Developer: Bethlehem Redevelopment Authority
Designer: WRT, Philadelphia
Size: 9.5 acres (3.9 ha)
The SteelStacks Arts and Cultural Campus sits within Bethlehem Works, a 126-acre (51 ha) parcel established as a 20-year tax increment finance (TIF) district in 2000. Bethlehem Works, in turn, is part of the largest brownfield in the United States: a 1,800-acre (728 ha) former steel plant operated by the Bethlehem Steel Corporation until it shuttered the plant in 1997, six years before the international corporation was liquidated in a bankruptcy settlement.
The former plant occupies 20 percent of the real estate in the city of Bethlehem, which has a population of 75,000. The plant’s closing had an appreciable impact on both the city and the surrounding Lehigh Valley region, which has a population of 1 million. Over the past ten years, the Bethlehem Redevelopment Authority oversaw the development of new industrial parks and intermodal transportation facilities on large parcels at the eastern end of the former plant. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania awarded a gaming license in 2006 to the Las Vegas Sands Corporation for the construction of a casino, hotel, retail, and conference complex at the east end of the Bethlehem Works site. Casino operations began in 2009, which provided tax revenues to underwrite the development of the SteelStacks Arts and Cultural Campus.
Bethlehem Works occupies the western end of the former plant. It is nestled against the city’s well-established South Side neighborhood and includes the former plant’s oldest surviving and most historically significant structures, including five 20-story-tall blast furnaces (steel stacks).
Campus development was financed through a combination of TIF funding, government grants, philanthropic donations, nonprofit funds, and private investment. The project’s success is contributing to the sustainability of the campus’s tenants, spurring private development in abandoned buildings and sites adjacent to the campus, and bolstering existing businesses in the South Side neighborhood.