The rusty past is in yo’ FACE at SteelStacks

SteelStacks concert prep (courtesy Lehigh Valley PA at Flickr CC)

Want to see an incredible example of making lemonade out of a busted-industry, corroded, hulking, sad-looking batch of lemons?

Take a look at what’s happened at the site of the old Bethlehem Steel plant in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

Now called SteelStacks, it’s become a performing arts/culture magnet and tourist attraction for the entire Lehigh Valley.

I know; it’s some major cognitive dissonance to say “Bethlehem Steel” and “arts/culture magnet” in the same sentence. But, it’s more than true.

Right in front of a former blast furnace, there’s an outdoor music pavilion (seen in each photo) plus the modern ArtsQuest performing arts building, a new building housing local public television station PBS39 and a bit further away in the complex, a huge (and tastefully designed to fit the industrial area) Sands Casino.

SteelStacks night concert (courtesy Lehigh Valley PA at Flickr CC)

Music events at this pavilion include the fabulously-named Blast Furnace Blues Festival.

Another model for rescuing a blighted industrial area is Landschaftspark in Germany’s Ruhr Valley, which ArtsQuest founder Jeff Parks visited in 2002 and found inspirational.

There’s still a lot of work to be done restoring many remaining brick Bethlehem Steel buildings and bringing in more shops, restaurants and other businesses, but what a start!

I’m afraid that I’m starting to get rather seen-it-all in my traveler old age, and I was truly blown away.  If the only thing you know about this part of Pennsylvania are the depressing lyrics from Billy Joel’s song “Allentown,” you’ve GOT to see what’s happening there today.

(Disclosure: I was in the Lehigh Valley area as a keynote speaker for their annual regional tourism meeting, so my travel expenses were covered by the Convention and Visitors Bureau, but there was no cost to seeing SteelStacks.)

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