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.

Joe Kelly for Bethlehem Council Vacancy

He’d be a great pick, obviously.

As Car Sharing Grows in Popularity, Time to Stop Singling Out Car Rentals for Special Taxes

One other way city and state politicians could help folks keep more of their take-home pay by making it easier not to own a car is by making it cheaper and easier to rent cars and rides for-hire.

When I moved to Philadelphia a couple months ago, my wife and I decided to ditch our car and use Zipcar’s car-share program rather than deal with the insane curb parking situation in our new neighborhood.

The car we had was registered in Bethlehem, PA and to get a Philly residential parking permit, your car needs to be registered to your Philadelphia address. (Read Michael Noda on why this policy is mistaken.)

If you don’t have a parking permit, then you need to hunt for scarce parking spaces on the few remaining blocks that have not yet elected to ask the city for parking demand management (yes, that’s actually how it works), and thus feature free curb parking for unlimited amounts of time. During the month that we had our car here, this was maddening. These spaces are very hard to find, so I’d have to circle around forever trying to locate one. And I know I was imposing some pain on the car owners who live on those blocks too, because when I finally found a space, I would leave my car there for days depriving others of a parking space close to home or other destinations.

[Read more…]

Cars Are Expensive

The high cost of car-related expenses as a household budget item is a major equity blindspot for many Democratic city politicians. For some, the political imagination spans from low-income car owners to high-income car owners, and so the “equitable” policy agenda is all about lowering the costs of car ownership as a bankshot way to help low-income folks.

Wrong. Most real life poor people don’t own cars. The actual equitable position favors making it easier for more people not to own a car by

1) putting more of the external and accessory costs of driving (parking, pollution, congestion, etc) directly on motorists; and

2) allowing more dense multifamily housing to get built in walkable neighborhoods with good pedestrian and transit connections to job centers

My wife and I don’t currently own a car (we use Zipcar) and neither do a whole lot of people, most of whom make substantially less money than us, and have to live a lot further from center city than we do.

Don’t make us pay for other people’s parking via un(der)priced curb parking and forced bundling of parking with housing and commercial buildings. Don’t make buses and trolleys (who carry many people) wait behind single-occupancy vehicles where it’s possible to paint Bus Only lanes.

Those are the real equity positions, and city Democratic politicians who claim to care about low-income people should take them.

Electronic Meters Changing Parking Politics in Easton

Maximize payment convenience and people will accept parking fee hikes with little complaint:

Megan McBride, the farmers market manager, said the new meters pleased the thousands of people attending the weekly outdoor event. In a break from years past, McBride said parking complaints were nil this season.

“We heard a lot less grumbling about parking once the credit card meters came out,” McBride said. “Once you have what people want, you’ll stop hearing complaints about parking. … I feel like we have turned the corner.”

JD Malone talked to Megan McBride and Anthony Marraccini, both of whom were advocates against the parking fee hike whose fears of lost business did not come to pass.

This isn’t an argument for parking charges always going up. Too many politicians look at parking charges through a budget lens, rather than a demand management lens. Charging for curb parking is about managing demand by setting prices high enough to always keep one or two or three spaces open on each block.

$1 an hour is probably too high most of the time, but too low during peak times like the morning commute, lunch hour, weekend dinner and bar crawl, and the Sunday church rush. At those times, when more people want to park, the price should go up (maybe as high as $3 an hour if that’s what it takes), and then go back down to 50 cents an hour most of the time.

The electronic meters Easton is using are capable of this kind of variable-rate pricing, and after people start getting used to them, variable-rate or time-of-day pricing should be the next political frontier.

Why Dennis Benner is Investing in Southside Bethlehem

Good interview from Nicole Radzievich, but Benner should head over to Easton though, where a “youthful renaissance” has been taking hold for years now. All the older city downtowns, and some boroughs like Wilson, Nazareth, and Emmaus are ripe for some infill development. We just need more developers like Dennis Benner and sons who get that there’s demand for infill.

Q: Why choose to invest in south Bethlehem?

A: I have been practicing land use law and doing development work for over 30 years. In one word, real estate is about location. Generally speaking the more unique the location the more attractive it is. In my view south Bethlehem is one of the few, if not the only, location that can accommodate a youthful renaissance and hopefully slow the exodus of young professionals from the Lehigh Valley.

Q: You said your sons inspired you to do this project. How?

A: I am fortunate to be one of a long legacy of Lehigh University graduates. As years fly by it’s easy to become complacent about your alma mater and legacy. Both my sons are Lehigh graduates and now law partners. While at Lehigh, I would hear commentary from them and many of their friends about the lack of venues and vitality in south Bethlehem. After awhile I decided to better understand what they meant and discovered an area so void of meaningful enterprise and so ripe for change. Along with my energetic sons we began to acquire property with a plan to create a “college town” in south Bethlehem.

Bethlehem Mayor-elect Bob Donchez Picks a Sprawl Booster for DCED

Bernie O’Hare says Bethlehem Mayor-elect Bob Donchez’s pick for Director of Community and Economic Development, Alicia Karner, was a primary booster of one of the most wasteful sprawl projects in recent memory when she was working as outgoing Northampton County Executive John Stoffa’s economic development head.

Karner promised that this wouldn’t be *just any* Big Box interchange project when selling the TIF proposal for Charles Chrin to Northampton County Council members, but turns out no, it’s just regular sprawl. The jobs haven’t materialized as this type of sprawl development is on the outs. Charlie Chrin couldn’t round up enough private investment to fund the project himself, unlike during the booming sprawl years of the 90’s, and the only people foolish enough to help him fund this money-loser project were Northampton County Council members.

I look forward to reading more about the downtown projects she’s been involved with in her role at Northampton County, but the Chrinterchange was one of the worst sprawl projects approved in southeast PA in the past 3 years, and the fact that Karner’s fingerprints are on it is unsettling. Bethlehem needs its own Becky Bradley, not a sprawl booster.