Hotel Bethlehem receives approval for delay in expansion plans

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Nicole Radzievich, “As Wind Creek plans a 2nd hotel, Hotel Bethlehem asks for more time on its $37 million expansion.” Morning Call, January 13, 2020.

Nicole Radzievich, “‘This is a timing issue,’ Hotel Bethlehem partner says about expansion.” Morning Call, January 16, 2020.

Sara K. Satullo, “With looming Wind Creek expansion, Hotel Bethlehem gets 2 more years to grow.”, January 16, 2020.

The plans for expanded development of the Hotel Bethlehem that generated so much discussion and excitement 2-3 years ago have been put on a bit of a pause because of new hotels in Center Valley and the proposed development by Wind Creek.

Hotel Bethlehem managing partner Bruce Haines is still optimistic about the project but says the timing right now is not right.

See his good description of the situation here in his appearance before the CRIZ board this week seeking and gaining approval for an extension of the expansion planning.

More on creative placemaking in Bethlehem

As another example of SteelStacks’ position as a model creative placemaking project, Tony Hanna pointed Gadfly to this “how-to” 2017 article (the precursor of the “how-to” manual we mentioned last time), “Five Steps toward Implementing Creative Placemaking.

SteelStacks is cited under step #3, the business case. “demonstrating the stakeholder benefits.”

Look at the distinguished company SteelStacks is keeping in the article — The Parks at Walter Reed, D.C.’s Monroe Street Market, the 303 Artway In Denver, the Union Market District in Northeast D.C.

Tony also provided a link to a 2012 article — “Smokestack Lightning: The Rebirth of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania” — that enables us to take a trip down Memory Lane, all the way back to 2004, when Mayor John Callahan presented ” Bethlehem’s design challenge” to the Mayors’ Institute on City Design in Chicago, a group Gadfly first heard about reading Jeff Speck this summer.

“Among the most memorable — and prescient — feedback [Callahan] received” at MICD  “was to leave the blast furnaces as they were.”

And the rest is history, as they say.

So cute is Mayor Callahan’s dream future recounted in the article: “I always had this dream, when I first made the decision to run for mayor, that there was going to be a time in my life when I could load up the grandkids into the car and drive around Bethlehem 30, 40 years later and point to a few things that happened while I was mayor.”

At SteelStack the kids will have to look up.

These two brief articles are worth your perusal.

And worth thinking about how Wind Creek seems to be taking another path to making place.

Which is where Gadfly started this thread yesterday.

SteelStacks the result of creative placemaking

“SteelStacks annually attracts 1 million visitors and delivers $55 million to the city.”

Gadfly doesn’t know much besides nine uses of the comma.

And even that is fading. He’s forgotten what an appositive is.

But he loves to learn new things.

And once again the student teaches the professor.

Gadfly mentioned his intrigue with “creative placemaking” in the context of Wind Creek a post or two ago.

And Bethlehem Redevelopment Authority executive director Tony Hanna — a memorable student of Gadfly’s at Lehigh — immediately jumped in to say that “one of America’s prime examples of [creative placemaking] is right here in Bethlehem — the SteelStacks campus and development.”

Tony said that he has “been working with the Urban Land Institute and their Creative Placemaking project for several years,” that “ULI is getting ready to publish a ‘How-To’ Manual on Creative Placemaking in 2020, and that Bethlehem and SteelStacks will be one of the major examples of successful planning and placemaking.”

In this new ULI publication, SteelStacks will be referenced in three areas: creative financing, operating strategies, and case studies.

