The City committee’s evaluation of the Polk developers thought to be “laughable and wrong”

(116th in a series of posts on parking)

John Price is a forty-something resident of the forgotten far northeast Bethlehem. He is a computer nerd by day and political wonk and local government follower in the shadows of the night. A socially liberal, fiscal conservative in a world gone mad, he wonders if he is in danger of extinction.

Gadfly:

As someone who follows development in Bethlehem, I find the committee’s determination of “Nova Development has a stronger track record of project completion in the City of Bethlehem and a more desirable building design” to be laughable and wrong. Nova Development, to the best of my knowledge, has not completed 1 project in the City of Bethlehem, or anywhere. Scarcia and Allied Construction are the people behind Nova and are not developers but, rather, a construction company hired by developers like Ashley Development to build projects. They should not get credit for being hired by a developer to build a building. If that were the case, Boyle Construction and Butz Construction would be the best developers in the area.

Second, Peron and Petrucci each have a very strong track record in the City and Lehigh Valley. For the committee to allow personal animosities to cloud their judgment is ridiculous. CW Van Wirt should never have been on this committee since she has come out against the garage in the past. Heller and Karner have a dislike for former Mayor Callahan, whose company is involved.

Third, this is for Kizman, CRIZ uses state taxes not city taxes. So the City loses nothing, and will gain from an increased assessment on the property for taxes, as well as EIT and BPT taxes.

Fourth, Peron and Petrucci each control their own CRIZ land for other projects. They could easily transfer some of their acreage to the parcel. Nova would have included CRIZ, but they control none — because of that whole lack of developing anything from above.

Fifth, the committee’s dismissal of 20% of the CRIZ was short-sighted. 100% of the state taxes for that parcel will be CRIZ increment. 20% of that could mean significant income to the BPA.

Finally, from a BPA perspective, you make more $$$ from daily parking than monthly parking. While 75 spots vs 32 is a big difference. The hourly rate for this 43 spots should be included in your analysis. Even at $5 per day for 300 days per year, would $64,500 per year.

John

The BPA decision: Is it such a no-brainer that you would sacrifice better design for greater profit?

(115th in a series of posts on parking)

Gadfly’s multi-post coverage of the August 28 Bethlehem Parking Authority meeting suffered hiatus interruptus because of mental static in Gadfly House. Freshen up your memories by going to Parking on the Gadfly sidebar.

Remember that on August 28 the BPA was to choose between two proposals (Nova and Peron) for a retail/residential component along the 3rd Street side of a new Polk Street parking garage.

Gadfly was glad to see this retail/residential component associated with the garage design, for it is in line with ideas he had been reading in Jeff Speck for “hiding” the garage and thus fostering City goals of walkability and the general quality of “street life.”

The BPA, like all Authorities, is “independent” and, moreover, is funding the project without City backing, but it asked the City for an evaluation of the proposals.

Gadfly was glad to hear about that, for the City, though sharing with the BPA the practical concern for providing sufficient parking in the eastern corridor of 3rd Street, might be thought to speak from a bigger picture perspective when it came to retail/residential aspects.

But the requested City evaluation (BPA Proposal Analysis (FINAL)_1) was not even mentioned by name or considered in any detail in the 2:50 mins. that the Board spent discussing and voting on the two proposals — one full minute of which was taken by the solicitor reading the motion.

That’s one minute and fifty seconds of discussion.

The City committee favored Nova; the BPA approved Peron.

Here is Gadfly’s rough comparison chart of the two proposals on several points:

Polk comparison 1

Is there nothing here that merited deeper discussion?

Well, first of all, Gadfly — a babe in the woods as far as these matters are concerned — wondered if the BPA had to choose one “as-is” proposal over the other. One of the Board members said there were good points in both proposals. So, was negotiation possible at this point? Peron, we’d like something on the roof. Nova, we want a local retailer. Etcetera, etcetera. Could there be mix and match? Could the reps from both sides address such desiderata right then and there? And/or be sent back to their drawing boards for resubmission and discussion at a later time? Bottom line(s): was the Board narrowly locked in to what exactly was submitted? did their decision have to be made that day? Gadfly does not know what the “rules” are in such proceedings and might be exceedingly naive here. But if there were good things in both proposals, why not try to get them in the final design? Seems common sense. Gadfly bets you were thinking along these lines too.

Gadfly — again, a novice in these matters, of course, like most of you are — couldn’t understand why two veteran developers experienced in and keenly aware of the Southside market would be approx. $200,000 apart (when you figure in the CRIZ, which, frankly, is a mystery that Gadfly is working on) in their purchase offers. A differential large enough to literally blind Board member’s eyes and blunt discussion. Peron offered about 35% more than Nova. Isn’t that gap odd? Which actuary lives on another planet?

“Market-rate” v. “luxury” apartments. Probably little or no difference in those terms. But anybody following Gadfly knows we’ve been talking about the need for more housing that “regular” people can afford. Looks like we won’t get that with either proposal. Whatever happened to the idea of “inclusive zoning”?

