The BPA presentation on the Polk Street Garage at City Council July 2 (81)

(81st in a series of posts on parking)

Here is the detailed document the BPA supplied to City Council before the meeting: BPA Presentation – 7-2-19 – City Council – DRAFT. It provides two financing scenarios, one with a fine increase, one without.

Interestingly, the project is financially viable either way.

Key points include the letters of commitment to lease 80% of the proposed spaces and the decision to fund the garage with a private bank loan without guarantee by the City.

Mayor Donchez:

The Mayor emphasized that he fully supports a project that he sees as important for the development of the eastern end of 3rd Street.

Video of July 2 City Council meeting at min. 21:45.

  • “This is a project that has been a priority of mine for several years.”
  • “It’s a critical project to support the parking needs of Northampton Community College and other businesses in that vicinity of the eastern corridor of 3rd Street.”
  • “Last year I believe that the Authority had the responsibility to research all possible options for financing and proceed in the manner in the best interests of the taxpayer.”
  • “I strongly support this project. . . . I think it’s important for economic development of the eastern corridor of 3rd Street.”
  • “Out of 470, they have roughly 370 commitments for leases.”
  • “And even when you look at the New Street Garage . . . in the year and a half since it opened, there’s 400 leases without Lehigh students, and I think that’s probably exceeded expectations.”
  • “I did make a commitment as Mayor that we would try to wean ourselves off the contribution from the Bethlehem Parking Authority when the TIF would end, and I do want to fulfill that commitment. . . . When the TIF expires, the City will receive some additional revenue from the TIF.”
  • “So I think this is a good project . . . I think that the financials [are in good order].

Kevin Livingston, Exec. Dir., Bethlehem Parking Authority

Again, key points are that the BPA doesn’t need City backing for the financing, and though it will recommend fine increases, they are not necessary for the financial viability of the project.

Video of July 2 City Council meeting at min. 23:50.

  • “The Bethlehem Parking Authority explored both a public and private financing of the Polk Street Garage.”
  • “The bank loan does not require a fine increase or a City guaranty of the debt.”
  • The garage is currently [planned to a 470-space garage with a 30-space parking lot.”
  • “We intend to add a bid alternate to build the garage 91 spaces larger.”
  • “Furthermore, there is an opportunity for a horizontal expansion of the garage of approximately 159 spaces.”
  • “The maximum size of the garage is approximately 750 spaces.”
  • “For $2.1million, the Bethlehem Parking Authority purchased the land for the proposed garage from the Sands Casino in April 2019.”
  • “It is the intention of the Bethlehem Parking Authority to close on the private bank loan in July and hope to start construction in December 2019 with anticipated completion 2020.”
  • The BPA also plans to send the official request to Council in the summer of 2019 to consider fine increases to improve the parking system.”

PFM Financial Advisors

The BPA financial advisors answer President Waldron’s question, “What is the reason you are not looking for the City guarantee that you most recently did for New Street [garage]?”

Video of July 2 City Council meeting at min. 26:19.

  • “Our goal is to always try to kinda move the Parking Authority . . . financially away from the host city.”
  • “[With New Street Garage financing] the Authority went out and established their own trust indenture, issued the debt, but guaranteed by the City, so we were starting to give the Authority a little bit of its own name, its own credit out there, but still with the backing of the City.”
  • “That coincided very nicely with the financial resurgence of the City . . . perhaps now the highest [credit rating] of 3rd-class cities in the state.”
  • “The goal was as the Authority became more financially healthy was to have the Authority possibly be able to do their own financing without the City backing.”
  • “Again, that’s our goal as financial advisors . . . if they are financially stable enough to do that, they should do it . . . to take some of the liabilities off the City taxpayers.”
  • “A win-win to be able to secure a financial package for this garage with very good terms and conditions.

Are you grounded in the “facts”? Next we’ll move into the discussion by Council and audience members of this presentation by the BPA.

How did the BPA presentation go over? What are you thinking?

An overview of discussion about the Polk St. Garage with BPA at the July 2 CC meeting (80)

(80th in a series of posts on parking)

We can use our good newsfolk for an overview of this discussion preliminary to a final proposal in August.

Nicole Radzievich, “Does South Bethlehem need another parking garage? Mayor and parking authority think so, but others fear risk to taxpayers.” Morning Call, July 3, 2019.

Sara Satullo, “The $16.8M planned Southside parking deck plans to pay its own way and open by end of 2020.”, July 3, 2019.

