Bethlehem officials and a private developer announced plans Monday for three new buildings to bring more retail, offices, housing and parking to South Bethlehem.
The projects would represent about $47 million in new private development for the neighborhood on the west side of South Bethlehem, not far from Lehigh University.
Developer Dennis Benner—who is involved in two of the three projects—said he is hoping to help contribute to a neighborhood where young professionals want to live, work and play.
The announced projects are:
- A six-story retail and office building on the southwest corner of S. New and W. Third streets. On the site of what is now a gravel lot and the Community Maze Garden, the new $14 million building would have 90,000 square feet of mixed use space with stores or restaurants on the first floor. The Community Maze Garden will be relocated a few feet south to be part of the South Bethlehem Greenway, according to Joe Kelly, the city’s community and economic development director.
- A mixed-used development on 3 acres at 15-19 W. Fourth St., the former First United Church of Christ, would include 125,000 square feet would include retail and student housing. The church building would remain and be converted into a restaurant. The total cost is estimated at $33 million.
- A five-story, 507-space parking deck near the corner of S. New and Graham streets. The Bethlehem Parking Authority will build the shell, which will include space that can be leased for retailers. The deck’s design would easily accommodate a two-story expansion—capable of adding another 200 parking spaces. The project is expected to cost $9.5 million in public money to build, but more than $5 million in state money has already been committed to the project.
At a news conference in the gravel lot at Third and New streets, Mayor John Callahan said he is hoping to give the projects the benefit of being included in a Community Revitalization and Improvement Zone, a new tax incentive zone that the state will establish in two medium-sized cities in the coming months.
The CRIZ is being described as a somewhat less potent version of the Neighborhood Improvement Zone that is spurring the construction of a minor league sports arena and other development in Allentown.
It would allow certain state and local taxes generated by businesses in the zone to be utilized to finance construction and development of commercial, sports, exhibition, hospitality, retail or recreation projects.
However, even if Bethlehem is not selected for a CRIZ, the three projects will still be built, said Callahan and Benner. The construction timetable, the size of the projects and the mix of uses in the projects could be affected if Bethlehem does not get a CRIZ, Callahan said.
The hope is that construction of all three projects would get under way in the spring and be completed by the summer of 2016.
The projects are expected to create 1,000 construction jobs and bring 400 new office jobs and 335 new student residents to the neighborhood, Callahan said.
As for the retail establishments, Benner said he is hoping to attract a cluster of “night life venues” that can add to South Bethlehem’s status as a destination for young adults to have fun.