Gadfly in a meditative mood

Andrew Wagaman, “Morning Call Editor-in-Chief Terry Rang retiring amid larger newsroom reorganization.” January 29, 2020.

  • The Morning Call’s parent company offered buyouts to employees who have worked for Tribune for eight or more years. The Morning Call expects to lose managers from other departments, and additional employees next week.

EJG newsboy

Newsboy Gadfly at age 11.8 years with new bike bought with his earnings
framed by family underwear
(Dana Grubb is shuddering at the layout)

Another nail in the coffin.

Not only of Gadfly’s past.

But of  local news coverage.

Gadfly was just thinking. Approaching his 30th post on the Packer Ave. closing. And reading Kate Laepple’s article in the last post.

Laepple worked the Bethlehem beat for the Morning Call. Award-winning. Indefatigable. Exhaustive.

Where have the Laepple’s gone?

Who will do 30 stories on a subject of local interest any more?

Where is local news coverage going?

Toilet-ward.

What to do?

  • subscribe to the Bethlehem Press
  • support your citizen journalist, follow, and encourage others to follow
  • be a citizen journalist, contribute to Gadfly and BP


Good conversation builds community

“See Good News for Bad Government”on Bernie O’Hare’s Lehigh Valley Ramblings blog, especially the comments.

The contentious history of attempts to close Packer Avenue

logo Latest in a series of posts about Lehigh University and the Southside logo

“We cannot stand still.”
Lehigh representative Charles Seidle, 1965

“The foolish destruction of a whole community to appease a nontaxpaying institution.”
Southside resident Anne Pongracz, 1965

“There is no support in Council now or ever to close the street.”
City Councilman Paul Calvo, 1976

“The university has looked at Packer Avenue with envious eyes for a long time.”
Lehigh representative and former Bethlehem mayor Ken Smith, 1999

“As long as I’m on Council, I will never, never, never agree to let them have Packer.”
City Councilwoman Jean Belinski, 1999

“Maybe when that road needs $500,000 in improvements, they’d be willing to talk.”
Lehigh representative and former Bethlehem mayor Ken Smith, 1999

  • City Council creates Packer Ave. September 1, 1891 (info thanks to Gadfly #1 Stephen Antalics)
  • There once was a neighborhood here in the precise area bounded by the traffic study: “During the 1950s, the neighborhood between Packer Ave, Martel, Morton and Webster Streets was a bustling community” of 93 families. It is now “The Lost Neighborhood.”
    Packer 8
  • Maintaining that it has “a continuing interest in the economic, social and cultural welfare of the City, ” Lehigh argues, as reported in the Morning Call June 29, 1965, that “We cannot stand still” and advocates expansion to the north side of Packer Ave. as an example of the “mutual benefit” from university-city cooperation “to continue progress of our city.”
  • As reported in the same article, legendary Southside resident advocate Anne Pongracz called Lehigh a “do-nothing landlord” and called the urban renewal program “the foolish destruction of a whole community to appease a nontaxpaying institution.”

Packer_Ave_6_29_65

  • The Morning Call of April 16, 1967, notes that the Bethlehem Redevelopment Authority is petitioning to vacate Adams St. between Morton and Packer and “at a later date” will petition to vacate Packer from Adams to Vine.
  • The Morning Call of June 21, 1976, shows legendary City Councilman Paul Calvo confronting Lehigh over Packer Avenue. In its mid-60s master plan, Lehigh shows Packer between Vine and Webster as part of the campus since it owns all the property on both sides. Lehigh says that it has no plans to ask for a vacation “in the foreseeable future” and “we are not asking to have it closed.” But the possibility is still there. Campus expansion is a “political football,” with City officials periodically stressing the need for “stopping the university” from “squeezing out the South Side.”

Packer_Ave_6_21_76

  • The Morning Call of July 1, 1976, reports that Councilman Calvo tells Lehigh “there is no support in Council now or ever to close the street” and that Lehigh has nothing to gain from trying to do it “except a lot of bad feeling in the community.” For its part, Lehigh says there is no economic advantage for them to do it anyway. Control of parking seems to be Lehigh’s issue.

Packer Ave 7 1 76

  • The issue is parking as the May 25, 1999, Morning Call shows. Lehigh admits “the university has looked at Packer Avenue with envious eyes for a long time.” We’ve talked about it quietly,” but now City Council action “makes it too emotional to even consider it.” “Council members argued that Lehigh was being “unfairly favored over South Side residents” in regard to a parking program. Councilwoman Jean Belinski says, “that’s an emergency route through the South Side. As long as I’m on Council, I will never, never, never agree to let them have Packer.” To which Lehigh retorts, “Maybe when that road needs $500,000 in improvements, they’d be willing to talk.”

