Economic development professionals to tour South Side Bethlehem

By LVEDC Staff on September 24, 2013

The Lehigh Valley will have a special presence at the upcoming International Economic Development Council’s 2013 Annual Conference. The actual event will be held in Philadelphia and all but one associated tour and company visit will take place in the City of Brotherly Love.

But, thanks to a persuasive letter from Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation President and CEO Don Cunningham, a busload of IEDC members will make their way to South Side Bethlehem on Saturday, October 5th for a look at the brownfield reclamation of Bethlehem Steel – the transformation that has led to the creation of SteelStacks, the PBS39 studios and the Sands Bethlehem casino.

The day’s itinerary starts with a 10 a.m. departure from Philadelphia. First up, at 11:30 a.m., is a tour of the South Side Bethlehem area that is home to SteelStacks/ArtsQuest, the Bethlehem Visitors Centre, and the PBS39 studio.

Other stops or drive-bys may include Ben Franklin TechVentures, the Bethlehem Intermodal, Lehigh Valley Industrial Park VII, and Sands Bethlehem Casino, shops and hotel.

Cunningham will join the two-dozen or more IEDC on the bus from Philly. Once the group reaches the Southside, various local experts will serve as speakers at each stop.

“With the right tools, economic developers everywhere can create a vision for the future, stimulate consensus, and prepare their communities for 21st century success,” notes the IEDC website.

Lehigh Valley and Southside Bethlehem is proof of that.

Cunningham’s February letter echoed these sentiments – and helped land this Lehigh Valley bus tour.

“The region, anchored by the cities of Allentown, Bethlehem and Easton, has undergone a dramatic economic transition during the last two decades from heavy industry to a diversified economic base, making it one of the Northeast’s fastest growing regions,” Cunningham wrote.

“That change is embodied in the transformation of the 1,800 acres of the former Bethlehem Steel plant, which closed in 1998, and stretches for 4.5 miles along the Lehigh River in the City of Bethlehem. Today, the site is home to high-tech and heavy manufacturing, venture capital firms and technology incubators, a large public park and festival site at the foot of historically preserved blast furnaces, a performing arts center and movie theater, a public television station, the Sands casino, a 300-room hotel, a retail shopping mall, and 1,500 acres of industrial and commercial parks anchored by a Norfolk-Southern intermodal rail terminal, adjacent to Interstate 78, a major Northeast corridor to New York City and the ports of North Jersey.”

The purpose of the tour: to show visitors the site and explain how the multi-use transformation was financed with public and private dollars.

The lessons learned:

  • Economic development strategies for multi-use redevelopment of brownfields.
  • Funding sources and programs at the local, county, state and federal level to support brownfield reuse.
  • Importance of intermodal rail terminals in developing commercial parks.
  • Importance of the arts, historic preservation and public spaces in redeveloping brownfields.
  • Best practice in how to incorporate a casino into a mixed-used redevelopment.
  • Partnering with venture capital firm and technology incubators in redevelopment.
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