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