  • BPA bought the 3rd and Polk property from the Sands in April for $2.1m
  • The PSG is planned for 470 spaces (New St. = 626, Walnut St. = 777)
  • Open is the possibility of expanding PSG to 750 spaces
  • Price tag for PSG = $16.8m
  • PSG could open December 2020
  • The BPA will not need a loan backed by the City for PSG (unlike for NSG)
  • As planned, the BPA will stop paying the city $450,000 annually in 2021
  • That planned reduction helps the BPA pay new debt on its own
  • No decision yet on whether to renovate or reconstruct WSG
  • Thus, no decision yet on whether WSG will need a city-backed loan
  • The Mayor wants the PSG
  • The Mayor wants the BPA to stand on its own financially
  • The financial advisors say that the BPA can stand on its own for PSG
  • The BPA has commitments now for 370 spaces
  • PSG would include commercial or residential space
  • For policy reasons, the BPA will recommend increasing the fine structure
  • But increased fines are not needed for financing of PSG
  • Questioned was the amount of debt the BPA plans to carry
  • Questioned was what happens if BPA can’t pay its debt
  • Questioned was why contract rates were far under market rate
  • Suggestion was waiting till demand pushes the need for a garage
  • Exploring the use of the “Ruins lot” in the meantime
  • Countered by information that the “Ruins lot” is not and would not be in play
  • Questioned was subsidizing a garage outside city’s historical district
  • BPA plans to vote on securing the private bank loan at its July 24 meeting

Got the general idea? Now let’s go a little deeper.



Summer reading

Gadfly always worries that “comments” to posts get lost in the WordPress design.

Did you see this comment from Peter Crownfield a week or so back?

People who are deciding or contributing to public policy should probably read Bill McKibben’s latest: Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out?

Spurs me to ask what you are reading. Spurs me to ask what we should be reading? In regard to City issues, I mean.

To give us some ideas. Some solutions.

I am nibbling at McKibben’s anthology American Earth: Conversations on the Environment since Thoreau. Small anthology chunks. Reading in bits and pieces. Suggested by follower Ed Lotto.

I’ve also been dipping in to works by Jeff Speck — who did a study for Bethlehem, actually — works like Walkable City. Suggested by Tony Hanna.

Give us some ideas!


Concern for public safety bumps up against safeguarding the First Amendment

(The latest in a series of posts on City government)

“Bethlehem is considering an ordinance that would require a prior permit if five or more people plan a demonstration in a public place like a sidewalk or park.”

Bill 19-2019 Establish Article 961-Special Event Activity Permits-1

The rationale is based on public safety, but there is concern over limitation of free speech.

Councilpersons Van Wirt, Negron, and Waldron have trouble with the number 5 triggering the need for a permit. They would like the number higher.

There was a 2-hour Public Safety Committee meeting (CM Colon, chair, with CWs Van Wirt and Negron) on the proposed ordinance last week. Gadfly suggests that you watch 1:30:00 onward to focus on the important concluding discussion.

It is expected that the critics of the proposed ordinance with 5 people triggering the need for a permit will be introduced tomorrow night.

Local blogger Bernie O’Hare belted the proposed ordinance today in “Bethlehem City Council Takes Aim at First Amendment” (and you will enjoy seeing Bernie refer to the Gadfly as “very gentile”).

Expect a spirited debate tomorrow night at Council.

Nicole Radzievich, “Want to protest in Bethlehem? There could soon be a permit for that.” Morning Call, June 14, 2019.

A street preacher calling a passerby a whore. A nearly naked woman protesting a circus in town. Workers rights. Immigration. School shootings. Occupy Wall Street. Make America Great Again. Over the years, Bethlehem has witnessed more than a few headline-grabbing demonstrations as activists spread their message in a city that often teems with visitors attending festivals and special events on any given weekend.

Now, in the name of public safety, Bethlehem is considering an ordinance that would require a prior permit if five or more people plan a demonstration in a public place like a sidewalk or park. City officials say the goal is not to restrict free speech, but gather information. Police want to know where and when potential flare-ups may occur, and then deploy police and other emergency personnel accordingly. They say they’re concerned about the conduct of the demonstrators, not their message.

Pennsylvania ACLU attorney Mary Catherine Roper said she believes a threshold of just five people would not hold up in court. Some City Council members are considering increasing that threshold in the proposed ordinance to avoid a First Amendment conflict. “I have concerns about potential overreach,” Councilwoman Paige Van Wirt. She is concerned the requirement could deter small groups from speaking out.

Philadelphia has an ordinance similar to what Bethlehem is considering, but the permit requirement would be triggered by demonstrations of 75 people or more, and Pittsburgh’s limit is 50, according to a survey presented to City Council at a recent public safety committee meeting. Bethlehem police Chief Mark DiLuzio said at a June 5 meeting those municipalities have police departments much larger than Bethlehem’s 155-officer department. Ideally, he said he would like to have at least two officers for every protester, if they are uncooperative. DiLuzio said the city has about 20 officers working the South Side and 50 on the North Side during Musikfest. So, even a handful of people protesting during a festival can significantly divert resources, he said.

“You’re putting police in position to confront American citizens over nothing more than a peaceful assembly,” said Carroll, also the Republican nominee for Northampton County district attorney. ”It’s absurd.”

Council President Adam Waldron said he appreciates the public safety argument, but it makes him nervous any time government “is tip-toeing up against the First Amendment.”

