Managing partner of the Historic Hotel Bethlehem Bruce Haines sits at a table for breakfast in the Tap Room.
He orders “Bruce’s Eggs,” and glances out the window.
The self-proclaimed “watchdog” of Main Street is fiercely protective of his city.
He’s also fiercely critical of it.
Haines said he believes in order for the city to keep up with other cities of similar size and population, it should do away with parking meters in the Central Business District of Main Street. Without meters, he said, shoppers could park and quickly go in and out of stores with ease.
“At the end of the day, the point is our city is not progressive, and we don’t recognize the threat to downtown that exists from competing alternatives that have no parking fees,” Haines said.
The changes to the parking systems will affect businesses, so when the consulting company hired by the Bethlehem Parking Authority, Desman Consulting, suggested it wouldn’t, City Councilwoman Paige Van Wirt did her own survey.
Van Wirt walked along the major business streets in Bethlehem with her sister and children where she handed out her surveys to owners and managers.
“I allowed them to remain anonymous if they wanted to, because I think a lot of folks are scared of speaking up in the city from fear of some type of retribution,” Van Wirt said.
She said of the 75 she gave out, 30 came back — and only two were OK with the changes.
The changes are occurring so the city can increase revenue to pay for new parking garages. A garage on New Street opened recently, and there are plans being made to build one on Polk Street.
Polk Street is outside the Bethlehem Central Business District, so the city does not technically have to provide parking to the new development project, 510 Flats.
City Councilman Bryan Callahan said he believes investing in the development will improve the South Side’s walkability.
“When people are walking down a city street and it’s retail building after retail building after retail building then all of a sudden they come to an empty parking lot,” Callahan said. “A lot of people think because it’s an empty lot, it’s the end of the retail district and they turn around and go back. We want to avoid that.”
Haines, however, has a personal issue with building a garage outside of the Central Business District.
In 2017, Haines planned on expanding Hotel Bethlehem, a project that included building a new, private parking garage.
His proposed garage would have 460 spots with some available for public use unless the hotel were fully booked.
The Bethlehem Parking Authority wouldn’t allow Haines to start the construction of his garage unless they were guaranteed control of it. Haines said since it would be privately owned, it should have been allowed.
In a sense, he said believes he was saving the city from taking a loss on yet another parking garage.
“I told the mayor, ‘I don’t need the parking authority (to) build a garage and post a bond and take a loss on another garage, because I’d build the garage myself,’” Haines said. “I was going to do what (510 Flats) should be doing. I didn’t have any obligation to do that.”
Hotel Bethlehem is in the Central Business District, so Haines could have asked the city to build the garage for him.
Haines and the Bethlehem Parking Authority have been at odds over what’s best for Bethlehem for a while, he said, but the “watchdog” won’t let anything stand in the way of moving his city forward.