Initial 102K-square-foot redevelopment of Martin Tower as Tower Place gets public review

The first phase of Martin Tower’s redevelopment into what’s being called Tower Place were reviewed Thursday night by the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission.

Martin Tower at 1170 Eighth Ave. in Bethlehem was the headquarters of the former Bethlehem Steel Corp., built in 1972 and imploded in 2019 after having sat vacant since 2007 following the bankruptcy and closure of its parent company.

Property owners Lewis D. Ronca and Norton Herrick propose an initial redevelopment of the nearly 53-acre site as two three-story medical office buildings, parking and associated facilities totaling 101,821 square feet.

The redevelopment plan has not been scheduled for review by the Bethlehem Planning Commission, which will have to sign off before construction can begin, said city Planning and Zoning Director Darlene Heller.

The Lehigh Valley Planning Commission received the development plans Aug. 3 for review in an advisory capacity to aid Bethlehem officials. The plans break down into two medical office buildings, of 60,827 square feet and 38,339 square feet.

At full development, the site is projected to give rise to an additional 85,000 square feet of general office space, a 24,000-square-foot grocery store, 5,585-square-foot convenience store/gas station with 16 vehicle fueling pumps, 6,500-square -foot restaurant, 130-room hotel and 312 mid-rise apartments, according to the LVPC’s review.

The full mixed-used project is estimated to generate 13,983 weekday vehicle trips, the planning commission said.

Martin Tower, opened in 1972 as global headquarters of Bethlehem Steel Corp., is felled by explosives Sunday, May 19, 2019, to clear the site at Eighth and Eaton avenues in West Bethlehem for a mixed-used redevelopment. Tim Wynkoop | lehighvalleylive.com contributorTim Wynkoop | lehighvalleylive.com contributor

According to the LVPC review, the project aligns with regional goals of land reuse/redevelopment in urban areas.

Among the commission’s comments approved Thursday without dissent were that the site’s sidewalks should tie into the complex across the parking lots; outdoor seating should be included in the design for both patients and staff of the medical buildings; electric vehicle charging stations should be integrated into the site, along with bicycle racks; and that due to nearby woodlands along the Monocacy Creek, “the LVPC strongly encourages that environmentally sustainable practices be employed throughout the development process to protect this area.”

The commission’s full review letter is available at lvpc.org.

LVPC Chairman Steven Glickman was critical of the developers going through Bethlehem City Council for a series of zoning changes adopted for the property in 2021 rather than seeking variances from the city’s zoning hearing board from the site’s existing development regulations.

There was no discussion of a timeline for construction to begin.

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Kurt Bresswein may be reached at [email protected].

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