The 21-story building, tallest in the Lehigh Valley, is the former headquarters of Bethlehem Steel.
Saying its owners face a challenge to develop Martin Tower, Donchez estimated renovating it will cost $40 million-$50 million.
Donchez said about two months ago he met with one owner of the 53-acre property, which contains the tower and other buildings. He said he has not seen any plans to turn the site into either low-income or high-income housing.
He said any plans for development of that property will be carefully scrutinized by city officials “because we understand neighborhood issues.”
He also said there have been rumors, but no discussions with the city, bout demolishing the tower and/or other buildings on the site.
Donchez said six or seven months ago, a representative of the new owners of the Westgate Mall said they were developing plans to do a complete overhaul of that shopping center, which is along Schoenersville Road near Church of the Manger.
He was told that work will include making Westgate’s exterior facade more attractive.
The mayor said he always hears rumors that Lehigh Valley Hospital is interested in buying the shopping center property, but the owners’ representative told him that was not true.
He said the long-closed Dempsey’s restaurant in front of Westgate probably will be torn down because it would have too many code violations to reopen. “If you remember, the bathrooms are downstairs.”
Key factors in success
Stressing the importance of tjhe Bethlehem Area School District in the city’s success, the mayor said if people did not view it as a good district, “we’re going to lose middle-class people coming into the City of Bethlehem. And a city cannot survive without middle-class people.”
He said local leaders in the 1960s had the vision to create an area school district rather than a city school district, which is what neighboring Allentown has.
He said they took the Bethlehem School District and merged it with districts in Fountain Hill, Bethlehem Township, Freemansburg and Hanover Township to create a city/suburban school district.
“It has saved us financially to have a solid school district,” said Donchez. “Allentown had that same option. They could have incorporated Salisbury and Parkland, but they opted to stay as a city school district.”
The mayor said another part of Bethlehem’s success has been its industrial parks, including those across from Lehigh Valley International Airport.
He said former government and business leaders of both political parties had the vision to realize Bethlehem could not survive as a one-industry town, so they formed industrial parks. He said those industrial parks now employ thousands of people.
“We’ve actually seen a trend of manufacturers coming back into the United States, which 10 years ago I don’t think any of us thought that would have been possible.”
He said one or two manufacturing companies have come to the city just in the last two months.
“We need more people in trade schools now. You talk to any company and they’ll say ‘I could use plumbers, I could use electricians, I just can’t find enough.’ Maybe not everyone is meant for college. When we meet with business people they’ll say ‘I wish I could hire somebody right out of trade school.'"