Landmark Victory Firehouse building sold; will undergo $2.5 million renovation
BETHLEHEM, Pa. — The old Victory Firehouse will undergo a $2.5 million renovation and become the headquarters for city-based firm BSI Corporate Benefits.
The employee benefits consulting company plans by year’s end to move nearly 50 employees into the building at Webster and Columbia streets in South Bethlehem.
- The building was built in 1926
- For most of its existence it was a Bethlehem Steel firehouse
- BSI Corporate Benefits plans to move its employees there by year's end
BSI Chief Executive Officer Tony DaRe said he and business partners closed on the purchase of the building — originally built as a city fire station in 1926 — on Feb. 28 at a sale price of $2.5 million.
An additional $2.5 million renovation project is expected to wrap up by October, according to DaRe.
BSI was founded in 2003, and for the past 15 years it has been headquartered in the Wiley Building at Main and Market streets in Bethlehem.
Just a few blocks from the old Bethlehem Steel blast furnaces, the firehouse was bought by the steel company in 1941 and served for the next 55-plus years as a Bethlehem Steel firehouse.
It was sold to a private investor in 1998, then purchased in 2006 by OraSure Technologies founder Mike Gausling.
“I think the firehouse is a great microcosm of the story of Bethlehem and the story of reinvention.”Bethlehem Mayor J. William Reynolds
Gausling rebuilt and expanded the building to contain his venture capital firm and other offices.
One of its interior features is a wood-floor basketball court in the old firetruck bays that doubles as a large conference and meeting space — a space that DaRe plans to preserve and renovate to make available for his nonprofit clients. He envisions glass bay doors that when open can create an indoor/outdoor setting for meetings and events.
DaRe said BSI now has 38 employees and will have nearly 50 by the end of the year. The company had been looking to expand and had no room to grow at its current site, he said. The new building will be able to accommodate continued business expansion.
BSI manages employee benefit programs for more than 250 companies nationwide, with additional offices in Wilkes-Barre and the Detroit area.
DaRe said he’s delighted to be staying in Bethlehem. He said his family has deep roots in the city and within its steel industry; his grandfather and great-grandfather worked at Bethlehem Steel.
“We are making this investment in our community as a commitment to being here long term,” he said.
“Over a dozen companies are participating in the renovation project — all Lehigh Valley-based. At capacity we will have 100 teammates fully integrated in the surrounding business landscape putting millions of dollars a year back into the local economy.”
Mayor J. William Reynolds said he was thrilled the company is staying in Bethlehem and expanding in a building that in many ways mirrors the city’s fortunes.
“I think the firehouse is a great microcosm of the story of Bethlehem and the story of reinvention,” Reynolds said.
“It went through different iterations and … the fact that building can see so much success through different generations and businesses is really reflective of the story of Bethlehem.”
DaRe said he explored the idea of moving somewhere else in the Lehigh Valley, but Bethlehem's central location, burgeoning arts and business scene, and urban environment fit the company profile.
"We had to be in a city environment," he said. "With our culture, an industrial park just wouldn’t work. We’re in a hybrid model that works really well. When people come in to the office to work two or three days a week, they come in for a reason.
"With the renovations, we’re making sure that the office space is a big piece of our culture. We want an environment that there’s every reason in the world to come into the office. If we were in an industrial park or anywhere else, we wouldn’t have the same feel."
EDITOR'S NOTE: Tony DaRe is a founding funder of LehighValleyNews.com. He has no influence on our editorial or business operations.