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Study to determine feasibility of convention center in Bethlehem

By Jaccii Farris, Reporter, JFarris@wfmz.com
Published On: Nov 14 2012 06:00:00 PM CST
Updated On: Nov 16 2012 05:22:21 AM CST

Each year, Hershey hosts a number of conventions that bring in big bucks for the local economy.

BETHLEHEM, Pa. -

Each year, the town of Hershey hosts a number of conventions that bring in big bucks for the local economy. Now, Bethlehem wants a piece of the pie.

The Bethlehem Redevelopment Authority got a $50,000 grant from Northampton County to ask for proposals on a feasibility study.

Mayor John Callahan said he is confident the former steel site is perfect.

"There is a market for a major exposition and convention center here in the Lehigh Valley. We believe that we have the perfect location for one," said Callahan, adding that bringing a 100,000 to 200,000 square-foot convention and exposition center to the former steel site is a no-brainer.

The $50,000 grant, paid for by county hotel taxes, will do three things: Identify possible locations on the former steel site, determine the appropriate size and configuration of the facility, and determine how much it will cost.

Lehigh Valley leaders said the benefits would outweigh that cost.

"Our location in the Lehigh Valley, with being within 100 miles of 31 million people, really has a huge impact on our ability to draw audiences," said Michael Stershic, of Discover Lehigh Valley.

"These are people who don't come and live here. They come and visit. When they visit, they spend money. When they spend money, it benefits all of us," said Northampton County Executive John Stoffa.

This will be the second feasibility study on the site. Earlier this year, a study began on a walkway using the Hoover-Mason train trestle to connect the Sands Casino and the ArtsQuest SteelStacks campus.

Should the convention and exposition center come to fruition, Callahan said it would be privately owned and operated, but tax money, set aside to attract new business, could be used for infrastructure improvements.

The proposals are due back by December 13. Bethlehem officials said they hope to have a company picked in January and the study completed by the end of the first quarter of 2013.