Packer_Ave_5_25_99

to be continued . . .

“Lehigh is trying to . . . make its campus less vehicle-centric and more pedestrian & bike friendly”

logo Latest in a series of posts about Lehigh University and the Southside logo

Gadfly:

It seems to me that one thing Lehigh is trying to do is make its campus less vehicle-centric and more pedestrian & bike friendly, and the Packer Avenue pedestrian mall would be a good example — especially if they make it a venue for events that are open to the community.

The city doesn’t seem to have any problem approving structures such as the new health building and the new business & econ building, both of which will make the pedestrian mall more valuable.

(The only concern I have is the possibility for increased congestion at Broughal MS at the beginning or end of the school day, something the traffic study definitely needs to consider & analyze.)

Peter Crownfield

What should the City traffic consultants study?

logo Latest in a series of posts about Lehigh University and the Southside logo

Kim Carrell-Smith is a 31-year resident of Bethlehem’s historic Southside, where she taught public history at Lehigh University for almost two decades. She is also an aspiring gadfly, buzzing in on issues of historic preservation, public education, city government, and other social justice issues. She tips her wings to the master gadflies who have served our community for so long!

Gadfly,

As residents of the west side of Lehigh’s campus, we use two routes to cross the Southside while avoiding 3rd and 4th Streets, and based on our observations and the current traffic on Summit and W.8th Street, so do a lot of other people.

The more common of two cross-Southside patterns now from 378/Wyandotte is to turn at the blinking light onto Summit Street, go down Summit to take a left on Brodhead, and a right on Packer. The other route which is less busy these days has drivers turning off 378 at the blinking light at W.8th Street, one block above Summit. This is the route we take at rush hour or school bus time, crossing through Lehigh’s campus via W.8th Street, which becomes University Drive.  We often follow folks who are on the same cross route, heading for Taylor Street, E.6th Street, Hillside Avenue, and/or Hayes Street.

With the Packer Avenue closure between Vine and Webster, the current more commonly used cut-through at Summit may become less popular. Brodhead traffic already tends to back up the hill at rush hour and it will probably be worse with the new traffic patterns, particularly with the increase in Morton Street traffic turning on and off of Brodhead; we appreciate that the city has already promised to look at that as part of their traffic study. But maybe, as noted at the meeting, folks will wait out the backup, and go further down to take one of the big arteries rather than turning onto Morton? Both the 378 eastbound Summit-Morton cross-Southside route (including whatever may occur at the east end of that), as well as the 4th/3rd cross routes, should be part of the traffic study.

But we suspect that the W.8th Street/upper campus eastbound route will become more appealing to drivers seeking to cross the Southside while avoiding major traffic backups. So, as one young man at the meeting said, the city’s consultants should also study the changes in traffic on the upper campus.

So please, city traffic consultants, study

  • the W.8th-University Drive cross-Southside route
  • the Summit-Morton cross-Southside route
    • And please include the traffic that may bolt off of Summit or W.8th Streets onto Carlton and Montclair Avenues…
  • the effects on traffic on 4th and 3rd Streets, too.

And, please

  • consider retiming the very long light at 4th and Brodhead to ease the backup on Brodhead

Whew, these could be some busy traffic engineers! So I’ll leave any east-of-campus traffic study requests to folks who live over there . . .

Kim

Waving a yellow flag at Lehigh’s strategies

logo Latest in a series of posts about Lehigh University and the Southside logo

Gadfly,

I would raise a cautionary flag on Lehigh’s “three place-based strategies” where it calls for “area improvement through acquisition or rehabilitation.”

Each time any non-profit acquires real estate it removes that property from the tax rolls.

Then other property owners, including home owners, have to suck up and fill that real estate tax paying void that is created.

That is problematic for residents, many of whom live on fixed incomes or are lower income, and for whom maintaining their home ownership is already a difficult situation.

Dana Grubb

According to its Master Plan, what does Lehigh want to do for, to, and with the City?

logo Latest in a series of posts about Lehigh University and the Southside logo

Why is Gadfly serving up this huge text omelette for your breakfast this morning?

