The $5.5 million project to restore the old Bethlehem Steel Stock House and repurpose it as a visitor center will be recognized Friday by Preservation Pennsylvania during its annual awards ceremony.
The Bethlehem Redevelopment Authority will accept a Historic Preservation Award in the industrial category during the ceremony in Pottstown, city officials said.
Established by the state Legislature in 1982, Preservation Pennsylvania is a private, nonprofit membership organization with a statewide mission to protect and preserve Pennsylvania's irreplaceable historic places.
The new Bethlehem Visitor Center was opened earlier this year, following a restoration effort that took several years to complete.
Sitting right at the base on the western side of the massive blast furnaces, the Stock House was built during the Civil War in 1863 and is the oldest surviving structure in the Bethlehem Steel complex.
The restored building is now a modern visitor center with three giant touch-screen computer kiosks that can help visitors find attractions, restaurants and hotels.
The center also includes a box office to buy tickets to ArtsQuest events, a small gift shop and a lounge with a giant screen television where visitors can watch a short documentary on the history of Bethlehem Steel.
The building also has some office space for ArtsQuest staff and “arguably the best and biggest public restrooms in the Lehigh Valley,” according to Mike Stershic, President of Discover Lehigh Valley, the region’s tourism promotion bureau.
“It cost an awful lot of money to take the oldest building on the site and convert to a 21st Century visitor center, but it was worth it,” Mayor John Callahan said during the building’s ceremonial reopening in June.
The 3,000-square-foot building was first used to store iron ore, which the original Bethlehem Iron Works forged into train rails. Later, it became a place to make alloys and a tool and dye operation. Finally, at the end of the corporation’s history, the Stock House was used to store spare parts for the blast furnace.
“Given the building’s prominence on the site and its age and importance, we felt it was important to not only ‘rehabilitate’ the building but ‘restore’ it as well,” said Tony Hanna, the executive director of the redevelopment authority.
The historically correct restoration and adaptive re-use of the building into a Visitor Center and offices was initially planned utilizing a grant from the Preserve America program jointly administered by the National Park Service and the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.
The physical restoration and expansion was paid for through the $27 million Tax Increment Financing bond that the city, Northampton County and the Bethlehem Area School District agreed to fund more than three years ago.
Design services for the project were provided by USA Architects of Easton. Construction management services were provided by Boyle Construction of Allentown.
This is not the first award the project has received. It has also been recognized by the Website Masonry Construction as one of its “Masonry Construction Projects of the Year.”