenues, was built in 1930 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
It is currently owned by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and, until very recently had been the home of at least one Pennsylvania National Guard unit. The last remaining guardsmen who called the armory home were relocated to the new Easton Readiness Center in Forks Township in the last several years.
The Bethlehem Redevelopment Authority, which will lease the building from the state for $1 a year, will commission a study that will explore potential new uses for the building, the mayor said. USA Architects of Easton has already been picked to do the job.
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- The armory sits on 2 acres of land, which provides ample room for parking or the potential to add new buildings to the neighborhood.
- The building itself has 27,000 square feet of space inside, including a large drill hall almost immediately inside the front entrance, administrative space, classrooms, kitchen, multiple storage areas, and a large vehicle storage area.
- The property is zoned for medium density residential use.
A business incubator, artists’ lofts, municipal offices and housing were among the possibilities mentioned during a news conference. The Bethlehem Police Department currently uses the building to conduct drills.
Callahan said he believed the building could potentially be a very attractive place for people to live given its proximity to the Historic Downtown and Sand Island Park. It actually lies just outside the city’s Central Historic District.
“Who wouldn’t want to be in close proximity to all those amenities?” Callahan said.
The study by USA Architects should reveal a likely redevelopment target for the property. The intent is to maintain the exterior of the building to Pennsylvania Historic and Museum Commission standards.
As part of the lease, the city has no more than five years to buy the building for $272,000. That price comes with a 20-percent discount from fair market value in exchange for a covenant to preserve and maintain the building to historic standards.
Tony Hanna, the executive director of the Bethlehem Redevelopment Authority, said he believes there should be no trouble recouping that investment once the city decides on the ultimate adaptive reuse for the building.
The building would likely be sold to a developer or leased to multiple users, Hanna said.