ArtsQuest earned an additional investment in its plan to build an $18 million cultural center on the site of the Banana Factory in South Bethlehem.
The nonprofit arts organization received a $45,000 Community Improvement Grant from Northampton County and plans to use the matching grant from the county’s Community Investment Partnership Program toward the construction of the new cultural center, which is in the planning phases.
The new, 80,000-square-foot cultural center will include the adaptive reuse of two buildings, as well as new construction, resulting in a three-story, contemporary arts facility, said Mark Demko, senior director of communications for ArtsQuest.
The new center will include a pre-K arts-based education program, a 125-seat comedy club, a 5,000-square-foot glass studio, and new digital, print, fiber arts, video, woodworking and other studios.
MKSD architects of South Whitehall Township is the architect for the project.
The new center will also allow ArtsQuest to increase its resident artist studio spaces by 25 percent, as well as feature two art plazas, outdoor classrooms and digital design displays, Demko said. The organization also received state funds from the state’s Greenways, Trails and Recreation Program to support the two outdoor plazas, he added.
“Plans continue to shape up well,” Demko said. “We are still working through the approval process. We are still in the development stages.”
The organization does not have an exact construction start date but Demko said it could possibly begin in 2021.
However, the organization is also working on a renovation project at its main campus that’s expected to be completed much sooner than that.
Patrick Brogan, chief programming officer at ArtsQuest, said the ArtsQuest Center at SteelStacks is undergoing a first floor renovation that should be complete in May 2020.
The project is part of ArtsQuest’s capital campaign.
Brogan said ArtsQuest is looking to re-open that space with a new kitchen with a full-scale restaurant called Palette & Pour in the space where the William Yee Connect Zone is. It will also build an outdoor bar area called Central Tap, which will be at the back of the Air Products Town Square stage.
“We are also moving the gift shop and putting in a better staging area for local and national artists,” Brogan said. “We are investing in better acoustics to increase the quality so it’s a place you want to come and hear a concert.”
In addition, a larger bar will replace the current concession stand on the first floor.
The Stacks Shop (gift shop) will have some merchandise available at the new box office.
“We are going to add some elements of the gift shop to the box office and also enhance the gift shop already at the visitors’ center.”
The organization will move the box office to the wall just inside the ArtsQuest Center front doors, which creates a more open space for patrons who enter the building.
What inspired the decision to make these changes?
Brogan said the success of the outdoor concerts at the Levitt Pavilion, which often attract 1,500 guests multiple times per week is a factor. The organization would like to replicate that type of success indoors on a smaller scale.
“Locally and nationally touring acts will offer free concerts,” Brogan said. “We saw an opportunity to redesign the first floor to allow for a better guest experience. Our kitchen on the first floor was not able to offer menu items people were looking for.”
As a result, ArtsQuest’s food and beverage company, Levy Restaurants, based in Chicago, plans to expand their staff, Brogan said.
Though he declined to disclose the estimated construction costs of the renovation project, Brogan said it was a significant investment.
MKSD architects and Boyle Construction of South Whitehall Township are the firms working on the project.