ArtsQuest Pitches PAC

The ArtsQuest nonprofit group in Bethlehem, Pa., is pitching a new use for the former Bethlehem Steel factory that was shuttered a decade ago.

The plan, unveiled during a November 11th press conference, is to turn the abandoned industrial site into the SteelStax performing arts complex while preserving its history.

“We’re trying to create one of the most unique performance venues in the world,” ArtsQuest President Jeff Parks said.

The design includes the 2,500- to 3,500-seat Festival Hall, where artists would perform in front of a clear glass wall with a view of the iconic blast furnaces along the Lehigh River.

The venue would also double as the new mainstage for the ArtsQuest-run Musikfest, the city’s annual free music event that attracts more than 1 million people a year.

Also included in the plan is a 500-seat theatre for dramatic performances, a 300-seat Musikfest Café and a state-of-the-art theatre for art films.

The center would be home to the Pennsylvania Youth Ballet, Hispanic American League of Artists and Pennsylvania Youth Theatre.

The cost of the project is still being determined, but Parks said the funding will have to come from both the government and the private sector.

BethWorks Now, an investment group partnering with Las Vegas Sands to build a $300 million casino and hotel complex at the factory site, has donated 3.5 acres to the SteelStax project.

Parks has an ambitious goal to open the PAC by August 2008, in time for Musikfest’s 25th anniversary.