Old buildings get new life in Bethlehem

By - Last modified: March 28, 2014 at 10:41 AM

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The Dodson Building is under renovation on New Street in Bethlehem.
The Dodson Building is under renovation on New Street in Bethlehem. - (Photo By Brian Pedersen)

Two urban buildings constructed in the early 1900s in Bethlehem show that old structures still can have fresh uses.

With adaptive reuse projects, old buildings are repurposed, renovated and redesigned for new uses, rather than demolished.

Commercial Real Estate Women Network Lehigh Valley, an organization of professionals in real estate, architecture, banking and various other industries, hosted a program Thursday at the Farr's Building to show how two adaptive reuse projects are promoting the increased movement of people looking to live and work in a downtown environment.

Attendees took a tour of apartments in the Farr's Building at Broad and New streets in Bethlehem's downtown, an adaptive reuse project completed in 2012 with just one vacancy, followed by a tour of the Dodson Building, which is under renovation a block away on New Street.

The Farr's building is finding new life as an apartment building with street level retail, said Christa Kraftician, director at large for CREW Lehigh Valley board and a principal at Spillman Farmer Architects in Bethlehem. The Dodson Building is nearing completion and will include 21 one- and two-bedroom apartment units.

Anthony Scarcia, president of Allied Building Corp. in Bethlehem, developer of the Dodson Building and provider of construction services for the renovation of the Farr's Building, said work should be finished by June 1.

The Dodson Building is four stories and will have a two-bedroom penthouse unit on top, said Amy Pektor, sales/leasing agent for ALR Realty in Bethlehem. The Dodson Building has a waiting list of about 30 people, she said.

As with any adaptive reuse project, "you have to make sure the building is structurally sound."

APPEAL OF THE DOWNTOWN

Location is one of the primary advantages of doing adaptive reuse projects in urban environments, Scarcia said.

"There is just so much appeal for all age groups to be in Downtown Bethlehem," Scarcia said. "We probably have a 30-year age difference in people living here in the Farr's Building."

The former shoe store building was out of service for many years. Since it is a four-story building with a basement, it was a good candidate for adaptive reuse, he added.

Scarcia said the marketing plan for the project consisted of putting a small poster in the window. Now, all but one of the apartment units are leased. Merchants Bank moved into the street level space last year, and the site still has an adjacent commercial/retail space available fronting New Street.

COST, SPACE CHALLENGES

Sometimes, demolition is necessary with adaptive reuse, in addition to abatement work, Scarcia said.

The cost of renovation is not cheap with adaptive reuse, and developers are constrained by the existing facility.

With the two building projects, Allied faced challenges in putting in new sprinkler systems, in addition to new water and electrical lines. In the Dodson Building, some tenants had to be relocated, he added. With both buildings, workers had to deal with sinkholes.

UNEARTHING HISTORY

However, the pros far outweigh the cons in adaptive reuse as hidden parts of history are revealed.

As an example, Scarcia recounted a story of how during the adaptive reuse process, workers found a beam signed about 80 years ago by workers who built the original building.

"Unearthing what's hidden behind the walls is really interesting with adaptive reuse," he said.

For both buildings, the workers replaced all windows, bought each building up to code and made them Americans with Disabilities Act accessible.

The exterior of the Farr's Building is terra cotta block with a faux finish, he said.

Allied Building Corp. added green techniques and fixtures to the building, Scarcia said.

RETURN TO THE CITY

Joel Nathan Rosen, associate professor of sociology at Moravian College in Bethlehem, spoke about the "romance of city life" and the idea that more people are looking to move back into an urban environment.

"We are seeing a dramatic return," Rosen said. "There's a great vibrancy in city life that you don't have in the suburbs."

While he said there is nothing wrong with suburbs, many developments tend to look homogenized, where everything looks the same, he said.

"I think we've outgrown the homogenization of the suburbs. I think what we are seeing more and more, [is] we're reclaiming the cities as a place people want to go," Rosen said.

The program ended with a reception at Edge Restaurant at 74 W. Broad St. in Bethlehem.

Brian Pedersen

Brian Pedersen

Reporter Brian Pedersen covers construction, development, warehousing and real estate and keeps you up to date on the changing landscape of our community. He can be reached at brianp@lvb.com or 610-807-9619, ext. 108. Follow him on Twitter @BrianLehigh and read his blog, “Can You Dig It,” at http://www.lvb.com/section/can-you-dig-it.

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