As the demolition is nearing for Bethlehem’s Martin Tower, the former headquarters of Bethlehem Steel, reality is setting in within the community.
After a decade of efforts to preserve the tower, some feel upset that the tower will come down, but have come to terms with the decision.
“I think that public opinion, perhaps the majority, is that it’s too bad it can’t be preserved, and I’m saddened by it too, but a lot of us are also realistic about the cost of redevelopment and the marketplace,” said Tony Hanna, executive director of the Bethlehem Redevelopment Authority.
Lynn Cunningham, the senior vice president of the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce, said she was surprised at how many community members she’s heard from who feel it’s time to move on and make progress on the property site.
But Lynn acknowledged that the controversy lies in if people believe the community and developers have exhausted all options to preserve the tower, or if they think that more initiatives could have been made. She said in issues like the demolition of Martin Tower, there will always be mixed responses from community members.
Stefanie Aranyos of Allentown has led preservation efforts since 2013 through her Facebook page, “Save Martin Tower.”
“For some people, (Martin Tower is) just very sentimental,” Aranyos said. “I had people tell me that it was the best place they worked. They knew the best people in there. I talked to one woman that met her husband there. Then for other people, the building is a landmark to them.”
But again, that resignation from regional officials bounces back.
“I mean, we don’t like things to change,” said Don Cunningham, president and CEO of the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation. “We don’t like things to look any different. The reality is, the whole world’s changing every day and it’s always looking different.”
Bill Kelly, a former Bethlehem and U.S. Steel employee, said the tower is already gone, whether it stands or not. Because Bethlehem Steel is no longer around, Kelly views the tower as being gone as well.
Aranyos looks at the 42-year-old tower through a historical lens. She said she has gotten comments on the Facebook page asking why the city is tearing down a piece of history.
“When it’s gone, it’s gone,” Aranyos said. “You can’t get it back.”
But Don has a different take on the tower’s significance, highlighting the historical debate of the issue. The real history of Bethlehem Steel, he said, was made in the building on Third Street, while the Martin Tower was just the company’s last headquarters when it was beginning its decline.
The original headquarters are a part of the Bethlehem Steel Stacks tour, and the building on Third Street is vacant with no plans to remodel or demolish. Don said he feels as if there is no better way to represent Bethlehem Steel’s history than through the protection the Steel Stacks complex receives.
“We already have an ode to Bethlehem Steel in the city of Bethlehem, and its those blast furnaces on the South Side,” he said.
Hanna said the Martin Tower does stand for something, but nothing that the city or the former steel giant should be proud of.
“(Martin Tower) was a symbol of everything that went wrong with corporate America,” Hanna said. “The design was full of corporate hubris with lots of wasted core space and no thought that the building would be anything other than the world headquarters for Bethlehem Steel.”