Workers Tuesday started a third construction phase for a national museum that would display American industrial artifacts, including equipment from the heyday of Bethlehem Steel.
Though the project got stalled numerous times, the National Museum of Industrial History in South Side Bethlehem is again starting up. The museum is on East Second Street not far from Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem and SteelStacks at ArtsQuest.
Earlier this year, a Northampton County grand jury report called for the Pennsylvania state attorney general to investigate the museum board’s handling of the finances for the museum project. The museum board is still waiting to hear from the attorney general, said Charles Marcon, museum board chairman and interim president/CEO.
“The district attorney report took almost two years, and the attorney general was given the task the last week in January,” Marcon said this morning. “We can finish this project and complete it without hearing from the attorney general, but we will not start Phase IV until we hear from the attorney general.”
The fourth part of the project involves the completion of the interior. The entire museum is expected to open in early 2016, Marcon said.
Workers for Bean Inc. of Easton are doing excavation work, underground utility work and preparing the site for pouring the concrete slab. Alvin H. Butz Inc. of Allentown is supervising construction, Marcon said.
The museum has space in a warehouse on Roble Road in Hanover Township, Lehigh County, where it stores some of the large equipment and artifacts it would like to take to the museum.
Planned exhibits include steel, machinery and textiles and an exhibit on how propane is made, Marcon said.
“We have been working on it for a long time,” he said. “A lot of people have donated time and money; there is a lot of support.”
With the former Bethlehem Steel property, which includes the casino and SteelStacks, becoming more of a destination, Marcon sees the industrial museum as an important project for the city that will highlight national industries.
“People travel to see things in Bethlehem, and we think this adds to what Bethlehem already has,” he said.
While the building is two stories, the museum does not have money to finance construction work for the second floor, Marcon said.
The museum has raised about $6 million in commitments and cash for the project’s third and fourth parts, which are expected to cost $6.5 million for all of the fit-out and exhibit work, Marcon said.
The Redevelopment Authority of the City of Bethlehem had been planning to contribute funding in the form of tax increment financing toward the project, but that has been put on hold, according to Tony Hanna, executive director of the authority.
“We are not releasing any funding nor are we discussing any financing for the museum until after the attorney general issues her report,” Hanna said. “We’ve put that on hold pending the outcome of the report.”
The project has been in the works for more than 15 years, with the National Museum of Industrial History incorporating in the early 2000s, Marcon said.
David Scott Parker Architects LLC of Southport, Conn., working with area engineering firms, developed the design and construction documents.
Previous construction phases included a new roof and exterior restoration and the installation of more than 200 windows.
The combined value of those two phases was about $2.5 million.
The fifth and final phase would include installation of exhibits and the entrance plaza.