Nova’s new Bethlehem Steel design (a local history element) over Peron’s design simply matching the current buildings to the right and left of the garage certainly grabs Gadfly more. The City committee called the Nova design “exciting,” “unique,” “unusual.”

Factory Retail as Peron’s tenant does sound exciting. But the City committee raised the question of them using the entire space. Do we have an answer to that? Are they locked in to Peron? Could they be one of the tenants for Nova? To repeat, Gadfly doesn’t know how these things work, whether such shifts are possible.

Gadfly would certainly have liked to have heard discussion of such matters.

So, the purchase price line in the chart dominated attention: Peron offered approx. $200,000 more.

The BPA would gain approx. $200,000 by awarding the sale to Peron.

So, the short pre-vote conversation was dominated by such comments as these:

“I can’t get past the difference in price.”

“It’s dollars and cents at the end of the day. It is a lot of ka-ching.”

“I’m not walking away from $200,000.”

Basically, Big Money meant End of Discussion.

Let’s quote again from the conclusion to the City committee’s evaluation:

Nova Development has a stronger track record of project completion in the City of Bethlehem and a more desirable building design. The Nova design would add a variety of building styles to the corridor and is inclusive of more desirable design elements. The overall aesthetics, including the stone arches reflecting the ruins and the steel elements, provide an overall stronger relationship to the place in with the building is located. Additionally, Nova Development’s proposed use of the building is more comprehensive, providing commercial opportunities beyond first floor retail and greater opportunity for use by the general public. The proposed roof use of the Nova design, as either an amenity or restaurant, is a significant strength in the proposal and is a large factor in the difference between the two proposals.

If the BPA Board member can’t get past the difference in price, the Gadfly can’t easily get past the difference in design — what “we” get or won’t get in a design that we will live with for 40-50-60 years.

The Board decision might well be the right one, but Gadfly can’t get past the lack of discussion.

Is it such a no-brainer that you would sacrifice better design for greater profit?

Gadfly couldn’t help but think of the two well known local small business owners on the Board. The analogy isn’t perfect — but surely they have been faced with the decision about whether to do something cheaper to get by or more expensive because its beauty will add aesthetic value of the business. Tough decision, to be sure. And — to repeat — the analogy isn’t perfect.

But is it a no-brainer for guys like this to understand that it might “cost” you more (here, in terms of less profit) to get a better product?

And if money was the determinative factor, that deserves much more scrutiny.

In the long-run is the Peron proposal a better deal?

The City committee report said the financial components of the proposals needed such scrutiny: “While there is a difference in the offered purchase price, each proposal has complex financial aspects that should be evaluated by the BPA, including significant variances in contract parking spaces and some uncertainty around the potential for CRIZ increment generation.”

That evaluation didn’t happen.

So, though there were things Gadfly would certainly have liked to have heard discussion about, if finances were the key determinative factor in the BPA decision, there were things that it was absolutely necessary to have discussion about.

Now finances, dollars ‘n cents, are way beyond Gadfly’s ken. He’s venturing into deep water here.

The only aspect in the financial area that Gadfly thought he could grasp was the contract rates.

Nova estimated needing 75 parking spaces in the new garage, Peron 32.

Let’s figure the contract rates at $70/mo. per space when the garage opens:

That means:

  • Nova would pay $70 x 12 x 75 = $63,000/yr.
  • Peron would pay $70 x 12 x 32 = $26,880/yr.
  • Nova would pay the BPA $36,120 more per year

Peron offered $185,000 more than Nova.

Paying $36,120/yr. more for contracts, Nova would pay off that $185,000 difference in 5yrs, and from years 6-10 would bring in $185,000 more than Peron would. And on and on each year for 40-50-60yrs.

Now that may certainly be voodoo economics from an English prof — Gadfly humbly waits a deserved kick in the butt from the money minds among his followers — but at least he is trying to figure it out to the best of his ability.

All we got in the way of financial evaluation about contracts in the one minute and fifty seconds from BPA was the Board chair’s unsubstantiated “I think parking spaces will be similar when all is said and done.”

Unbelievable.

BPA is a different kind of animal. It depends on the income it raises to do whatever it wants/needs to do. When the financial officer gives the monthly tally of income/expenses at Board meetings, one can often hear such comments like “good job” or “that was a good month,” kind of forgetting that it is “our” money coming in at the meters and so forth.

Money is the air the BPA breathes.

It is just not the proper body to rule on design issues for a retail/residential site.

We asked a mechanic to do an artist’s work.

“This decision leaves many questions unanswered”

(115th in a series of posts on parking)

Steve Melnick is a retired economic development executive and a 25-year resident of Bethlehem.

It strains my credulity to believe that one developer willingly overpaid by some $200,000 dollars and then asked to be included in the CRIZ to recoup some of the costs of the proiect and the other developer didn’t ask for the same benefit. This decision leaves many questions unanswered. One developer has national retail clients lined up and the other one doesn’t. One developer asks for financial incentives after agreeing to pay $200,000 more than the other and doesn’t bring as much experience to the project. It seems to me that after overpaying for their last project, the BPA took the extra cash simply to offset any deficits they may have. Long range benefits be damned.

