INDUSTRIAL HISTORY Bethlehem Steel plant to become museum

The first phase of the museum will start next month.
BETHLEHEM, Pa. (AP) -- Roof work is set to begin next month in the first phase of the creation of a National Museum of Industrial History at the former Bethlehem Steel plant.
The museum's board of directors announced a $500,000 project Friday to rebuild the roof and windows of a 92-year-old building at the closed, rusting mill along the Lehigh River in South Bethlehem.
Stephen Donches, president and chief executive officer of the Smithsonian Institution-affiliated museum, said the decision showed a commitment to include the museum in the $879 million Bethlehem Works redevelopment project.
Michael Perrucci, partner in BethWorks Now, unveiled plans Jan. 25 for a complex of shops, entertainment, apartments and possibly slot machines to spread over 124 acres at the former Bethlehem Steel site.
Perrucci said the developers remain committed to the museum, hoping it will be identified with Bethlehem as the Inner Harbor is identified with Baltimore.
"They are going to be able to interpret and preserve the special nature of Bethlehem Steel and bring to the public the history of the Industrial Age," Perrucci said.
Museum conception
The museum was conceived eight years ago as a key to development of the closed mill. Fund-raising began nearly five years ago, and museum officials have secured $12.5 million in cash or promised donations, including about $1.25 million in the past year.
The museum would display artifacts from Smithsonian collections, including items from the 1876 Centennial International Exhibition in Philadelphia.
Visitors would see exhibits on propane, industrial gases, paper making, iron and steel and textiles, and pause in a theater to see highlights of the role of American industry since the Industrial Revolution.
The first phase of museum construction, repairing the roof and windows of what was the mill's electrical repair shop, is expected to take five months.
During that time, museum officials plan to work to raise money to repair the rest of the exterior. The third and final phase would be to renovate the interior and install exhibits.
Renovating the 39,000-square-foot, two-story building will cost more than $17 million, Donches said.
He said other buildings can be added, but the first building alone could be viable, opening sometime next year if fund-raising keeps pace and drawing 100,000 visitors in its first year.
Bethlehem Mayor John Callahan said he hopes the museum construction will create momentum for donations to roll in. And, Callahan said, "I hope others take this as a cue to move forward on other parts of BethWorks."
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