Here’s the kind of thing we’ll find in the case studies section:

Bethlehem SteelStacks transformed the 124-acre site of the Bethlehem Steel Corp. manufacturing plant into an arts and culture campus that helped to revitalize and heal the city of Bethlehem. Operating for a century, the plant had produced steel for the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco and the Chrysler Building in New York City, but it was shuttered when the steel industry moved overseas. The city debated whether to tear down the steel stacks and create something new but decided to restore the treasured historic assets. Residents who mourned the loss of the plant and the jobs it provided embraced the new complex with a sense of pride. The complex’s design now incorporates the steel stacks–a natural gas flame burns along the spine of the 230-foot-high steel sculptures. Financing included a TIF district approved in 2000, which generated over $100 million in TIF revenues through 2018, with over $60 million for infrastructure, amenities, construction, and maintenance, including a visitor center, performance plazas, a trestle restored as a pedestrian walkway and park, and public parking. Over $35 million funded debt service and principal payments for several bond issues and borrowings that will be paid off by 2020. Another $18 million in TIF revenues is anticipated by 2020 from a casino resort. SteelStacks annually attracts 1 million visitors and delivers $55 million to the city. On-going programming is key to attracting visitors and enhancing economic benefits. The project was recognized with a ULI Global Award for Excellence in 2015.

And SteelStacks won a prestigious placemaking-type award, not only acclaim but a $50,000 prize: the Rudy Bruner Gold Award for Urban Excellence.

Thanks for the info, Tony, and more from him on the Stacks and placemaking in the next post.

Still wrestling with Wind Creek

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There are some people with whom you just don’t argue.

One is your barber.

While you are in the chair. Especially for your holiday haircut.

Somehow Wind Creek came up.

And Gadfly stupidly said — as he has said several times in these pages — that the Wind Creek desire to make Bethlehem “the #1 destination in the Northeast” with a waterpark troubles him greatly.

Call him “Mohawk Gadfly” now.

Gadfly has taken somewhat of a beating in circles other than that surrounding the barber pole for holding the negative feeling about Wind Creek’s plan, making remarks about it here, and refusing to automatically genuflect to the Economic Deity.

(After all, he hasn’t even seen any plans or heard any details of the Wind Creek project, so how fair is that feeling?)

And he hasn’t quite been able to articulate why he feels that way. But he’s getting there.

Gadfly has the kind of mind where particles float around looking for a point of coalescence.

Particles like Wind Creek’s #1 destination quote, the goal of Festival UnBound, Dan Church’s line “the city has no jurisdiction over architectural style” (except in the historical districts), the “blending” architecture promoted by the Smith women, a line from one of the Festival UnBound panel members that “it matters who is at the table,” multiple posts and conversations about residents trying to control the quality of life in their neighborhoods, and the  “imploring” letter from the South Bethlehem Historical Society (remember that one?).

Coalescence occurred when a follower recently used the term “creative placemaking,” a term Gadfly had never heard, and a practice fairly new but apparently well known by people who work to shape public spaces, neighborhoods, cities, regions.

Gadfly did some quick google searches. So he’s no expert on “creative placemaking.” But he liked what he was able to glean from some surface reading.

If Gadfly understands “creative placemaking” correctly, artists are instrumental, catalytic in design processes.  And design comes bottom up, design grows out of the community, design is community-led.

Here’s one description of “creative placemaking”:

Creative placemaking refers to the process in which “partners from public, private, non-profit, and community sectors strategically shape the physical and social character of a neighborhood, town, city, or region around arts and cultural activities.” Creative placemaking advocates believe that community development projects benefit from the participation of artists at the onset of projects, and on the planning and design teams that shape our communities. . . . Forget the traditional, staid public meeting format and instead imagine artists engaging community members using multiple languages to generate meaningful dialogues, capturing their creativity and local knowledge to better inform the ultimate design of the project.

Or, again:

Creative placemaking is a process where community member, artists, arts and culture organizations, community developers, and other stakeholders use arts and cultural strategies to implement community-led change.

Wind Creek has bought some space in “our” town and is now going to give “us” a new identity of its own choosing.

(Or at least so it seems. Maybe there was more interactive discussion behind the scenes.)

Gadfly, as your self-appointed and — ha! — maybe self-serving representative resident, feels forced on his back, forearms at right angles, palms facing up, resisting the overpowering and unquestioned weight of economic argument.

Gadfly is soooo dramatic.