Steve

Lack of discussion by the BPA before voting

(114th in a series of posts on parking)

Audio from the August 28 Bethlehem Parking Authority meeting:

City of Bethlehem ad hoc committee report: BPA Proposal Analysis (FINAL)_1

Pertinent attendees:
The City ad hoc committee: Alicia Karner, Eric Evans, Paige Van Wirt
City Councilman: Bryan Callahan (liaison to BPA)
BPA Exec Director: Kevin Livingston
BPA Board: Joseph Hoffmeier, Dino Cantelmi, Billy Kounoupis, Lynn Cunningham, Eugene Gonzalez
The BPA financial guys
Nova representatives
Desman consultant
Reporters
Your Gadfly
Several others Gadfly didn’t know

The BPA Board was to decide between two proposals for retail/residential development associated with the Polk Street Garage: Nova and Peron.

Board members were sent the proposals and the City ad hoc committee report the previous week.

This section of the meeting was opened by an objective description of both proposals by the BPA consultant from Desman. He made no recommendation but refreshed people on the comparative proposals.

If you know anything about Gadfly, you know he values conversation: “Good conversation builds community.”

Gadfly expected discussion before a motion. Gadfly is not all that conversant (good SAT word) with parliamentary procedure, and he is used to more collegial decision-making, so he was surprised at the immediate motion supporting Peron.

Gadfly has attended many other “hot-button” City ABCs where after discussion by the Board, the floor is opened to the public.

Gadfly feels something like that should have happened here.

The City had been asked to participate, asked to make a recommendation, and three committee members were present prepared to discuss their report.

The City report gave several reasons for their conclusion and, perhaps anticipating that the Board might immediately favor the highest bidder, counseled that the finances were more complex than represented and would require more investigation and evaluation.

No investigation or evaluation of the financial matters had been performed.

And the City committee members were not invited to speak.

Nova was not invited to speak. (Gadfly is not sure if Peron representatives were there, but one of the newspaper articles seemed to imply that Peron’s Rob DeBeer was there.)

There was really no interaction among Board members either, no chance to determine how conversant (worked it in twice!) they were with the various documents and the issues.

There was no sense that the Board members weighed issues involved in the decision.

In fact, Gadfly has never seen substantive discussion in any Board meeting he attended nor seen such recorded in any past minutes he has consulted.

The usual procedure in Gadfly’s experience is exactly what happened here, a motion quickly followed by a unanimous voice vote.

Let’s come back and chew on the issues — was there nothing in the ad hoc report worth discussing? — but as far as process and procedure is concerned, Gadfly feels the BPA failed completely.

More info on the BPA meeting on Polk to chew on

(113th in a series of posts on parking)

There are some things regarding the Bethlehem Parking Authority’s choice of the retail/residential component of the Polk Street Garage development that we ought to be chewing on (damn prepositions: “on which we ought to be chewing” is what Gadfly meant to say).

Gadfly likes to lay out the primary sources for you to use to do your own thinking.

Here’s the Gadfly audio (10 mins.) of that section of yesterday’s BPA Board meeting (BPA has not agreed to move all their meetings to a later time nor move to Town Hall and have meetings live-streamed and archived, but they are now posting audio on their web site under News):

The Desman consultant to BPA read what he described as an objective analysis of both the Nova and Peron proposals, Board member Ms. Cunningham immediately moved to accept the Peron proposal based on the significant money difference, Board chair Hoffmeier agreed with a few comments, Board member Kounoupis colorfully agreed, and then the Board voted unanimously for Peron.

The left rendering is Nova, the right Peron:

Here’s the memo from the City ad hoc committee favoring Nova and stating that “While there is a difference in the offered purchase price, each proposal has complex financial aspects that should be evaluated by the BPA.” There was no indication of such evaluation, and the Board moved immediately to the Peron proposal because of the purchase price differential.

BPA Proposal Analysis (FINAL)_1

This is the conclusion:

“Both proposals received were comprehensive, thorough and comparable in Proposal and Presentation Format, Planning and Zoning Consistency and Financial Viability. While both entities are experienced, capable and successful, Nova Development has a stronger track record of project completion in the City of Bethlehem and a more desirable building design. The Nova design would add a variety of building styles to the corridor and is inclusive of more desirable design elements. The overall aesthetics, including the stone arches reflecting the ruins and the steel elements, provide an overall stronger relationship to the place in with the building is located. Additionally, Nova Development’s proposed use of the building is more comprehensive, providing commercial opportunities beyond first floor retail and greater opportunity for use by the general public. The proposed roof use of the Nova design, as either an amenity or restaurant, is a significant strength in the proposal and is a large factor in the difference between the two proposals. It is important to note that there was significant discussion around the uniqueness of The Factory Retail and the value that tenant brings to the project. If The Factory Retail is exclusively associated with the Peron/Petrucci proposal, the loss of that opportunity would be considered the largest negative, if the Nova proposal is selected. While there is a difference in the offered purchase price, each proposal has complex financial aspects that should be evaluated by the BPA, including significant variances in contract parking spaces and some uncertainty around the potential for CRIZ increment generation.”