The Mayor said graphically at the January 23 Broughal public meeting on the temporary Packer Ave. closing that he would be “crucified” if he decided to go ahead with the street vacation without providing substantial data and rationale. Crucified. That’s what he said.

Yes.

But Gadfly thinks it’s going to be hard for the Mayor and Council to say no to Lehigh. And that one of the arguments in favor will be that Lehigh does a lot of good for the City.

And thus how can we say no.

So Gadfly is anxious to see how Lehigh describes its relationship with the City — and to see how he feels about it. Is he going to be disposed in Lehigh’s favor? Should he be thinking of Lehigh as a benevolent partner with the City as it moves off The Hill?

Frankly, Gadfly worries about continued “Lehigh sprawl,” and he is the kind of person who walks with the ghosts of the Lost Neighborhood.

And we have to be realistic and acknowledge — as a Gadfly follower just reminded him — that Lehigh looks out for itself.

So let’s see what Lehigh says. Always to the primary sources in Gad-world.

The 2012 Lehigh Master Plan describes three “place-based strategies” in its actions related to the City:

  • Area improvement through acquisition or rehabilitation
  • Develop a dense mixed-use housing project through partnership
  • Participate in a neighborhood improvement district

Remember that the following section of the Lehigh Master Plan would have been written a decade ago and thus might feel or be dated. But Gadfly is interested in the voice, the language with which Lehigh describes its relationship with the Southside.

Goal 3: Participating in the Renaissance of South Bethlehem

Objectives Of The Real Estate Strategy: As an integral part of the Campus Master Plan, and with a focus on implementation, the South Bethlehem real estate strategy is critical for achieving three objectives:

Expanding the quantity and quality of housing options for both undergraduate and graduate students as well as faculty and staff. The Campus Master Plan projects a need for approximately 150-300 graduate beds in new and existing housing and 250 undergraduate beds in new and existing housing.

Promoting economic revitalization of South Bethlehem. Universities across the nation, including Lehigh, have acknowledged the importance of engaging in improving their adjacent urban areas, to improve the quality, enjoyment, and safety related to the off-campus experience for students, faculty, staff, and neighborhood residents.

Creating spaces for additional University activities. The Campus Master Plan identifies key catalytic expansion projects for University programs and administration. As has been the case in other college towns, creation of a facility that can meet University needs while contributing life and vibrancy to the city can be a useful approach to downtown revitalization.

Principles when participating in the renaissance of South Bethlehem in the Campus Master Plan include:
• South Bethlehem should serve as a draw for faculty, staff, and students.
• Work with the local community to build opportunities for mutual benefit.
• Be a presence to help revitalize South Bethlehem.
• Create opportunities for students and faculty to live and work in South Bethlehem.
• Build upon academic strengths to address the issues of a post-modern urban environment: education, health, housing, small merchants, and entrepreneurs.

A Place-Based Strategy: The Campus Master Plan has identified two critical zones for South Bethlehem revitalization through the University’s potential intervention. Real estate efforts should be concentrated in these areas as much as possible.

The residential neighborhoods to the east and west of campus include numerous rental units within the older housing stock which serve Lehigh students. A partnership program with local landlords to rehabilitate these areas could both benefit the neighborhood and provide safe and affordable housing for the student population. The core commercial area of South Bethlehem from New Street to Polk Street and from Fourth Street to Third Street is one of the main gateways to campus and a key area for amenities and services that support both campus and community. This area includes the University-owned Service Building [4th and Adams], the South Bethlehem Greenway (a new linear park on the site of a former rail right-of-way), and several City-owned lots along the Greenway that could support new residential and retail uses.

A Partnership-Driven Strategy: The uses critical to a South Bethlehem revitalization strategy are generally those that are produced by market-oriented, private activity including housing, retail, and other commercial uses. In South Bethlehem, economic conditions have made success more difficult. The most efficient use of the University’s resources is therefore not always to develop and finance projects outright, but to leverage new activity in South Bethlehem through partnerships between the University, private developers and owners, and the City of Bethlehem. Implementation of the strategies through the partnership approach will nonetheless require a long-term commitment on the part of all partners and stakeholders in the process.

Options For The Housing Strategy: A combination of both “decentralized” and “centralized” approaches will be critical to improving South Bethlehem and the quality of off-campus housing. The University should aim to implement strategies that are not only maximally catalytic of South Bethlehem revitalization but also produce the desired number of new or improved quality beds for the reasonable University investment. The decentralized approach targets the substantial number of existing off-campus housing units leased by Lehigh students which currently offer sub-par living conditions and are in need of significant rehabilitation as well as a higher quality of management by their owners. To appropriately incentivize the private market to undertake needed investments in these homes for lower cash flow, the gap created by rehabilitation costs and likely rents would need to be closed.