Simply put, Wind Creek is telling us what’s good for us.

Gadfly’s having a hard time with that.

It’s not like we are without an identity now.

Steeples and stacks.

It’s not like we cannot evolve a new identity.

That’s what Festival UnBound was all about.

But steeples and stacks and slides?

Gadfly’s learned there was a different way.

What if Wind Creek had engaged in a collaborative process with us of creative placemaking for that several acres in the southeast end of town instead of decreeing our destiny?

When it comes to creating identity, Gadfly would like to participate.


Gadfly’s quick google search on creative placemaking:

American Planning Association

Defining Creative Placemaking (NEA)

Approaches to Creative Placemaking

What is creative placemaking?

Bethlehem, a destination city — but not in the Wind Creek sense

Lepoco 3

This is how we should think of Bethlehem as a destination city.

Not in a Wind Creek sense.

Time for the annual peace walk.

It’s a busy time of year, you say.

Join or leave the walk at three spots along the way.

You don’t have to be “religious.”

Would you join Gadfly again?

Peace matters.

Next Saturday

This is a good time of year to think of donating to LEPOCO, an unsung Bethlehem treasure.

“Once the public dollars are spent, gathering data for monitoring benefit can be like pulling teeth from a crocodile”

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Dana Grubb is a lifelong resident of the City of Bethlehem who worked 27 years for the City of Bethlehem in the department of community and economic development, as sealer of weights and measures, housing rehabilitation finance specialist, grants administrator, acting director of community and economic development, and deputy director of community development.


Having administered many economic development grants in my time with the City, I absolutely agree that performance measurements would be extremely important to determine whether there is actually a benefit to the expenditure of public dollars on economic development projects. Philosophically, I have always taken issue how over time public dollars have evolved from paying for public infrastructure in support of development to actually funding the development itself, which I believe banks should be doing.

Grant applications for state and federal funds generally require that public benefit be measured. How many jobs and what kinds of jobs (salaries?) will be created, how many construction jobs were created, what is the projected increase in taxes, is there any spin-off benefit to other local businesses, etc. are the kinds of projections that can make or break an application for funding assistance.

However, once the public dollars are spent, gathering data for monitoring benefit can be like pulling teeth from a crocodile. Cooperation by businesses isn’t stellar. I also used to wonder whether anybody, particularly elected officials, even cared if that data was gathered. After all, the positive press and political benefit of having delivered a grant is all about re-election and public image of “bringing home the bacon” for politicians. As the City’s grants administrator, my leverage to get data dropped drastically once the money was spent to help a business be constructed. Perhaps that has improved over time, but my cynical side tells me that this kind of business development assistance was more about politics than anything else. It’s kind of like your grocer collecting for a charitable cause at check-out and then touting that they contributed $1 million to some cause. They didn’t, you and I and many others did!. Public dollars belong to us and politicians like to act like Santa Claus with everyone else’s money!

So, Peter’s thought is sound, but I’m not so sure whether the cooperation and/or political will exist to pursue data driven results when public dollars go into business development. At least in days past when public infrastructure was built to support that development, the public had a tangible asset in place such as roads, traffic signals, public utilities, landscaping, and information technology infrastructure.


TIF revisited

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I think you’re maybe confusing TIF and CRIZ.

The taxes that were captured under the TIF were used on public improvements throughout the TIF area. They were not returned to the casino in any fashion.

The end of the TIF is not a loss to Wind Creek, who pay their real estate taxes no matter if there is a TIF or not. When the TIF expires, those taxes will now go to the BASD, COB, and NC.

There was no direct benefit to the casino unless one considers public infrastructure that was built using TIF funding having a spin-off effect.

For example, completion of the Hoover Mason Trestle or SteelStacks using TIF created an attraction that might draw hotel business, restaurant business or gambling clientele to the casino complex.

The end of the TIF simply means that there will no longer be that public funding component to complete projects like those I mentioned earlier.

Dana Grubb

Thanks, Dana!