Wind Creek Ok’ed for $90M-Plus Hotel Expansion, But Steel Relic Will Have to Go
Wind Creek Bethlehem's planned 270-room hotel tower attached to the existing hotel and event center is seen in an artistic rendering. Its brick facade was inspired by the site's industrial roots as the Bethlehem Works of the former Bethlehem Steel Corp. TVS Design Wind Creek Bethlehem got the city’s go-ahead Thursday for a new 13-story hotel tower connected to its existing hotel, with a newly upscale entrance and lobby unifying the two sides.
The Bethlehem Planning Commission gave unanimous approval to the project, described as an investment north of $90 million by Brian Carr, executive vice president and general manager of the casino property.
Construction is scheduled to begin in April and wrap up by the end of 2021. The expansion includes 270 new rooms, for 553 keys total between the new and existing hotel towers; 35,200 square feet of meeting space; a 5,400-square-foot bar off the lobby; 6,424-square-foot pool beside a fitness center on the second floor; 24,000-square-foot ballroom; and 11,600-square-foot spa spanning the top floor, just above the suite level of guest rooms.
Reaching 172 feet tall, its scale will match that of the existing hotel. For comparison, the Minsi Trail Bridge that bisects the Wind Creek Bethlehem property will pass around the fifth or sixth floor. The brick High House that remains from the site's Bethlehem Steel Corp. history is seven stories, and will remain in place under the plan.
The expansion is planned north of the existing hotel and Wind Creek Event Center. The plans approved by the city call for expanding and revising the access road running along the outlet stores and existing hotel/event center off Daly Avenue on the city's Southside.
Those revisions will require removing a relic from the site’s use as the Bethlehem Works of Bethlehem Steel. The current access road was built with a traffic circle around a hydraulic press that is sunk 30 feet into the ground, and which would have been damaged if it was moved, Carr said.
It has to be moved now, and if not now, down the road when Wind Creek builds a planned parking garage or redevelops the sprawling No. 2 Machine Shop, Carr said. The press is damaged already, with cracks big enough to put your hand in, and is likely to be further damaged as it's removed, Carr said.
"At this point we're anticipating it's not going to be able to be preserved," said Denis Kennan, the project engineer.
Kara Mohsinger, president and CEO of the nearby National Museum of Industrial History that occupies an old Steel electrical shop, asked that every effort be made to preserve the press. It was built around 1887 to apply 7,000 tons of force to bend armor and is the oldest surviving press of its type, Mohsinger said. It weighs about 255 tons, said Glenn Koehler, spokesman for the museum.
The planning commission's approval memorializes that the city is interested in preserving the press. Carr emphasized Wind Creek is glad to donate it to the museum, and committed to reasonable efforts to remove it.
Wind Creek is looking for approval to add the hotel expansion to Bethlehem's City Revitalization and Improvement Zone. Within the tax-incentive zone, property owners can use certain future state and local taxes -- including sales and liquor -- created by development projects to pay off construction loans.
The Bethlehem Revitalization and Improvement Authority administers the zone and said earlier this month the project qualifies for the CRIZ, which applies to a limited area of the city under state law. Approval is still subject to a public hearing being scheduled for spring to transfer to this project 2.3 acres of the zone currently applied to a parking lot serving the nearby ArtsQuest Center at SteelStacks campus.
The tax incentive allows Wind Creek to up the wow factor of the hotel expansion, officials said during a news conference ahead of the CRIZ authority’s preliminary approval.
Guests will arrive along the expanded and revised access road under a four-lane porte-cochère. Plans also call for new trees and other landscaping and lighting, as well as an improved pedestrian crossing from the Wind Creek surface lots to the hotel, event center, outlets and casino.
"Everything we are touching we're improving," said Kennan, the engineer.
Because the expansion is being built upon parking lots, Wind Creek is losing 286 spaces. But the site's parking space total of 4,451 after construction will still exceed the 4,287 required by the city.
Wind Creek Hospitality, a company owned by the Alabama-based Poarch Band of Creek Indians, bought the property from Las Vegas Sands Corp. in May 2019 for $1.4 billion. Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem had opened opened May 22, 2009.
By Kurt Bresswein | For lehighvalleylive.com
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