Banana Factory’s expansion Preliminary plan divides project into four phases
ArtsQuest representatives approached the Bethlehem Historic Conservation Commission Sept. 12 for input on plans to dramatically alter the block of buildings that make up the Banana Factory Arts & Education Center at the Sept. 17 meeting. ArtsQuest CEO Kassie Hilgert, MKSD architect Todd Chambers, and Joe Klocek of Boyle Construction provided the board with a detailed presentation on the project for 25 West Third St.
The proposal calls for the demolition of five of the six buildings in the complex and construction of a new four-story structure on the site of the current plaza and parking lot. The representatives explained that the programming the organization provides has outgrown the facilities. Instead of relocating elsewhere, they said ArtsQuest is determined to remain there in order to serve the needs of the nearby community.
The preliminary plans for expansion involve dividing the project into four phases.
Phase 1 would be the demolition of a circa 1885 brick house that faces Third Street, and the contemporary infill structure built in 2000 that connects it to the other buildings in the complex. The house’s decorative front door, door surround, entry roof and supporting brackets would be salvaged for reuse.
Phase 2 is when the new facilities are constructed in the parking lot and plaza area.
Phase 3 would begin after the new building is occupied. Once vacated, the original circa 1920s three-story red brick and structural terra cotta Banana Warehouse building would be razed. The adjacent 1950s era three-story, white-painted brick warehouse would be demolished as well. It was built by the D. Theodoredis Wholesale Banana Company when the business was expanding around 1953. Both front on Northampton Street. The one-story brick service garage built in 1960 as an addition to the ’50s warehouse would also come down.
With Phase 4, a new parking lot and plaza would occupy the site where those three buildings had been.
The circa 1920s former Plymouth dealership, which later housed an auto parts store, would be retained and integrated into the new construction. The one-story structure is Classical Revival in style, which includes a terra cotta cornice and entry gable, and other architectural details that retain the building’s historic integrity.
Hilgert informed the board that building new on the parking lot site would enable the organization to continue art classes and other activities during construction in the remaining buildings. The artists who rent studio space at the complex would not have to relocate to wait out completion of the new facilities.
Several audience members stepped up to support the project when called for public comment. Among them were ArtsQuest board members, Dr. William Woodruff, Alicia Hayden, David Willard, Vicki Doulé and Fred Stellato. “What’s the cost of not doing this?” Doulé asked.
Victor Schmitt, who lives in the Riverport condos across the street from the Banana Factory urged the board to consider the benefits of his neighbor’s proposal.
Donegan ES Principal Sonia Vazquez described how the programs at the Banana Factory enrich her students.
Bethlehem residents Dana Grubb, Bill Scheirer and Kim Carrell-Smith, although in favor of the Banana Factory’s positive impact on the neighborhood, expressed concerns about the possibility of losing additional older buildings and what affect the new construction would have on the viewscape.
“New is not always better,” Scheirer remarked.
The board was sympathetic to the project in general and the proposed demolition of the “non-contributing” buildings. However, they advised ArtsQuest to look into ways of incorporating the original Banana Factory warehouse building into the new construction. They also suggested ArtsQuest explore the cost and feasibility of moving a circa 1885 brick house from the interconnected complex and relocating it elsewhere.
As for the new building, ArtsQuest was encouraged to choose a design that would fit into the streetscape and complement the industrial nature of the surrounding area. They were also cautioned about building it too high.