In 2002 the City of Bethlehem and Community Action Development Corporation of Bethlehem (CADC-B) embarked on a 10-year mission to revitalize the neighborhoods of South Bethlehem. The guiding master plan, South Side Vision 2012 (now Southside Vision 2014), is an action plan for physical, economic and community development. It originated as a companion to the Southside Bethlehem Master Plan completed in 2001, which focused on strategies for commercial development in the core retail and commercial district of south Bethlehem adjacent to Lehigh University.
Create a strong open space network
Concentrate new commercial and retail establishments on the existing commercial areas of East Fourth Street
Improve the gateways leading into Bethlehem, especially the Eastern Gateway
Create new and improve existing parking opportunities
Encourage home ownership and home improvement
Develop positive recreational activities for youth
Since the origination of the Southside vision 2012 plan, much has changed in South Bethlehem. The Southside has experienced a renaissance, with major development projects such as the Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem, ArtsQuest’s SteelStacks and Lehigh Valley Industrial Parks VII campus. Public/private partnerships and hard work have enabled us to attain many of our Southside Vision 2012 initiatives including a new greenway and a new skate plaza, and charming streetscapes linking all of these together.
The Southside energy is palpable here; there is no doubt south Bethlehem is now an exciting urban destination. Our present challenge is how to enhance the Eastern Gateway, which is not only a primary entrance to the City and all of these projects, but an ethnically diverse residential neighborhood. We want a strategy to integrate components of the original Southside Vision plan – possibilities for reuse of buildings and land, parking challenges, youth recreation, and suggestions for concentrated commercial establishments. But we need these to be combined with new concepts for marketing the neighborhood, suggestions for and renderings of possible streetscape amenities, and signage and wayfinding ideas to fit our new identity.
The Eastern Gateway in Context
An entrance to South Bethlehem, the Eastern Gateway is a gateway from all sides for visitors arriving from the east, it is a gateway to the residential and commercial core of South Bethlehem, including the Four Blocks International area; for locals, it is a gateway to the future development and jobs of the Lehigh Valley Industrial Park (LVIP) to the east; the academic community of Lehigh University and the wooded slopes of South Mountain to the south; and the entertainment and arts district of the Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem (Sands) and the SteelStacks complex (on the former Bethlehem Steel site) to the north.
In addition, it is a local and regional transportation connector with easy access to I-78 and the developing South Bethlehem Greenway, which will eventually connect the regional recreation and green space networks. What all this tells us is that the Eastern Gateway is not just a gateway for any one group or location, but rather it has the potential to be the node at the center of these diverse and growing activities and communities. It is a crossroads – physically, socially, culturally, and economically – more than a gateway to any one thing.
The Eastern Gateway is also a gateway in more than just the physical sense. The entire Southside neighborhood itself, has and continues to function as a “gateway” community. Whether we are talking about steel workers arriving in Bethlehem from overseas at the turn of the last century, students arriving to attend Lehigh University, or new workers arriving to staff the SteelStacks complex or filling tech jobs in the growing Lehigh Valley Industrial Park, the area has, for generations, been a community of opportunity, where people arrive in Bethlehem. Now new arrivals mix with families who have lived in the Southside for generations, creating a vibrant and dynamic, historically rich community culture in the Southside. This is the community that development in the Eastern Gateway must serve.
The Eastern Gateway Vision Plan
The Eastern Gateway Vision Study was selected as Bethlehem’s component of the Regional Sustainability Plan because it addresses an area of the city that is currently in a critical time period of transition. The Study addresses opportunities for more transportation choices, includes market analysis to determine the neighborhood’s market potential and competitiveness, analyzes and promotes the area’s opportunities for infill housing units that meet neighborhood need and ties the neighborhood goals and objectives to those of the surrounding development. The Vision Study was supported by substantial public input. It is clear that the heart of the Eastern Gateway is the people themselves. It is the community’s desires for a long-term vibrant and viable community that drives this vision.
On top of the visioning study already conducted, the City of Bethlehem will host additional opportunities for community input to maintain the dialogue with residents. Bethlehem's consultants have developed rough draft plans and visuals for the Greenway connections, Route 412 improvements in the Eastern Gateway, and for the entrance to the Skate Plaza. Additionally, consultants have been conducting a market study for parcels of land in the Eastern Gateway. A rough draft of the report will be available this summer. On Tuesday, June 18th, a public meeting was hosted with the consultants working on this piece of the project-- the RBA Group. The meeting gave the public a look at renderings of the plans for the Eastern Gateway, including improvements to Route 412, the Skate Plaza, and the surrounding area. View their full presentation and get a look at the renderings here
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An Emerging Vision
The South Bethlehem Eastern Gateway is an active, dynamic, lively public space that serves as a hub – not just a gateway – of the City of Bethlehem. It reflects the Southside’s history, culture, and community and builds on its physical landscape and infrastructure. The Eastern Gateway is a strong neighborhood-oriented mixed-use district that serves existing and new residents, employees, and other stakeholders wishing to take part and invest in the long-term success of the neighborhood.