Monday, December 18, 2006

Southside Bethlehem visitors center planned, if casino comes

At the foot of the old Bethlehem Steel furnaces, Bethlehem is planning a visitors center that would tell the city's story and orient tourists with cultural and entertainment offerings if a casino is built at the old Steel site.

Kiosks for attractions like the proposed National Museum of Industrial History and SteelStax concert hall would dot the inside of the 7,600-square-foot center, while space would be set aside for films, a souvenir shop, refreshments and restrooms.

Community leaders say the center, on par with what one may find at a federal park, would capture tourists who come for gambling and introduce them to other cultural opportunities in the area, such as the Moravian Industrial Quarter north of the Lehigh River or the America on Wheels Museum in Allentown.

''This makes an awful lot of sense,'' Bethlehem Mayor John Callahan said. ''This is a stop where people can get a quick look at the history of our city and everything that it has to offer.''

The city has been working on the visitors center plan for three or four months. It is still too early in the planning stages to attach a price tag, Callahan said.

Michael Perrucci, of BethWorks Now, developing the Steel land around the casino, said the visitors center is a deal he readily wanted to make because it helps the various components of the project work together.

The center would be housed in the stock house, the oldest building on the Bethlehem Steel site. Built around 1863, the building once was used by the Bethlehem Iron Co.

Jeff Parks, president of ArtsQuest, said the visitors center project would help the other cultural components to help one another.

''This will preserve the old building, interpret the city's history and show everything that the city has to offer,'' said Parks. ''This is an ideal use.''

More here.

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