Without such financial evaluation, should the BPA have moved so quickly to accept the Peron proposal?

In any event, should the other positive aspects of the Nova proposal be overshadowed by the dollar signs?

Chew on!

“South Side Bethlehem’s new $16.8 million Polk Street parking deck isn’t going to be your average concrete monstrosity”

(112th in a series of posts on parking)

Meet the Polk Street Garage that will be more than a garage. Gadfly has clips from the two media stories below, but he suggests that you read both articles fully. Note especially the opinion of the City ad hoc committee. More comment and analysis coming.

Polk St sketch 2

Polk St sketch 3

Polk St sketch 4
renderings from both lehighvalleylive and Morning Call

Nicole Radzievich, “Here’s a look at what will front a future south Bethlehem garage.” Morning Call, August 28, 2019.

A long-envisioned parking garage in south Bethlehem would be fronted by a five-story building of high-end apartments and a ground-floor retail store, under the proposal the Bethlehem Parking Authority selected Wednesday.

The 8,000 square feet of retail space is to be anchored by Factory Retail, a project of the nearby Factory that opened in a former Bethlehem Steel building by former FreshPet executive Richard Thompson. That’s an innovation campus or launching pad to raise relatively new food and beverage companies to the next level — a term known as “scale up.”

The residential portion of the $6.4 million project, proposed for Polk and Third streets, is to include 32 one- and two-bedroom apartments.

The project was picked over one by Nova Development, a subsidiary of Allied Building Corp. of Bethlehem. The biggest difference was over how much each was willing to pay for the 12,000 square feet of land needed to build the project, authority members said.

The decision comes after a city ad hoc committee had reviewed the proposals, concluding both entities were “experienced, capable and successful” but that Nova “has a stronger track record of project completion in the city” and proposed “a more desirable building design,” including the rooftop which could feature a restaurant or other amenities. The committee also advised that there was much “uncertainty” around the CRIZ designation part of Peron’s proposal.

According to the memo, the committee expressed concerns around the capacity of Peron “to complete the project without delaying or sacrificing” other projects it has already undertaken in the city.

The ad hoc committee also noted the uniqueness of the Factory Retail portion, saying it would be a lost opportunity if it were exclusively associated wit the Peron/Petrucci proposal and not picked.

The Nova project said it had lined up a national retail tenant for the project.

Other big differences in the proposals had to do with how much parking each needed from the proposed garage. Nova anticipated at least 75 spaces and Peron/Petrucci 32, according to the proposals.

Also on Wednesday, the Parking Authority backed taking out a private loan to be taken out to pay for an estimated $16.8 million garage.

 

Sara Satullo, “‘A lot of ka-ching,’ unique tenant put this Polk Street proposal on top for Bethlehem.” lehighvalleylive.com, August 29, 2019.

South Side Bethlehem’s new $16.8 million Polk Street parking deck isn’t going to be your average concrete monstrosity.

In order to not waste prime real estate along one of South Bethlehem’s fastest changing corridors, the Bethlehem Parking Authority put out a call for proposals for a mixed use development fronting East Third and Polk streets with the garage to the rear. Proposals were received June 7 and then they were vetted by the authority, its Desman parking consultants and an independent committee of city officials.

On Wednesday night, the authority’s board selected a Peron Development and J.G. Petrucci Co. plan that proposes a five-story building with 32 luxury apartments on the upper four floors and a unique first floor retail user.

Peron beat out a proposal from Anthony Scarcia’s Nova Development and Allied Building Corporation that pitched a six-story, $7 million project with 7,700-square-feet of first-floor retail with commitments from two nationally-recognized tenants, 45 apartments and a rooftop space that could act as a building amenity or restaurant.

Peron’s offer of nearly $200,000 more in their purchase price for the land sealed the deal for the authority’s board members.

“It is a lot of ka-ching,” said Billy Kounoupis, member and owner of Billy’s Downtown Diner in Allentown, Bethlehem and Easton.

The authority is planning a deck with at least 470 spaces and a 30-spot parking lot with bid alternatives that could grow the garage to 750 spaces with enough commitments. The board also authorized issuing bonds of up to $25 million for the project, which is estimated to cost $16.8 million.

Authority board members expressed excitement for Peron’s proposed retail tenant. The 8,000-square-foot ground floor is to be anchored by a unique type of retail run by The Factory — the glossy, high-tech innovation laboratory for entrepreneurs located steps away on Columbia Street in a former Bethlehem Steel Corp. building.

Customers will be able to learn about entrepreneurship and food production while sampling and shopping for products from a rotating lineup of retailers. The Factory partners with companies like Mikey’s and Honey Stinger looking to scale-up their business and innovate in their facilities.

