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Reuse study urged for Bethlehem building

A handful of Lackawanna residents Monday urged the City Council to pressure Mayor Geoffrey Szymanski into doing an adaptive reuse study on the long-vacant Bethlehem Steel administration building that is scheduled for demolition.

"It is what the city has been built on, and it needs to stick around," said Danielle Huber, founder of the Lackawanna Industrial Heritage Group, a new group that is fighting to preserve the ornate 1901 building.

The city has obtained a court order forcing the building's current owner, Gateway Trade Center, to tear it down.

Preservationists rallied in the hours before demolition was set to begin May 18. The work has been delayed since then, but it could restart shortly as the city continues to push for the demolition in court.

Szymanski has said in previous interviews he fully supports demolition because the building is unsafe and deteriorated beyond repair.

But those who want to save it believe it can be rehabilitated and reused. They called on the Council to assist in their efforts to stop the demolition.

"When it's gone, we will regret it," Huber said.

Romaine Lillis, who fought to save the building years earlier, said the building remains an integral part of Lackawanna.

"What we're trying to tell you people is this is the concern of your constituents," said Lillis. "We're asking from the heart that this be a place for the people of Lackawanna."

Council President Henry Pirowski said, "In a perfect world, I'd love to see the building still standing."

But he also said the Council did not have the authority to prevent the mayor from pursuing the demolition.

Pirowski said he had heard estimates of $5 million to rehabilitate the building.

City Attorney Norman LeBlanc Jr., referring to a letter received by the city, said the estimates were more along the lines of $40 million to $60 million.

"I cannot force Gateway to put $5 [million] to $40 million or whatever the figure is into that property," Pirowski said.

The massive Beaux Arts-style building served as administrative headquarters for the Lackawanna Iron & Steel Co. and later, Bethlehem Steel. It has been empty since at least the early 1980s.

In other Council action Monday, it was revealed that Szymanski rescinded his appointment of 4th Ward Councilman Keith Lewis to the city's Planning Board. Under the state's general city law, legislators cannot serve on a planning board because councils approve planning board decisions.

In a letter to Lewis, Szymanski apologized for the mistake and said he was unaware of the state provision. He said he had hoped to build a "better working relationship" with the Council by allowing one of its members to serve on the Planning Board.