Strategic steps would include identifying priority areas for housing improvement, setting a target for the proportion of housing to be rehabilitated, and partake in partnership opportunities. To offset the gap between rehab investment and likely revenue streams, the most effective approach would be for the University to subsidize purchase and rehabilitation of groups of houses by private parties, achieving the University’s goals at the lowest combination of cost and risk. The rehabilitation of a subset of the existing housing supply in the targeted areas would likely alter market dynamics in a manner such that the rest of the stock would be rehabilitated over time in response to changes in demand.

As a more centralized approach, the development of a currently-unoffered product type—multistory housing in an amenitized urban core—will be more attractive to both graduate students, faculty, and staff. The University could support either gap-financing for a multi-unit building built by a private owner/developer, or directly finance a residential building that would provide graduate student housing exclusively. A sizeable development in South Bethlehem would serve as a catalytic project for area growth and improvement.

As with the decentralized approach, the University’s goal should be to produce the maximum number of quality units with the minimum investment. However, the need for graduate dormitory housing creates a special case, since there are significant advantages to the University owning or holding a long-term lease for these units.

Service Expansion Strategy: Increasing the student, faculty, and staff population in South Bethlehem would induce increased retail activity and provide additional indirect benefits to the University and the neighborhood. Retail which caters to student needs could also potentially reduce car ownership among students and help reduce the University’s parking demand. An increase in retail activity would also add to the eyes-on-the-street factor and improve area safety. Placing retailers strategically between or adjacent to campus and residential areas will increase retail viability and pedestrian activity.

A strategic framework that would increase retail, food and beverage, and entertainment options in South Bethlehem would benefit the immediate area and provide much-needed amenities for the student population. The introduction of more retail space could potentially attract more residents to the immediate area, thus revitalizing the area nearest campus.

Safety And Community Strategy: The potential for South Bethlehem to become an even more vibrant and diverse community that is welcoming to both the students, faculty, and staff of Lehigh, and to local residents, centers around the perception of safety and security in the neighborhood. Adoption of the proposed Bethlehem Neighborhood Improvement District (NID), in which the University would play a key role, would lead to more area improvements in several ways. A Clean and Safe program would enhance neighborhood surroundings and would increase the presence of public safety officers in South Bethlehem. A retail tenant recruitment and storefront improvement strategy would support retail growth. Finally, capital improvements to the public realm would improve the quality of the pedestrian experience and help to activate key streets, building upon the existing successful endeavors in the neighborhood.

University Program Strategy: Lehigh’s location within South Bethlehem also creates opportunities for meaningful connections between University programs and community interests, in physical spaces that become “magnets” for campus-community interaction. As at other universities located in urban areas, academic and other programs can support or engage in neighborhood revitalization and generate day, evening, and weekend activity with public programs.

During on campus interviews, faculty and staff prioritized interaction with the community as the most important function of a potential Lehigh development in South Bethlehem. As opportunities arise to strategically embed University functions in the surrounding community, proximity to campus, maximizing available assets, and generating activity should be considered as key characteristics. As an exemplar, the Lehigh-owned Service Building represents these aspirations well.

The Service Building [4th and Adams] was built in 1894 as a cold storage warehouse served by an active rail line. Today, this historic industrial building houses workshops and storage spaces for the University’s facilities department. Originally in an industrial area, the building now sits at a location of strategic importance between the East Fourth Street retail corridor and the new South Bethlehem Greenway. While firmly part of the South Bethlehem context, it is only one block from campus along Adams Street. The Service Building could potentially be adaptively reused to create a new landmark and beacon of activity. The historic industrial building has architectural characteristics that could be well-suited for creative uses that would benefit from high ceilings and loft-like spaces. Ground floor spaces along the street, as well as along the Greenway, could engage the community through shared uses and by creating vitality during both day and evening hours to activate the area.

An improved streetscape along Adams Street could provide a safe and well-lit connection to the campus proper. Street improvements and better lighting in South Bethlehem were prioritized by students during on campus interviews. With a number of large redevelopment sites in the immediate area, the Service Building exemplar is envisioned as a catalyst to the revitalization of the core commercial district of South Bethlehem.

———–

to be continued . . .