Work begins on $9M Bethlehem Works Preview Center

BETHLEHEM -- With a sledgehammer in one hand and a check in the other, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge recently helped knock down part of an old Bethlehem Steel building that will become the new Preview Center for the National Museum of Industrial History, and he presented a $4.5 million check to make the center a reality.

The National Museum of Industrial History is affiliated with the Smithsonian Institution and is the cornerstone of the $450 million Bethlehem Works Project on Bethlehem's south side -- the largest land-recycling project in America.

This project was enabled when the state's general assembly approved Ridge's plan to raise the cap on the capital budget's redevelopment assistance fund by $650 million for vital community and economic development projects statewide.

After serving nearly 140 years as an iron and steelmaking site, the Bethlehem Steel facility, on 1,800 acres of land, closed in 1995.

Envisioned as a public-private partnership to restore economic and social vitality to Bethlehem's south side, the site will be transformed into a mixed-use, urban destination center that is expected to help invigorate the local economy with new jobs, investments, tax revenues, services and entertainment.

The Bethlehem site has been divided into two parcels -- Bethlehem Works (about 160 acres) and the Bethlehem Commerce Center (about 1,600 acres).

The National Museum of Industrial History, will serve as the anchor for Bethlehem Works.

The $9 million Preview Center will serve as the museum's base of operations during the planning and construction stages of the main museum.

The agreement between the Smithsonian and Bethlehem Steel is the first in the Smithsonian's nationwide affiliates program to share its collections with institutions across America. The Smithsonian said the long-term loans of objects will allow it to fulfill its goal of becoming a truly national institution.

An adaptive recycling program planned for the project includes the reusing of almost 2 million square feet of building space, some dating back to the 1870s, as well as five blast furnaces, an elevated train truss and an ore bridge to serve as icons of the site's industrial past.

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