Update on the Polk Street Garage (78)

(78th in a series of posts on parking)

Recap: Gadfly followers will remember a rather tense situation in the last half of last year revolving around a parking study and especially plans for a contested Polk Street garage, a situation that ended with the Parking Authority raising parking meter rates but City Council balking on adjusting parking fines until there was some clarity on Polk Street.  Here’s the pertinent section from the Mayor’s presentation at the Nov 7 Council meeting that temporarily quieted the controversy: “Bethlehem Parking Authority is exploring all areas of financing future capital projects, including borrowing with or without City guarantee. Once they have completed their analysis and I have reviewed the options, I will ask the Bethlehem Parking Authority to seek the fine increase and to brief City Council on the recommended method of financing at that time. It is important that the Authority research all the possible options including eliminating risk to the taxpayers of the City of Bethlehem. I expect this to occur early 2019.”

Gadfly’s notes indicate that the Mayor expected the financial report in the first quarter of 2019 (over today), at which time what people on both sides felt would be the awkward disjunction between the rates and the fines could be addressed. But we are not going to have that financial report for at least another three months. Gadfly supposes financial matters can’t be rushed, and it doesn’t look like the end of the world is nigh as predicted because it may be more economical to pay a fine than feed a meter.

BPA Board Chairman Joseph Hoffmeier explained at the Board meeting last Wednesday that garage size right now is estimated at 470, that financing is being explored, that a construction manager is being sought, that other development (retail, residential?) here would be included, and that it would be another 90 days for the report before Council. Board member Lynn Cunningham argued for consideration of increasing the projected size of Polk, supported by member Diana Morganelli.

Here’s the audio of the section of the Board meeting devoted to Polk Street:

And some clips:

  • Hoffmeier: “We’re still trying to figure out how big to make this thing, and, of course, that’s going to have an impact on the cost. We thought we had a number of 470, but it may grow or it may stay at 470. We’re trying to get a lot of the stakeholders involved and actually come to the table and make a commitment. Also looking at any ancillary development that may take place down the road that may require parking.”
  • Hoffmeier: “We’re at a very good rate right now, so we could take our time and price this out. We’ve had some very good offers from some private banks. We can do a City guarantee in a full-blown bond, but all those will be looked at depending on our actual cost.”
  • Hoffmeier: “We also have an RFP out for a construction manager.”
  • Hoffmeier: “So it’s still up in the air right now, but I imagine that within 90 days we should have some better idea, and at that point we will move in front of Council.”
  • Hoffmeier: “And also in front of that there’s about 10,000 square feet on the front on Third Street which includes an RFP for a retail or residential or some sort of development.”
  • Cunningham: “With the current projects that are on the books right now, that’s pretty much going to fill that garage, and there’s so much more open space there that is going to be eventually developed, to fill the garage at 470 spaces where it’s going to be filled immediately, I think is not thinking ahead.”
  • Cunningham: “Especially because the lot behind Northampton Community College at ArtsQuest, that lot is not actually owned by ArtsQuest but people use it as a free lot . . . by Sands, and when Wind Creek comes in that’s one of the projects that I think they have highlighted as something they are going to develop.”
  • Cunningham: “It is my opinion that it would be foolish to build a garage that’s going to be filled right away , and we should think in a larger scale. . . . And I think we have to look at what happened with this garage. This garage when it was built was not filled. . . so we need to just look at that and think hard about it before we decide.”
  • Solicitor Broughal: “The Ruins lot is the wild card . . . from a monetary standpoint . . . so much of this is up in the air and guess work .”
  • Hoffmeier: “So we just need more time. It’s all being looked at. . . . It’s just a matter of how big we are going to make it.”

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