The city committee formed to evaluate the proposals for the authority came to a different conclusion, backing the Nova Development project due to the company’s stronger track record of project completion and a better building design that adds to the variety of styles in the corridor.

“The overall aesthetics, including the stone arches reflecting the ruins and the steel elements, provide an overall stronger relationship to the place in (which) the building is located,” the committee’s memo states. In a memo, the committee said the difference in purchase price is not the only financial aspect to consider and pointed to the large gap in contracted parking spaces.

Parking Authority Chairman Joe Hoffmeier said he ultimately thinks the number of contracted parking spaces would end up being similar. The Factory already is committing to spots in Polk Street. “I’m not walking away from $200,000,” he said.

A Polk Street Garage rendering

(111th in a series of posts on parking)

Lookie here:

Nicole Radzievich, “Bethlehem agency authorizes design of 585-spot garage.” November 20, 2014.

Yes, a 2014 newspaper article.

Rendering of the proposed Polk Street Garage:

Polk St sketch

What Gadfly did not realize and/or fully appreciate was that the Polk Street Garage has a history going back several years when it was under control of the Bethlehem Redevelopment Authority before being transferred to the Parking Authority.

A “history” by Tony Hanna for the Mayor: Polk Street Parking Garage Timeline and Background

And it was designed then and run through City approvals.

That design should basically be the design now.

And it’s got some things Gadfly was looking for.

From the Gadfly mail bag:

“The rendering of the garage facade shows the retail/mixed-use building in front of the South facade running along East Third Street. It shows a multi-story building running in front of the garage. The assumption is the garage design is not going to be very different than the design completed by the RDA that received City Planning Commission approval.”

“The garage is set back from the street, providing for a space to build a building that could conceivably hide the garage facade and provide for street front retail, office, and perhaps residential in the new multi-story building. ‘Ground-floor retail’ implies that the retail would just be on the ground floor of the garage — similar to South New Street. Polk Street is more along the lines of Speck and other good planners and developers.”

“The PSPG design and development doesn’t get more sustainable and more ‘new urbanism’ friendly. It’s being built on a brownfield, and the stormwater management system was especially designed to minimize stormwater impacts on the site and the community. A comprehensive traffic study was completed, and the garage was designed accordingly. Finally, the East Third Street side of the parking facility will have a ‘liner mixed-use’ building built to ‘hide’ the garage facade on the south side of the structure, keeping the streetscape lively and active. Jeff Speck would be proud.”

On the street level of the New Street Garage is the Police substation and the Southside Arts District office. These storefronts always seem “dead” to Gadfly — not really contributing to streetscape. Nothing really to see there if you are a walker. He hopes we get something more “lively and active” for 3rd Street. He can’t get out of his head Missy’s idea of a piano out in the open on the sidewalk by the college!

And Gadfly is glad to read in the 2014 article that the garage entrances are planned for Filmore and on 2nd St., not on 3rd Street. Gadfly doesn’t like the New Street Garage entrance on New St. – but maybe there was no other option.

But Gadfly still thinks that the BPA should open up a conversation on the design and specifically address issues of aesthetics, walkability, and the recent letter from the Environmental Advisory Council. And Gadfly still thinks about Missy Harnett’s idea of a piano on the street by the college!

It looks like good ideas were incorporated into the design. It would be good to see them, hear about them.

Thank you, followers, for filling Gadfly in.

Remind me where 3rd and Polk is, Gadfly

(110th in a series of posts on parking)

The Parking Authority never did come back to City Council in August to share and discuss their final financial statement on the Polk Street Garage.

Promises, promises.

Sigh.

Instead, tonight they are signing the papers that get PSG going.

So we are going to have a garage at 3rd and Polk Streets for $16.8m. Could be by end of 2020.

But you know Gadfly had resigned himself to that.

And the last time we met on this topic he was on to concern about the design of the garage.

He was saying such things as, Well, if we are going to have a garage, let’s make sure it incorporates the best design ideas and that it aligns with such City goals as walkability and Climate Action.

And you know he was reading Jeff Speck’s books on walkability and getting idea after idea.

Gadfly eagerly wants “us” to have a conversation about the design before it’s too late, before the PSG goes into production.

Gadfly rather likes the current “feel” of the eastern corridor of 3rd Street between New and Hayes. How ’bout you?

Can you picture where the new garage will be? Some people have to pause and think.

3rd and Polk. Where Polk takes that bent jog across 3rd. Open tree-lined space now. Between Charter Arts and Northampton Community College. Catercorner from Molinari’s on one end and Five10 Flats on the other.

The circled area in the center of the map here:

Polk St Garage Google

Polk looking north, Charter Arts on your left, garage space on right:

Polk St Garage 1

Looking east from Molinari’s corner, NCC behind trees in the center:

Polk St Garage 2

Looking west, that’s Five10 Flats under construction on left, garage space on right:

Polk St Garage 5

Polk looking south, garage space on left, Charter Arts on right:

Polk St Garage 3

Got it in your mind’s-eye now?

