The Bethlehem Parking Authority is looking to take over a lot owned by the Sands Casino to build a parking garage. The lot is currently used by the Charter School for the Arts and Northampton Community College. (Megan Burke/B&W Staff)

Bethlehem Parking Authority seeks land from Sands Casino

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A private parking lot at the corner of Polk Street and East Third Street might see a flip in ownership pending a deal between Bethlehem Parking Authority and the Sands Casino, which are the current owners of the lot.

A memorandum from James Broughal, a solicitor for the Bethlehem Parking Authority, to Mayor Robert Donchez on Sept. 1 announced a formal request for the lot to be purchased by the authority from the Sands for about $2 million. This request is based on a Real Property Appraisal Report from June 2017, which determined the market value of the of the land to be $1.96 million.

Lack of compliance over price negotiation from both sides could end with Bethlehem Parking Authority’s acquisition of the property through eminent domain, a method by which national, state or local government can take property from a private ownership if it’s to be used for a public purpose.

“Right now, we’re hoping to build a garage on the lot with over 585 spaces as a way to complement economic and residential growth in the area,” said Kevin Livingston, executive director of the Bethlehem Parking Authority.

The 1.62-acre lot is now used by Northampton Community College and The Charter School for the Arts for extra parking spaces.

“The main anchor tenant of the new garage will be Northampton Community College, and the remaining spots will be for current and future economic development projects in the vicinity,” Livingston said, “like the apartment building across the street under construction with first-floor retail.”

Livingston said the Pennsylvania’s Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program will contribute around $1 million to the garage. The program is a commonwealth grant organization that allocates money to certain regional development and improvement projects.

The project was originally started by the Redevelopment Authority of Bethlehem, the same group that gave SteelStacks a complete makeover a few years ago. Not long after, the project was passed under the jurisdiction of the Bethlehem Parking Authority. Now, price negotiation has caused a stalemate and there is no timeline for the project in the immediate future.

“Construction totally depends on when control of the property can take place,” said Alicia Miller Karner, the director of community and economic development for the city of Bethlehem.

Four days after receiving the memo on Sept. 5, Mayor Donchez forwarded the proposal from the Bethlehem Parking Authority to Brian Carr, the president and CFO of Sands Casino. The project is now in its third year of discussions.

The memo states in the event Sands Casino considers the value of the land to be greater than $2 million or refuses to sell at any price, the city does have the right to use eminent domain and seize the property for public use.

“The parking authority does have the ability to force Sands to give up the lot for public parking, but they don’t want to have to do that,” Karner said. “They’re really trying to negotiate the sale of the property.”

Sands Casino, operated and owned by the Las Vegas Sands Corporation, opened in May 2009. It sits in a newly renovated area that includes an outlet mall, bar and lounge, food court, event center and a hotel, adjacent to the recently developed Levitt Pavilion at SteelStacks.   

In an effort to make the decaying image of SteelStacks more aesthetically pleasing, the projects have changed much of the riverbank of South Bethlehem. Economic development and renovation projects have since spread closer to Lehigh, with multiple projects now in progress on East Third Street. The Bethlehem Parking Authority hopes the parking garage will complement the fast-paced growth.

Ron Reese, a spokesman for Sands Casino, had little to say regarding the proposal from the Bethlehem Parking Authority.

“These are ongoing conversations,” Reese said, “and we hope it will be resolved in a manner that works for both sides.”

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