Here are the latest construction and programming plans to replace the banana plant

The parking lot was full Thursday night at the Banana Factory Visual Arts building on Bethlehem’s south side, with no extra space inside for any artists, classes, events or other community programs.

Not only is it over capacity, the six-building complex — the oldest portion of which dates back to 1885 — is about $1.4 million behind in maintenance with an estimated $5 million in improvements needed just to meet modern building codes.

That’s been the message its nonprofit owner, ArtsQuest, has put the vision in work for several years now to build a banana factory replacement.

ArtsQuest representatives said it’s a plan with a predictable timeline and cost, though fundraising will continue. There are high hopes for what kind of programming the sleek new structure will house.

Lisa Harms, director of visual arts and education at ArtsQuest, was given the spotlight in part by a presentation during a presentation Thursday, Nov. 2, 2023, at the Banana Factory on Bethlehem’s Southside about plans and programming for the new cultural center planned to be built at the 25 W. Third St. building site. Present .

The same presentation about the new building and programming is scheduled for 6 p.m. on December 12 at the Banana Factory, 25 West Third Street. Sessions are also scheduled in the new year with Bethlehem School District families and current visual arts artists-in-residence at the center.

“I think it’s very important that we have this beautiful building, which will provide a lot of opportunities to expand what we’re doing now and then bring in more community input in terms of events and programs — and making sure that families have this beautiful building,” said Joan Garcia, a Southside native who is the education coordinator. At ArtsQuest: “They also realize that the students are aware of what is happening.”

ArtsQuest opened the banana factory in 1998. Historically, it was actually used for bananas, as a warehouse for Dimitrios Theodoredis’ Theodoredis and Sons Banana Company from 1936 until 1989.

Although it has not yet been named, the new cultural center as ArtsQuest refers to the later building, and is slated to be 73,000 square feet spread over five floors, plus a separate 5,500 square foot glassblowing studio. A new green space is planned for the Gateway property on the Southside, with parking moved to the rear and improved planned flow of guest and bus traffic.

It would add about 30% more space than the banana plant offers, at an estimated cost of $22 million to $25 million. That’s far less than the roughly $30 million estimate for ArtsQuest’s plans before the pandemic, which incorporated two of the complex’s existing buildings into the design. Instead, the nonprofit fought to get city approval finalized in January to demolish the entire structure and build entirely anew.

As seen from West Third Street, ArtsQuest’s new cultural center planned to replace the Banana Factory, located at 25 W. Third Street in Bethlehem’s Southside, is shown in a rendering by MKSD Architects.

The banana factory is expected to remain open until 2024, and will be demolished during the first quarter of 2025 to begin construction work, which is expected to last approximately 12 to 14 months. ArtsQuest is looking for space to house some of its programs during construction. She hopes to have some plans in place by the end of 2023 to provide studio space for some of the 30 current artists-in-residence, who enjoy subsidized rents.

Once complete, the new center aims to better complement the performing arts and festival space ArtsQuest offers on the SteelStacks campus that opened in 2011 to the east next to the blast furnaces that still stand at the former Bethlehem Steel Corp.

“We are excited about the opportunity that the new gallery spaces, new studios, and new classrooms provide to really elevate what we do here and to match what’s happening on the other end of campus with the performing arts, with our film and music programs,” said Lisa Harms, director of visual arts and education at ArtsQuest. : “Festivals and Dance.” “Our goal is to elevate and elevate the visual arts while continuing to be an accessible, community-focused space that is free and open to the public seven days a week to come and enjoy exhibitions.”

Representing a major change in the design of the new building are windows with views of what is happening along the West Third Street facade.

“One of the challenges or comments we’re getting now is that people don’t know what’s going on in the building,” Harms said. “So you’ll be able to see the active classes and things that are going on. Obviously we’ll have shadows and things like that if we have kids’ classes for privacy, but it will be more dynamic when people walk in and see what’s going on in the building.”

Working with MKSD Architects of South Whitehall Township, ArtsQuest designed the new first floor with a permanent black box comedy stage. – Multiple entrances for different components to increase pedestrian movement. Bar with kitchen; Small and large gallery spaces, available to rent for events; retail spaces for handcrafted artisanal goods; Maker space for wood, metal and cold work on glass; and rotating outdoor wall art in multiple locations.

Looking south, ArtsQuest’s new cultural center planned to replace the Banana Factory, located at 25 West Third Street in Southside Bethlehem, is shown in a rendering by MKSD Architects.

The upper floors are designed to contain classrooms. Artist studios. Space for volunteers and tenants for nonprofit partners like the Pennsylvania Youth Theater; Ceramic studios. Wheel throwing studio kiln space available for rent; Mosaic pumping area. Areas of early education; A digital production lab and recording studio operated in partnership with the school district; Artist Collaboration Space; Areas for printmaking, fiber arts and jewelry. And spray booths.

The fifth-floor layout features rental space for events and a covered deck overlooking the East SteelStacks.

As on the exterior of the first floor, the artists’ studios will have windows to attract visitors. The classrooms are designed with what every established or emerging artist needs – a place to wash up.

“We already have one classroom with a sink, and we run a lot of classrooms — we have classrooms in every room in this building — so we’re looking to increase that to nine classrooms in the new building that will have the right facilities for us to run,” Harms said. programming”.

ArtsQuest is already planning a host of ongoing and new programs and events throughout the year at its new center, including providing space during the nonprofit’s annual Musikfest festival, which enters its 41st year in 2024. There are free and tuition-based programs – scholarships available – for students and teachers ; Artists to display, teach and sell; families; Individuals with sensory needs. Seniors and community partners.

A partial list of programs that have attracted more than 200,000 participants includes ArtSmart, First Fridays, Second Sundays, Creative Family Workshops, Therapeutic Arts and Music, Teen Takeover, Comedy, Glass Coding, Paint & Sip, and Outdoor Painting; public art; Exhibitions, openings and field trips.

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Kurt Bresswein can be reached at kpresswein@lehighvalleylive.com.

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