(Cross-posted from the other blog. I wanted to flag this Bethlehem story for the readers statewide, since some of our other central Cities of the Third Class are also starting to see more interest in downtown development, after decades of neglect. City leaders and downtown businesses generally know what’s up, but they sometimes face political resistance from no-growth NIMBY types who have gotten comfortable not having to share “their” neighborhoods with newcomers.)
Some arguments against the new mid-rise buildings proposed for Southside Bethlehem are starting to bubble up, with complaints about an alleged conflict with the neighborhood’s character, and fears of the Brooklynization of Southside.
I love Bethlehem , but having lived in Brooklyn, let me say that until there are about 45,000 more restaurants and bars, nobody’s allowed to broach that comparison. Having 3 wine bars won’t even make Bethlehem as bougey as like, Knoxville, TN. Let’s try to keep things in perspective here, folks.
We’re talking about two mid-rise buildings. Not high-rise – mid-rise. Not “behemoths” – average-sized buildings for a central business district. Most of the core Southside downtown is zoned CB (Central Business District) – a zone which has a 200-foot height limit. Neither building will scratch 200 feet, I don’t think. By the way, the 200 foot height limit was instituted in 2012. It used to be unlimited, so this is well within the scope of the city’s long-standing vision for this neighborhood.
Lynn Olanoff checked in with Southside business owners about their views on these buildings, and most of them love the idea. Even Laura Jasorka, who would have to move her Loose Threads Boutique, thinks this will be an awesome development. The reason is that it will bring many more people into the Southside downtown, and that will mean lots more foot traffic. That foot traffic will create demand for existing businesses, and it will create more opportunities to fill vacant storefronts:
Deja Brew Coffeehouse & Deli owner Jeff Vaclavik said he’s especially looking forward to the hundreds of students who would live just a block from his West Fourth Street eatery.
“I can’t complain about 300 to 400 students a block away,” said Vaclavik, who has owned Deja Brew for almost 19 years. “It’s certainly very ambitious. It’s enormous.”
A few South Side business owners have concerns about both the size and height of the buildings, but Tallarico said he’s not among them. He said he especially supports Benner’s goal of bringing more college students into the business district, both through the housing and planned high-end restaurants and bars.
“I like his thoughts of creating a college town and getting Lehigh into town,” Tallarico said.
Cleo’s Silversmith Studio & Gallery owner Cleo Smith said she has even greater anticipation for the possible 400 office workers, who may be more prone to shop in her store than college students. More people walking in the business district will both support existing stores and help fill the neighborhood’s vacant storefronts, she said.
“The more people over here, the better,” said Smith, who has been in business on East Third Street for 16 years. “I think all the businesses on the South Side would benefit.”