Wine bar, apart­ments ap­proved to re­place cen­tury-old Beth­le­hem struc­ture

The Morning Call - - LOCAL NEWS - By Ni­cole Radzievich Morn­ing Call re­porter Ni­cole Radzievich can be reached at 610-778-2253 or nmertz @mcall.com.

A cen­tury-old brick struc­ture just out­side Beth­le­hem’s his­toric district would be de­mol­ished to make way for a six-story, mod­ern apart­ment build­ing with a first­floor wine bar, un­der plans the Beth­le­hem Plan­ning Com­mis­sion ap­proved Mon­day.

The $7.5 mil­lion project would put 33 apart­ments a block from his­toric Main Street and around the corner from a sleepy Broad Street block where the shut­tered Boyd Theatre is ex­pected to be re­placed by a $22 mil­lion apart­ment project.

The par­tially va­cant build­ing at 546-48 N. New St., which is in the cen­tral busi­ness district, houses a store, Beth­le­hem Re­cov­ery Cen­ter and pro­fes­sional of­fices.

Bran­don Ben­ner, who is de­vel­op­ing the project with his brother Gar­rett, said the pro­posed build­ing had an “in­vig­o­rat­ing de­sign that would draw peo­ple want­ing to live and spend money down­town.”

“When mod­ern de­sign is ac­tu­ally done right … it not only com­pli­ments it but also en­hances the his­toric ar­chi­tec­ture,” Ben­ner said.

Ben­ner ex­pects to break ground by win­ter. The project needs no zon­ing re­lief.

Vot­ing for the project were Rob Melosky, Joy Co­hen and Louis Stel­lato. Plan­ning Com­mis­sion mem­ber Matthew Malozi re­cused him­self.

Co­hen ap­plauded the project for bring­ing more peo­ple to Cen­ter City Beth­le­hem.

“I think the de­sign is go­ing to el­e­vate the ar­chi­tec­ture in the sur­round­ing ’70s-de­signed build­ings in the fu­ture,” Co­hen said. “I think this will in­fuse a lot of ex­cite­ment in the area.”

But the scale and de­sign didn’t sit well with a cou­ple res­i­dents in the au­di­ence. Not­ing the close prox­im­ity to the his­toric ar­chi­tec­ture for which Beth­le­hem is her­alded, Kim Car­rell-Smith ques­tioned the wis­dom of re­plac­ing a “dig­ni­fied twin that was built around 1900” with a “glass and metal lux­ury high-rise apart­ment.”

“Although per­haps ap­pro­pri­ate for other com­mu­ni­ties and maybe other places in Beth­le­hem, it’s not in keep­ing with what makes Beth­le­hem’s down­town area, whether South Side or North Side, a unique and ap­peal­ing place,” she said. “I’m kind of baf­fled by the gross mis­char­ac­ter­i­za­tion that this mod­ern build­ing fits into the his­toric district down­town and com­pli­ments it.”

The project is be­ing de­signed by SITIO ar­chi­tec­ture. That’s the same Philadel­phia firm that is de­sign­ing Sky­line West, an mod­ern apart­ment project that is re­plac­ing an early 20th cen­tury res­i­dence in the his­toric district on West Broad Street over­look­ing the Colo­nial In­dus­trial Quar­ter. The Ben­ners also are in­volved in that project.

Un­der the apart­ment project pro­posed on North New Street, the Ben­ners agreed to up­grade pedes­trian im­prove­ments, re­time traf­fic lights and use the Wal­nut Street park­ing garage for park­ing. A right-hand turn lane on New Street also would be elim­i­nated.

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