Global Citizenship project addresses South Side construction plans


Developer Dennis Benner’s multi-million dollar renovation plan for three locations around South Bethlehem has been approved. Benner believes these projects will transform Bethlehem’s South Side.

Benner’s three projects include a nine-story building on the corner of Fourth and Vine Streets, a six-story building at Third and New Streets and a 626-space parking garage at the intersection of New Street and Graham Place.

The six-story, 127,694-square-foot building on Third and New Streets will house office space for both St. Luke’s University Hospital and the Office of Advancement at Lehigh, with retail space on the first floor. The parking garage will add 626 spaces and feature an enclosed walkway.

Benner’s plans for the building on Fourth and Vine Streets include apartments for Lehigh students, with retail shops and restaurants on the first floor.

Supporters of Benner’s project argue these renovations will draw more foot traffic around the South Side because the office buildings, new restaurants and retail shops will draw more people to the community. Opponents of Benner’s plans expect an increase in traffic and pollution in an already congested area, said Sam Waldorf, ’16.

To give the Bethlehem community a voice in these projects, Royce Kok, ’16, Jenna Smalley, ’16, and Sam Waldorf, ’16,  decided to address this issue in their senior capstone project for the Global Citizenship program, entitled Bethlehem: Brown and White Board.

The final whiteboard symposium was Saturday at the Bethlehem Area Public Library South Side Branch from noon to 4 p.m. Waldorf said the illustrations drawn on the whiteboards throughout each session will be blown up and put on posters and showcased in an art gallery so attendees can share their likes and dislikes about each proposed idea.

With help from a grant from the Mellon Digital Humanities Initiative, Kok, Smalley and Waldorf have held several whiteboard sessions around South Bethlehem throughout the month of April at Benner’s renovation sites.

“This isn’t a protest project,” Waldorf said. “We picked locations that have possibility.”

During these sessions, Bethlehem residents and Lehigh students are given a creative opportunity to draw their visions for what they would like to see on the South Side.

With the way Benner’s plans are now, those who work in the office building will not have to walk outside, Waldorf said. He questioned who the renovations would benefit.

“With any urban development it’s really cool to think about new flashy things going on,” Waldorf said. “It’s easy to forget how it’ll affect daily life.”

The sessions have drawn around 75 participants — 70 percent Lehigh students and 30 percent Bethlehem residents. Kok, Smalley and Waldorf have found that individuals have differing opinions about the possibilities for the renovation.

“Lehigh students are looking for places like Chipotle, while Bethlehem residents are looking to make sure things stay independent,” Waldorf said.

Waldorf said one resident drew a building with the description “independent store” on the board.

Waldorf hopes for more participation from students in the project. With the whiteboards, students and residents are given the ability to shape the future of the Bethlehem and the project is creating conversations about the needs of the community.

“I don’t think Lehigh students recognize they are Bethlehem residents as well,” Waldorf said.

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