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Bethlehem Steel re-developer looks for tax incentive extension

By Kevin Lechiski, WFMZ.com Reporter, news@wfmz.com
Published On: Nov 07 2012 10:19:49 PM CST
LOWER SAUCON TWP., Pa. -

The re-developer of a 441-acre section of the former Bethlehem Steel property along the Bethlehem-Lower Saucon Township border is looking to gain momentum with the completion of Crayola’s 800,000-square-foot distribution center.

Majestic Realty Co., which is looking to ultimately redevelop around 7 million square feet of space in eight buildings into an inter-modal business park, announced during Wednesday night’s Lower Saucon Township Council meeting that the Crayola facility will be finished in a matter of days.

In an effort to continue this momentum, Majestic asked the Township Council to join into an inter-municipal partnership to renew a recently-expired tax incentive program in which the new property  tax assessments of the improved buildings are gradually phased in over a 10-year period.

Since the 441-acre Majestic Bethlehem Center site includes 26 acres in Lower Saucon Township, Majestic needs the approval of the municipal governing bodies and school boards of both Bethlehem and Lower Saucon, as well as County Council, for the entire site to be eligible for incentives under the state Local Economic Revitalization Tax Assistance Act (LERTA).

Joe Kelly, Bethlehem’s Director of Community and Economic Development, told Lower Saucon officials that LERTA provides an excellent incentive to revitalize post-industrial sites, without municipalities and school districts being asked to forfeit the existing property taxes, as is often the case under other state-permitted redevelopment programs.

“LERTA is the most fiscally responsible tool to redevelop underutilized properties and expand a community’s industrial tax base,” Kelly said.

Kelly said the City of Bethlehem and Saucon School District have already endorsed the LERTA extension.

The Lower Saucon Council agreed to draft a resolution of support to be voted on during its Nov. 19 meeting.

Kelly said the Bethlehem School Board and County Council will soon be approached for approval.

Sandy’s impacts noted

During Wednesday night’s meeting, Township Manager Jack Cahalan noted the impacts of Hurricane Sandy on Lower Saucon. He said while no major injuries and very little flooding were reported, the township was plagued with downed trees and extensive power outages.

At one point, Cahalan said, more than 14,000 PPL customers did not have power. More than 30 roads were closed as a result of downed trees, and many other roads closed due to low-hanging utility wires. Trees fell into about 10 homes, he said.

New access to Rail Trail

Thanks to grant funding, Lower Saucon Township will have an access point to the Saucon Rail Trail biking/hiking system, Cahalan announced during Wednesday night’s meeting.

Currently, the closest access point is in neighboring Hellertown.

The 2.2-acre Lower Saucon access project is expected to include a 14-space parking lot and several amenities including a bathroom, picnic tables and water fountain.