Lehigh’s Advancement Services, along with offices at St. Luke’s Health Network, will move 120 employees into a 6-story, $20 million building developed by Dennis Benner on Third and South New streets.
This move is connected to a contested parking garage proposal, which locals have spoken out against. Despite some insistence from residents against it, the Bethlehem City Council voted 5-2 Tuesday to support the $17.5 million of bonds that will be taken by Bethlehem Parking Authority to fund the garage, located on New Street and Graham Place.
Councilman Adam Waldron and councilwoman Olga Negron-Dipini voted against the garage.
Mayor Bob Donchez said Lehigh and St. Luke’s were approached with the plan of the shared building in early 2015. The only thing holding them back was the insufficient parking in the area, resulting in the parking garage.
At city council meetings, the parking garage topic has packed the hall with citizens who speak out against the project, as well as representatives involved in the development who work to explain reasoning behind it.
Adrienne Washington, the assistant vice president of community and regional affairs for Lehigh, spoke at multiple council meetings as a representative of the group moving into the new building.
“Essentially, what I keep hearing is that there is not enough people circulating around the South Side,” Washington said. “It’s great to have these really big events . . . but then, what is that everyday traffic that we need to have to support the businesses?”
Washington and Jane George, the assistant vice president of government relations at St. Luke’s University Hospital, said they are committed to the revitalization of the South Side.
Washington said with the averaged 40 visitors that Advancement Services entertains daily with lunches or coffee, South Bethlehem would see an increase in business. Members of Advancement Services are located on Goodman Campus, so a large group will move to an area within walking distance of these businesses.
But not everyone within the Lehigh community shares Washington’s positive outlook. At Tuesday’s meeting, three Lehigh faculty members and one student shared their opinions on the garage.
Chester Toye, ’16, said Lehigh is made up of the students themselves, who have no say in these decisions, and said the notion that the entire university supports these changes is false.
“It seems like a big part of this garage has to do with Lehigh students and people working for Lehigh,” Toye said. “I would like to say that I’m very happy to see that the university is investing in the South Side, I just wish it was being done in a bit more of a conscious manner.”
Some ways Toye and other South Bethlehem residents suggested making these decisions in a “conscious manner” was by looking at alternative land for the garage, minimizing the size of the garage itself or putting the money into public transportation instead.
There was also an emphasis on who the garage really benefits — those at Lehigh and St. Luke’s or the residents of South Bethlehem.
Kimberly Carroll-Smith, a professor of practice in the department of history and a South Bethlehem resident, said distributing and spreading out the parking would be a much better use of the city’s money.
“You could . . . serve all the needs of all the merchants on the South Side, not just some merchants on the South Side, not just the people of privilege who are going to work and benefit from those new buildings,” Carroll-Smith said. “You could spread out the wealth, and that’s what real revitalization is on the South Side. It’s helping everybody to grow and everybody to prosper, not just one person, not just in two places.”
Washington, however, said the project will not benefit the university and St. Luke’s as much as it will benefit the residents and businesses in South Bethlehem.
“Because of this project, it has spurred other development projects,” Washington said. “And all of that together combined will ultimately help spur and revitalize the South Bethlehem community.”
Seth Moglan, an associate professor of English, and Al Wurth, an associate professor of political science, also spoke against the parking garage.
“What’s really an issue is the future of our community, the future of South Bethlehem,” Moglan said. “What you are hearing over and over again from people who live in South Bethlehem, who work in South Bethlehem, is we want distributed parking, not concentrated parking. We don’t want more traffic congestion. We want a community that honors the integrity of its historic fabric.”