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Bethlehem's long-dormant movie theater slated for $22M apartment and retail project

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A developer plans to transform the long-shuttered Boyd Theatre on West Broad Street in Bethlehem into a project with upscale apartments and new retail space.
A developer plans to transform the long-shuttered Boyd Theatre on West Broad Street in Bethlehem into a project with upscale apartments and new retail space. - (Photo / )

Bethlehem's long-shuttered Boyd Theatre may find fresh life as a $22 million apartment project with new retail space.

Owner Charles Jefferson, partner of Jefferson-Werner LLC, plans to use the federal opportunity zone program to help fund the project. He wants to build up to 120 market-rate units in a multi-story structure with retail space on the first floor.

As a tax incentive enacted under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act that earned approval in 2017, the zones encourage investment in urban areas beyond city centers.

Bethlehem has five opportunity zone tracts, including the Boyd property on West Broad Street.

These sites include areas that are seeing some economic development activity and others in need of revitalization. The program gives investors breaks on federal capital gains taxes in exchange for investments that support small businesses and housing projects in low-income areas. Jefferson tentatively named this project after its address, 32 West.

If built, the entire project would cover 147,800 square feet, with potentially eight total floors, he said. The project would feature two floors fronting the street and possibly eight toward the rear, which would include lower level parking, retail, and apartments above, Jefferson said.

Jefferson, who bought the Boyd property in 2016, estimated that construction could begin in the fall. However, he has yet to present plans to the city, which gave the property a blighted designation a few years ago.

That section of the city’s North Side has been problematic for retailers. A stretch of once-occupied spaces have vacated along Broad Street thanks to the faulty roof of the Boyd Theatre, which caused water leakage that wiped out several retailers.

However, Jefferson feels the opportunity zone legislation offers a catalyst for fixing the site and finally redeveloping the property.

“The Boyd will rely heavily on opportunity zone funds to be successful,” Jefferson said. “We already have our investor lined up for that. I think it’s a key location.”

Brinker Lofts is another opportunity zone project underway on the city’s South Side.

Last year, Ondra-Huyett Associates Inc. of Upper Macungie Township began renovating a former cold storage building on Adams Street between Third and Fourth streets into a residential project. Jefferson’s firm is also developing this project, which will become 30 market-rate apartments with a courtyard and a retail space, with construction expected to finish in June.

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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. 4108. 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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