We want a great design on that corner, right?

Missy Hartnett of Southside Arts District talked of putting a piano on the street by NCC — Whoa! Are we going to be funkeeeee?

And though Gadfly’s heard all kinds of talk about the size of the garage and the cost of the garage and such, he’s been hoping for a design, hoping that he could “see” what is planned.

Well, thanks to good followers, there is some information he can tell you, show you.

Follow on.

Look what’s going down: Parking Authority meets at 6pm today

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

“Stop, children, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down”
Buffalo Springfield 1967

Back in the days when there still was a tower named Martin, several people — especially Diane Szabo Backus and Paige Van Wirt — raised some dust over City ABCs (Authorities, Boards, and Commissions) that meet in the afternoon, at a time when probably the greater number of residents work and thus are unable to attend.

Hizzoner the Mayor got the message and asked those earlybirds to move to later times — and to videotape their meetings.

Gadfly witnessed some harumphing from those ABCs.

Except the Redevelopment Authority. Good scouts there.

But “There’s something happening here . . . look what’s going down.”

The last Zoning Hearing Board meeting was livestreamed and is available on YouTube (not on a City archive yet).

The Planning Commission moved to 6pm Monday night.

And so did the Bethlehem Parking Authority for its meeting tonight.

The BPA meets tonight 6pm in their bunker on North St.

It didn’t take “A thousand people in the street / Singing songs and carrying signs.”

Just forceful voices like DSB and PVW.

Thank you, YerHonor.

Not perfect yet. The BPA hasn’t agreed to move out of the bunker to the Town Hall “People’s House” and will only do 6pm for “hot issue” meetings.

Sigh. We live in a fallen world.

What’s the hot issue tonight? Major legal stuff advancing the Polk Street Garage.

Paperwork stuff. Legal stuff. Ceremonial stuff.

No debating probably. But still hot stuff for the City.

Polk St agenda

We ought to reward BPA’s time flexibility by turning out in the dozens and swarming around the act of signing us in to $16.8m debt like pictures we see of such ceremonies in the Oval Office.

If we don’t turn out, they’ll say, “See, they’re ungrateful.”

Now Gadfly is being snarky (not a good SAT word).

But actually he has what he thinks is some good news about the Polker.

Hang around for another post or two.

Gadfly knows that the Buffalo Springfield song has absolutely no relation to anything at issue here, but it is a wonderfully haunting tune, isn’t it?

Sharing your reading: “hiding” the Polk Street Garage

(109th in a series of posts on parking)
(also 6th in a series about sharing your reading)
(and also relating to walkability too)

Jeff Speck: “Hide the parking structures. Exposed parking structures
do not belong next to sidewalks.”

(Walkable City Rules, 2018)

Jeff Speck: “Design parking structures for eventual conversion to human use.”
(Walkable City Rules, 2018)

You have seen Gadfly gradually resigning himself to the fact of a $16.8m Polk Street Garage though there seem to be significant unanswered questions.

$16.8m.

And turning his attention to its design.

And whining, If we are to have new parking garages, deargod, let them be built with the most modern ideas.”

And wondering if the PSG is being designed in accord with goals other than simply warehousing cars, goals like walkability and Climate Action.

On the latter point, remember the recent letter of the Environmental Advisory Council to the Bethlehem Parking Authority.

Which brings him to Speck again.

Speck speaks of the now common practice of addressing walkability (street life) through  a parking structure with a ground floor of retail.

Note, for instance, that the new New Street Garage has a Police substation and a Southside Arts District office on ground level. Steps in the direction of providing a bit of street life there.

Note, too, widespread talk of the need to liven up in some similar fashion the long stretch of Walnut St. along the Walnut Street Garage when it is repaired or rebuilt.

This is all good, and Gadfly believes the BPA is planning for ground-floor retail with the PSG and is already soliciting tenants.

But Speck suggests that “many cities and developers have moved on to a better solution, which is to set the parking lot back slightly and hide it from view.” In Dallas, for instance, “a ring of apartments hides a large parking lot.”  It is “fully reasonable for cities to require hidden parking, and to stop allowing buildings to place parking up against would-be walkable streets.”

Interesting. Intriguing.

And let’s remember Councilman Reynolds’ good question discussed in the previous post on parking about the impact of ride-sharing and autonomous cars on the need for parking garages in the future. Reynolds — a young man — is kind of wondering if 20-30-40 years from now he and others will be wondering what to do with this damn underused building and why we built it in the first place!

Speck is on the same page with the Councilman:

The other mandate for the twenty-first century is to make parking lots convertible. If ride-hailing services — and eventually AVs — end up drastically reducing the need for parking, as predicted, we will wish that we had built all those parking structures with flat floors, removable ramps, and frames that can support human uses. Smart developers are doing it now.

As usual, all this is above Gadfly’s pay grade. He’s just trying to stir the pot. He’s concerned the PSG will be designed without sufficient public conversation and in isolation from wider community goals relating to the quality of life and long-term issues.

