Initial 102,000 square foot redevelopment of Martin Tower as Tower Place undergoes public review

The first phase of Martin Tower’s redevelopment in so-called Tower Place was 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 been vacant since 2007 following the bankruptcy and closure of its parent company.

Owners Lewis D. Ronca and Norton Herrick are proposing an initial redevelopment of the nearly 53-acre site into 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 need to approve before construction can begin, said the city’s director of planning and zoning, Darlene Heller.

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

When fully developed, the site is expected to provide an additional 85,000 square feet of general office space, a 24,000 square foot grocery store, a 5,585 square foot convenience store/gas station with 16 refueling pumps, 6 500 square-foot restaurant, 130-room hotel and 312 mid-rise apartments, according to the LVPC notice.

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

Martin Tower, opened in 1972 as the world headquarters of Bethlehem Steel Corp., is detonated by explosives on Sunday, May 19, 2019, to clear the site at Eighth and Eaton Avenues in West Bethlehem for mixed-use redevelopment. Tim Wynkoop | contributor lehighvalleylive.comTim Wynkoop | contributor lehighvalleylive.com

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

Among the committee’s comments approved Thursday without dissent were that the site’s sidewalks should be connected to the complex through parking lots; outdoor seating should be included in the design for patients and staff in medical buildings; charging stations for electric vehicles should be integrated into the site, as well as bicycle racks; and that due to nearby forests along Monocacy Creek, “the LVPC strongly encourages the use of environmentally sustainable practices throughout the development process to protect this area”.

The full review letter from the commission is available at lvpc.org.

LVPC Chairman Steven Glickman criticized developers going through Bethlehem City Council for a series of zoning changes passed for the property in 2021 rather than looking for discrepancies between the city’s zoning hearing board and the site’s existing development regulations.

There was no discussion of a timeline for the start of construction.

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Kurt Bresswein can be reached at [email protected].

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