Friday, September 11, 2009

Bethlehem Sands

Silk Mill, Easton, PA
There was a time, still in my memory, when people worked hard, made their wages, lived their simple lives. In Bethlehem, PA, the former Bethlehem Steel plant, world reknowned in its day, closed several years ago, leaving behind pensionless workers and throwing an industrial neighborhood into ruin. Just this last year, the "Sands" casino has made its home there. Is this irony lost on everyone but me?
A generation of blue-collar workers gambled their futures on their jobs, pouring steel. They lost. Who will win now? Is it for the best, bringing new commerce to this depleted area? Or are the financially gifted once again draining the lifeblood from this depressed community? Will there be scars, or fortune? Does anyone really win?
I'm not usually pessimistic, though the sight of "SANDS" in blazing colors, suspended from an incomplete iron bridge segment-slash-billboard made me more sad than hopeful. I drove down the street, and saw the full parking garage, and the artfully lit stacks behind the casino. In the dark, it was beautiful. In the early morning light however, just a few short blocks away, there are still homeless people and abject poverty. The crime rate is up in the area; college students get mugged by teenagers. A small bodega owner was shot dead a year ago during a theft. And a block or two away, they're serving cocktails and haute-cuisine, gambling and dancing. Bethlehem's school programs are being cut. Her children are wanting. Who will win? Will the casino bring a better tax base, to support the people in need? I hope so, because right now, the dichotomy is too extreme. It hurts me, to see those bright lights, when I know there are children who are hungry a few blocks away. Emeril creates his masterful dishes, the high rollers make their fortunes or land in the hole; the local girls apply for cleaning jobs, and there is work to be had, but in the end, the poor stay poor and the rich stay rich.
I have given directions to travelers who are coming from other places to gamble here; me in my farm-stinking boots, sweat dripping from my ponytail, them in their Mercedes. I have less to lose. I wish them luck. I wish us all luck. I hope the children and the community benefit from this huge gamble as well. The ghosts of the steel-workers are watching.


  1. Perhaps you expected a socialist Utopia that doesn't exist. The SANDS is the catalyst that will allow additional expansion and development to occur on the former Bethlehem Steel site. There will always be the less fortunate. They have the opportunity to succeed though. At one time I couldn't afford to visit Emeril's restaraunt. Now I can. And I did it all without a government grant or redistribution of someone elses wealth. I pity the poor but I don't hate the rich.

  2. I don't hate the rich, either. I am simply sensitive to the history of the area. I am a self-made woman and a professional myself, and could join you there for dinner if I chose to do so; I may one day! I love Emeril's cuisine. That doesn't mean I forget the past, or stop respecting it, and the many hardworking lives that were spent on that site. And no, I don't expect a socialist utopia. I don't expect anything. I simply observe.

  3. I worked at BSC for a time in the late 70's and early 80's. In fact, I worked exactly where the SANDS now stands. There were the less fortunate then as there are now, as there shall always be. The Steel along with the union & others share the blame for it's demise. There are enough of the guilty to go around. I respect what BSC meant to the city,region & nation. But it's day has come and gone. The reality is that the neighborhoods that surrounded the Steel were inundated with Bars and liquor stores. They were mostly dirty, crowded and not very asthetically pleasing to say the least. Parts of 3rd Street and 4th Street looked like Berlin at the end of the war. And that was when BSC was booming! The argument can be made that the demise of Bethlehem Steel created the possibilty of a renassaince for South Bethlehem and we're beginning to see it. I'd like to see the blast furnaces restored and illuminated & save what is realistically salvagable. But now, we must look forward. Turning brownfields into entertainment, retail, cultural, light industrial and other uses.
    A block from the SANDS glitzy lights there are poor people as there are poor people 1000 miles from the SANDS glitzy lights. Yes. But they are not destined to remain on the lower rungs of the ladder any more than my parents or grandparents were. They too will work, struggle, earn and move up as generations before did. Their means of mobility may differ, but it's the same story being played over & over again.
    I believe the city & region will gain from the SANDS. 8 to 10 million dollars annually in "home city" fees alone will go to Bethlehem. That does not include wage taxes, real estate & other monies generated. Lehigh & Northampton counties along with Allentown will receive atleast 2 million.
    This is not a case of "the financially gifted draining the lifeblood from this depressed community" as you said. The propritors are risk takers. Risk takers create jobs. They create the means of upward mobility. How far each of us are willing to climb is up to us.
    The effect of this project wont be known for at least 5 years. Perhaps more. But I believe that the SANDS will be the beginning of development that will pay dividends for nearly everyone.
    Finally, I get really tired of people saying that crime, drugs & prostitution will expolde with the arrival of the SANDS. This was the fear mongering tool used by the anti-Sands crowd before the casino was built. In the short time that the SANDS has been opened, Bethlehem Police records show none of these concerns have been realized. Sothside crime is higher than other parts of the city. But that is true in the poorer sections of Paris and Rome too. And was true in Bethlehem BEFORE the SANDS arrived. But that does not reflect the true image of the city. In fact, Bethlehem has been named "Pennsylvania's Most Livable City" by Money Magazine in 2006. And listed among the "Top 100 Places To Live".
    As I look back at what I've written, I see I've probably written too much. I apologize. This is YOUR blog, not mine. But I feel as passionate about some things as you do. Good luck to you. If you'd like, you can see my thoughts at

  4. I'm happy to read your thoughts, and you obviously know your subject matter. Interaction is what this forum is all about. Thank you for your contribution! And I will check out your blog.