Plans to expand the Historic Hotel Bethlehem are being reconsidered and could increase patronage of the city by 70,000 people.
Alex Karras, the chief of staff to Bethlehem Mayor Bob Donchez, said the project aims to make the hotel the premier convention center in the Lehigh Valley.
The hotel owners proposed a plan to build a 460-spot parking garage, topped with four stories of conference rooms and an estimated 200 more guest rooms. For the project to come to fruition, it first needs approval from the Bethlehem Revitalization and Improvement Authority, or BRIA.
As someone who used to live and now works in Bethlehem, Karras thinks the project will draw people into the city. She said the increase in hotel rooms will increase the number of people walking Main Street, who can then walk across the bridge and patronage stores.
After reviewing the proposal, BRIA set three conditions for the project to be approved.
First, it needs land development approval and must be reviewed by traffic, engineering, fire, planning and zoning committees. The project must also provide at least 50 public parking spaces made available 300 days of the year because of the deficiency of public parking on historic Main Street.
Lastly, the financial investors involved in the project must have sufficient funding to complete the project by the time the state supplies designation and tax incentives.
Once these requirements are fulfilled, the project managers of Hotel Bethlehem must submit drawings of the expansion to city officials and the historic and agriculture boards for approval.
“(The expansion would give) people the opportunity to come and spend the night on Main Street,” said Alicia Miller, the executive director of BRIA. “It’s not every day that you have the opportunity to spend the evening on a historic main street like we have in the city of Bethlehem.”
The project is also an exciting prospect for local businesses. More foot traffic from the Hotel Bethlehem and around Main Street could bring more attention to shops and restaurants in the area.
“Anything that will bring more people to our city is definitely beneficial,” said Lisa Girard, the general manager of the Moravian Bookstore. “It also is going to provide some parking for the south end of the Main Street which will help in that area as well, especially to draw traffic to our store down here across from the hotel.”
The proposed project, however, raises the question of whether the hotel will be able to maintain its historic roots.
Samantha Fynn, ’20, said the project could make it more difficult to maintain the historic roots of both the hotel and the surrounding area.
“There’s a fine line to walk of expanding and opening opportunities for the city,” Flynn said, “and also keeping it true to its unique history and background.”