I appreciate what Bryan Callahan is saying here, and agree with him that what Bethlehem needs are more bold ideas and less political wimpishness. But I do think there needs to be a distinction drawn here:
Neither decision was initially popular but both have proven to be good economic development initiatives for the city, Callahan said at his announcement today to run for city council.
The Bethworks plan was a good idea because it made better use of an area with good connections to existing neighborhoods and mixed-use areas. It reused land in an already built-up part of the city. I’m not in love with all the land use choices Bethlehem’s planners made for the site (don’t like the quasi-highway level of service on Daly Ave/E. 3rd Street, don’t like that surface parking is an allowed use, etc) but those are the kinds of things that future politicians can ratchet back as more of the site gets developed.
Lowe’s on 8th Ave brought Big Box sprawl to Bethlehem, and I think that was a mistake. What needed to happen on 8th Avenue was a reduction in level of service to make it less like a highway, and more like Broad Street or Union Blvd. It needed a road diet, with a bus-only lane and some curb parking, but planners doubled down on the idea of 8th Ave as a highway. Shrinking the road space would have made the Martin Tower redevelopment plan make sense, they could have rezoned the area between Martin Tower and Union Blvd to improve pedestrian connections between the Tower and the neighborhoods, and laid the zoning foundation for a bunch of compact mixed-use development. You could have a whole walkable commercial district serving the west side neighborhoods over there. That wasn’t an example of political courage, it was an example of bowing to the highway. It was the least visionary thing they could have done with that land.