The follower Gadfly mentioned in the previous post has him thinking about bargaining chips. Perhaps a chip toward approval of the fine increase proposal might be assurance that the BPA will provide extensive public conversation over the PSG design and satisfaction that the design meets even non-technical city goals.

If you aren’t reading, you may not be growing. What are you reading these days? How about sharing with us? Gadfly invites you to share a few clips of your reading  — with or without comment — or a few thoughts from your reading pertinent to the Gadfly project of the good conversation about Bethlehem that builds community.

Grading the Parking Authority responses

(108th in a series of posts on parking)

You can never take the prof out of the Gadfly.

Thinking forward to the probable re-appearance of the Bethlehem Parking Authority at the August 20 City Council meeting to finalize the Polk Street Garage financial matters ($16.8m . . . $16.8m . . . $16.8m) and to propose increases in the fine structure, Gadfly is thinking back to their first appearance at the July 2 meeting.

And he would like to say something about BPA responses to questions from Council members, something that will help explain his personal unease with the BPA and at the same time also help give you an idea of your Council members at work (which is one of the Gadfly project missions).

First, the questions from Councilwoman Van Wirt. Listen in:

PVW here is concerned about contract parking rates in the garages. PVW — the scientist (among other things, of course) — tends to ask clear, crisp, direct questions. In this clip she asks just such a question: “Can someone tell me why we aren’t pricing these spots according to the market?”

BPA does not answer directly. This is the kind of thing that drives Gadfly crazy. Gadfly would teach his students that the proper format response to this question is “We aren’t pricing these spots according to the market because __________________.” A direct question begets a direct answer before any contextual or explanatory information. Instead BPA muddles the answer. Gadfly calls this gobbledygook when he reported on the meeting a month ago.

Another indirect question in this clip — “I would assume that the demand in Bethlehem is commensurate with other cities our size” — receives the same off-center response. Is or is our demand not commensurate? Gadfly is not sure he knows after the BPA response.

Another example, which Gadfly finds humorous:

PVW asks another clear, crisp, direct question: “If something catastrophic happens . . . and you can’t pay [each of the three loans] . . . which one would you pay first?” The very next words from BPA — as Gadfly would counsel his students — should be “The one we would pay first would be ________________. ” And then any contextual or explanatory information. Instead what we have is gobbledygook again. Gobbledygook so bad, in fact, that PVW has to ask “Can you put that in simpler terms for me?” Now that’s funny. Though not to the quite serious, quite focused PVW.

This kind of lack of clarity is one of the things that has bothered Gadfly throughout his observations of BPA. It does not inspire a sense of trust. It makes Gadfly’s head spin sometimes. BPA is often hard to pin down. There’s a haze that hovers over much of their communication.

Second, the questions from Councilman Reynolds.

When Gadfly reported on this interchange earlier, he said that “JWR raised some interesting long-term, wonkish, ‘10,000 feet up’ questions quite characteristic of his wide-ranging approach to gathering information.”

One had to do with the impact of ride-sharing and autonomous vehicles on parking demand.

Gadfly found that a very interesting and important question — after all, think of that $16.8m and a garage 1/3 filled 20 years from now — and, surprisingly, found BPA’s answer very focused. Perhaps because the question goes to the very heart of parking industry existence.

A good question, indeed.

And BPA was prepared with a focused answer.

One that justified the $16.8m expenditure.

Interesting.

But perhaps JWR would have done well to be more skeptical in his acceptance of BPA’s answer, though he made a credible point about our population growth.

Jeff Speck (2018) — whom you know Gadfly has been reading and whom Gadfly now considers a member of the family — writes, “Whether a city should build any new downtown parking structures is a good question. . . . Given the onset of ride-sharing services and, eventually, autonomous vehicles, the answer is most cases is probably no.”

The parking industry representative had a stock justification of his existence and of a $16.8m outlay at the ready.

Other experts might not agree.

Gadfly is not sure you would want to base your faith in the future of parking garages solely on the opinion of a guy whose job it is to build them.

Another idea relating to the Parking Authority proposal to increase the fine structure

(107th in a series of posts on parking)

Back to the thread on the Bethlehem Parking Authority and the Polk Street Garage.

Remember that the BPA will probably attend City Council next Tuesday August 20 to present their final financial statement on the Polk Street Garage and to propose a schema for increasing the parking fine schedule.

If — as certainly supposed — the BPA still proposes to fund a $16.8m Polk Street Garage by a private loan rather than a city-backed (us) bond, then City Council has no say and the financial statement will be presented for information only. There was some static from Councilwoman Van Wirt earlier when the draft financial statement was presented, and Gadfly has some unanswered questions potentially undermining the fundamental validity of the project, but, as Gadfly understands it, the BPA can basically go its own way here.

Remember, the garage is $16.8m.

We have to keep saying that.

$16.8m. $16.8m. $16.8m.

And the BPA can go it alone.

It may be alright, but Gadfly would sure like to be surer.

But Council does has power over the parking fines. The Mayor has already approved meter rate increases that went into effect January 1.