Council could vote on the ordinance as early as Tuesday, which would put it in effect for Musikfest Aug. 2-11.

“Bethlehem Moment” status report: One more volunteer needed

(Latest in a series of posts on Bethlehem Moments)

Gadfly has asked President Waldron if we can move the Bethlehem Moment to the top of the meeting after the prayer and the pledge.

Here’s the document I supplied to support the request:

Bethlehem Moment Project
Ed Gallagher
version 1 6/4/19


That beginning July 2, 2019, as a one-year pilot program, Bethlehem City Council add a historical moment – “A Bethlehem Moment” – to its opening meeting protocol immediately following the prayer and the pledge of allegiance and before the body of the meeting starts.

What is a Bethlehem Moment?

  • an historical vignette
  • a scene or event from Bethlehem history between 1741 and the 1960s
  • topic of the author’s choice, approved by the program coordinator
  • short, so as to not unduly delay the business of the meeting
  • entered in the minutes, published on the Gadfly blog and perhaps also on the City website or social media
  • examples can be found at

Why a Bethlehem Moment?

  • we are a town that has made significant history
  • we are a town that values our history
  • we have three historical districts
  • our history completes the triumvirate of God and Country that is the source of our values and the context for our decisions
  • without a sense of our shared history, we can never be a true community
  • by invoking our history at the beginning of the meeting, we would be powerfully signaling our commitment to our history
  • by invoking our history at the beginning of the meeting, we would be encouraging knowledge of that history
  • this addition to our meeting protocol will make us unique among our peers

How will the project be administered?

Ed Gallagher will engage to find readers and arrange the schedule for the year. After which, he will find a successor coordinator. Or City Council could take the project over and line up participants as it does clergy. Or the program could languish, having run its course.

All elements flexible!

A profound Gadfly thanks to these good people who have signed on for the rest of the year. Several people have indicated interest in that last date but no firm commitment yet. So we could use one more “Momentor” to finish off the 2019 line-up.

Volunteer needed, please!  Info here: Bethlehem Moment Information

Ed Gallagher

Bethlehem Moments Schedule 2019

July 2                        Lynn Rothman

July16                       John Smith

August 6                   (Musikfest)

August 20                 Mary Toulouse

September 3             Olga Negron

September 17           Jim Petrucci

October 1                  Johanna Brams

October 15                 Stasia Brown-Pallrand

November 6               Steve Repasch

November 19             Rayah Levy

December 3                Robert Bilheimer

December 17

The meeting time blues

(The latest in a series of posts on City government)

The City has a whole bunch of Authorities, Boards, Commissions, and Committees at which your business is done.

They meet at various times Monday through Thursday from 3:30 to 7PM.

No meeting time is perfect, of course.

And you realize that when there is a meeting that you want or you have to attend.

And it’s at a time when you work.

Lots of people have trouble attending the 3:30, 4, and 4:30 meetings because of work.

Diane Backus movingly complained about this at the important Planning Commission meeting on the Martin Tower site plan two months or so ago. Councilwoman Van Wirt complained also at that meeting and again at City Council. Both to good effect, since Gadfly reported that the Mayor had directed the ABCs in a May 6 memo to move meetings to the evening.

Here’s an example of the problem with meetings that start in the afternoon.

At the routine 4PM Planning Commission meeting yesterday afternoon, a resident objecting to a development proposal said he had emails from 9 neighbors — also objectors — who could not attend the meeting because of the time, and thus that the PC was hearing only a “tiny fraction of the neighborhood’s concern about the project.”

The PC did not rule in favor of the objectors at the meeting. One wonders if there would have been a different decision if 9 additional neighbors were present and registered their objections personally.

But it sounded as if the Mayor was mandating change in the meeting times to alleviate such resident time conflicts.

Well, not so, apparently — the Community Revitalization and Improvement Zone Board  (CRIZ) read the Mayor’s memo as a request to “consider” a meeting time change “to make it more convenient for the public to attend.” They did so “consider” the Mayor’s request at their June 5 meeting and decided not to change the time.

The negative discussion went like this: since meetings tend to involve more staffers than the public, the afternoon time is more “thoughtful” of staffer’s time; “not a lot of sense to move ordinary business meetings to 6 or 7 o’clock” when we have the ability to use special meetings when there are matters of more public interest; there haven’t been that many meeting where the public have attended, and we could hold meetings later if we thought the public wanted to come — so “keep the time where it is and move it when necessary”; change would mean getting other groups together to schedule the meeting room they all share; early in the morning may be better for merchants than 6-7PM; is dinner going to be served?

So be it.

But this one demurrer certainly caught Gadfly’s attention and should catch yours: “with family lives and two active teenagers, evenings can become more difficult to attend.”

Paraphrase: changing the time to make it more convenient for the public to attend meetings would interfere with my personal life.

Gadfly hopes that line is remembered when that Board member comes up for reappointment.