Bethlehem Ranks in ‘Best Places to Retire’ by Money Magazine
By Colin McEvoy on October 28, 2016
Money magazine has selected Bethlehem as one of the best places in the country to retire to, ranking #1 out of all cities in the Northeast region.
“There was a time when you couldn’t talk about Bethlehem without mention of Bethlehem Steel,” the magazine says. “Once the nation’s second-largest steel producer, it shuttered its hometown mill in 1995, marking the end of an industrial era. More than 20 years later the city has managed to reinvent itself while holding on to its history.”
In compiling its list – selecting a winner and runner-up each from six regions – Money sought tax-friendly small cities that were big enough to have amenities like good health care and recreation, but still affordable and compact enough to be manageable.
The magazine takes particular note of the Lehigh Valley’s superior health care services and educational institutions, as well as amenities like SteelStacks and events like Musikfest.
Cities from other regions to make the “Best Place to Retire” list include Hollywood, Fla. (Southeast); Sugar Land, Texas (South); Iowa City, Iowa (Midwest); Reno, Nev. (Mountains); and Spokane, Wash. (West). Bethlehem also beat out Nashua, N.H., the runner-up in the Northeast.
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While it scores high on charm, Bethlehem also stands out by many practical measures. Retirees get plenty of income tax breaks, including no state tax on Social Security benefits or retirement accounts of any kind. While local property tax rates are higher than average, the sales tax is among the lowest in the nation. Health care is superb. St. Luke’s University Hospital, a level 1 trauma center, has been recognized as one of the nation’s top cardiovascular hospitals.
Tom Stine and his wife, Lenore, both 60, traded their large house in the country for a townhouse near the redeveloped 1,800-acre Bethlehem Steel site. “The south side of the river is very bohemian,” says Stine, citing Lehigh University and an eclectic mix of restaurants. On the north side is the historic district, with cobblestone streets and buildings dating back to the mid-1700s.
The city has benefited from an influx of artists and professionals as well as retirees. “Bethlehem has grown because of a resurgence of people who want to live in walkable and safe downtowns,” says Don Cunningham, who was mayor when the steel mill closed and is now CEO of the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corp.
Residents can easily get by with one car, thanks to a compact layout and network of cycling and pedestrian paths. “I don’t drive for weeks at a time,” Stine notes. That said, it’s a short jaunt to the Pocono Mountains, less than an hour to the north, or the New Jersey Shore a couple of hours east. New York City, 80 miles away, is also an easy day trip.
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