The Las Vegas Sands Corp. broke ground yesterday for a $600 million casino complex at the site of a former steel plant in Bethlehem, Pa.

The project, called Sands Bethworks, will include shopping, dining, entertainment and a casino. It will also host the National Museum of Industrial History, an arts and cultural center, and the local PBS affiliate.

"Bethlehem is a beautiful place and we are excited and ready to return this great landscape to its past glory," said William P. Weidner, president and chief operating officer of Las Vegas Sands Corp. "Not only will this property attract visitors but it will also appeal to local residents by stimulating reinvestment in the region and creating new economic opportunities for the city of Bethlehem and the entire Lehigh Valley."

In its first phase, the 126-acre development will feature a 300-room hotel, a 200,000-square foot retail facility, 3,000 slot machines, and a variety of dining and entertainment options.

The project will incorporate many of the remaining historical elements of the steel plant. For example, a massive ore crane will be part of the casino design, and exposed steel, back-lit perforated metal screens and soaring, transparent glass monitors will be featured on a number of the buildings.

"With construction underway and our long-term commitment firmly established, we look forward to providing new opportunities for so many in the area," said Robert J. DeSalvio, president of Sands Bethworks. "From the creation of jobs, to the local businesses that we will team up with, Sands Bethworks is ready to become a vital part of the community."

Executives from the Las Vegas Sands along with Bethlehem city mayor John Callahan and city council members attended the groundbreaking ceremony.

Las Vegas Sands Corp. of Las Vegas also operates the Venetian resort and casino on the Las Vegas Strip.

Contact staff writer Suzette Parmley at 215-854-2594 or sparmley@phillynews.com.