The Columbia-Webster Lawn Could Be Southside Bethlehem’s Next Great Park

When you turn off the pedestrian walkway from the Fahy Bridge onto Columbia Street, the first property to your left is a huge, huge lawn that I believe belongs to the commercial property that is set extremely far back from the Columbia Street sidewalk. This lawn appears to have no purpose. It is not used, as best I can tell, for anything. Here is one Google Streetview shot:

Here is another:

There’s a cute little sign telling people to stay off the grass at the corner of Webster.

I think the city of Bethlehem should buy this land, turn part of it into a city park, and sell the rest to a developer who wants to build some mixed-use buildings on the corner of Webster. I think Columbia Street has a lot of potential for pedestrian-oriented development, especially on the surface lots a bit further east. It could become a bike boulevard between the Banana Factory and Riverport buildings to the west of the bridge, and some new mixed-use buildings to the east.

John Callahan is always talking about getting more people to walk and bike across the Fahy Bridge between the two downtowns. People need something to do right when they get off the pedestrian path on Columbia Street. A nice city park (maybe with a dog park?) could be a good way to boost pedestrian interest in that area, which in turn might interest developers in building some mixed-use infill development serving Columbia St. There’s a surface lot on the corner of Webster St that would be great for a new building with a corner retail space facing Columbia, and then on the south side of the street between Webster and Polk, surface parking lots cover almost a full two city blocks. When Columbia runs into Polk Street, there’s another huge surface parking lot across Polk, and a large vacant lot to the north of that.

You could easily fit two or three hundred apartments, and at least a dozen new retail storefronts on Columbia Street’s surface lots. Columbia Street could be Southside Bethlehem’s next great retail strip, and the Columbia-Webster lawn could be the city’s next great park.

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