Exclusive: First Look at the New Southside Bethlehem Complex Design Scheme

Here’s a peek at the two draft renderings currently under consideration for the new complex of buildings on Southside Bethlehem at 3rd and New Streets.

I’ve been interested in how the new office building and the new city parking garage will interact with the Greenway park, the pedestrian space on the surrounding sidewalks, and the alley on Rink Street.

Now we have some initial answers. It looks like the main issue they’re working out right now is whether to build a walkway over the Greenway between the office building and the parking garage.

Here’s the first version of the plan. Click to embiggen:

 

I think the walkway could add something to the pedestrian experience of the Greenway park, but the columns holding it up need to look good. We don’t really get a sense of how this would look from the path yet. Think of the park when designing that stuff.

Another good thing about the plan is that the parking garage entrance doesn’t take up a whole lot of space on the block. Retail spaces on the ground floor of the parking garage are so key for New Street. I also really like that the restaurant area on the ground floor of the office building has a view of the Greenway. Will there be an entrance over there and space for outdoor seating?

Now here’s the second plan, without the walkway:

Not a whole lot different without the walkway in terms of aesthetics, but as we see on the slide comparing the two, the walkway option means fewer parking spaces but quite a bit more office and academic space. With the walkway option, you’ll get 73,856 square feet of combined office and academic space, versus 58,290 square feet in the other design. But in the second design you get 52 more parking spaces. Regular readers know where I’m coming down on that question.

One thing I was surprised to see is that the parking garage’s footprint will extend all the way west to Vine Street, meaning a city block worth of homes and buildings are getting taken down.

That raises the question of how the ground floor of the garage will interact with Vine Street in addition to the Rink Street alley and the Greenway. This plan envisions blank walls facing the Rink Street alley, Vine Street and the Greenway, which would be a huge bummer for walkability, and a major missed opportunity to add some more new retail space in key areas of the Southside central business district.

The main suggestion I have is to make the first floor all retail space, and add another story on top to replace the parking.

Rink Street is a very nice alley that spans a couple blocks between Broad Street and New Street, ¬†and it would be awesome if both the parking garage and Benner’s new building on 4th Street had retail spaces fronting that alley. It would be like Bethlehem’s answer to Bank Street in Easton. Everybody loves cute stuff like that. The parking garage is the city’s responsibility, so Council members are well within their rights to request that kind of design change.

Returning to the areas of Vine Street and Graham Place that the garage will replace, right now they look like this. The building on the left at the corner of Rink and Vine will go away. This could be a new retail corner spot just down the block from Deja Brew and the corner space where the tanning salon used to be:

And here’s the view of the whole block looking down Vine Street from Deja Brew:

It looks like the garage will actually get rid of the section of Graham Place currently running next to the Greenway, so it’s even more important to make sure it looks nice. Here’s what that looks like now:

That could all be new retail space facing Vine Street and the Greenway. You could fit 5 or 6 new shops in there.

Imagine sitting outside next to the Greenway at the Benner building’s wine bar, drinking a glass of wine while watching families walk their dogs on the trail, and people window-shop at the new shops across the park.

Now imagine sitting outside at the restaurant and looking at a blank wall. Not as nice!

I think the Parking Authority has a responsibility to make the ground floor level of the new garage as pedestrian friendly and neighbor friendly as possible, and that means turning the whole ground floor into retail space. This would cost about 65 parking spaces in either design if BPA didn’t add an additional level: 16 spaces on the Rink St. alley side, 7 on the Vine St side, 15 next to Greenway, and it looks like 27 in middle of the first floor. You could either add a floor to make up for that, or just go with the walkway-less version of the plan and call it a day.

Comments

  1. urban_lv says:

    This corner was in desperate need of a significant building, so I’m glad this project is happening. I’m a little disappointed that they’re planning to knock down the intact buildings on either side – just combining the empty lot with the garden property would give him plenty of room for a large building. This is going to be the size of the sunguard building on the northside, and anytime you have a building this size it can have a big negative impact on walkability. At least they’re planning for retail space along most of the frontage.

    The walkway looks like a huge mistake. You want the office workers walking on Third Street and the Greenway! Elevated walkways decrease street-level vibrancy.

    http://www.theatlanticcities.com/neighborhoods/2013/04/if-other-cities-are-demolishing-skywalks-why-does-cleveland-want-new-one/5291/

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