By the way, have you noticed that meter increase — from $1hr., for instance, to $1.50/hr.?

Just so happens that my barber yesterday was “hot” over the increase and said others were. Though I have heard no comments directly.

The BPA plans to propose again the fine rate schedule that they did late in 2018, in which, for instance, a current $10 fine would be raised to $15 — though — and this is the interesting element in the request — they do not immediately need the extra revenue to finance the new garage.

They will be asking for money that at the moment they don’t need.

But, again, here, when it comes to fines, Council does have the controlling power.

Gadfly examined the situation earlier and concluded that Council most likely will agree to the rate schedule proposed by the BPA. So that we will see fine increases that, 9 months belatedly, will rise symmetrically with the meter rates already in effect.

Dana Grubb, however, proposed a rollback plan. Gadfly was going to do some English-prof mathematics to see what that might look like but hasn’t gotten around to it yet. Bad Gadfly.

But another Gadfly follower mentioned the possibility of approving increased fines if the BPA would institute variable rate parking, an idea suggested by residents last year, taken up by the Mayor, and for which the BPA has now hired a consultant. As the term suggests, parking meter rates would not be uniform across the city but could vary in different locations and at different times. Apparently the meters we now have can perform variable rate parking. We have the technology but have not used it yet.

Coincidentally, Jeff Speck (2018), the guru Gadfly followers will recognize he has been reading lately in regard to affordable housing, recommends variable rate parking:

When parking is too cheap, parking gets too crowded. . . . For a downtown to function rationally its parking must be priced rationally. This means that price must reflect value, with the most desirable spots getting the highest price. In many places, this price should vary around the clock to reflect changing demand.

This might mean, for one instance — if Gadfly understands correctly — that parking on a Friday night in Northside downtown would cost more than it would on, say, Tuesday morning because of the higher demand.

Gadfly is not sure whether going to VRP has a financial consequence or that its primary purpose would be fairness — for he remembers residents in outer fringe parts of meter territory (West Side?) complaining about why their meter rates had to be the same as downtown.

Gadfly thinks the follower who suggested this was thinking of using implementation of VRP as a bargaining chip with BPA for approval of their fine proposal.

Ahhh, Gadfly wishes he could think politically.

Provocative ideas for Polk Street

(106th in a series of posts on parking)

Although she’s lived in Bethlehem for almost 20 years, Carol Burns’ new career as a freelance marketer is giving her an opportunity to “discover” her hometown. She volunteers for several arts-related organizations, and her newest adventure is dipping her toe into local politics and community organizations.

Gadfly:

Curious about “best practices” for parking garages?

Like — could the top deck have a percentage of space allotted to greenery / bee-loving plants / trees / solar? Could there be a more favorable rate for vehicles with more than one passenger or (better) more than two?

Carol

Refreshing! Doesn’t Carol get you thinking?  Now that’s what I’m talkin’ ’bout — what are your ideas for the Polk Street Garage design or practices?

The Environmental Advisory Council recommendations on the Polk Street Garage

(The latest in a series of posts relating to parking, the environment, Bethlehem’s Climate Action Plan, and Bethlehem’s Environmental Advisory Council)

The good ol’ Environmental Advisory Council (EAC). Love ’em!

Always a step ahead.

Look at this July 29 letter to the Bethlehem Parking Authority about the design of the Polk Street Garage (be sure to note the interesting photos):

EAC to Parking.Authority

The EAC has recommendations concerning electric vehicle charging stations, solar panels, stormwater management, tree replacement, and car idling impact.

This is exactly the kind of thing that Gadfly expressed concern about in a post yesterday when he said, “Gadfly is wondering, for instance, how the garage fits in with any related City goals — like walkability or Climate Action or whatever.”

Gadfly worries that the BPA works independently.

He hopes that the Polk Street Garage design will have plenty of public review as well as the routine technical scrutiny from the City departments.

He is not sure what “power” the EAC has, but you would think the City would be under great pressure to make sure the BPA follows such recommendations.

If we are serious about a Climate Action Plan, such recommendations must be followed.

It’s Wednesday, August 7, do you know where your local Climate Action Plan is?

Workers in the 3rd & New St. building walk the neighborhood

(105th in a series of posts on parking)

Judy Parr is a lifelong resident of Bethlehem.

Gadfly:

I remember the controversy over the pedestrian bridge. As someone who would be working in the New St building, I was taken aback by comments that the workers there would never walk around the Southside. It was nonsensical to me at the time, and I can assure you we are all out and about, going to restaurants and stores, taking long walks on the Greenway, and participating in the life of our neighborhood.

Judy

If we are to have new parking garages, deargod, let them be built with the most modern ideas

(104th in a series of posts on parking)

So, frankly, it looks like we are to have a new Polk Street Garage.

The BPA construction juggernaut is in high gear.

Sign papers August . . . begin construction December . . . open next December.

But — as Gadfly whined on July 11 in post #88 reviewing a white paper with examples of excitingly designed garages contributed by Councilman Callahan  — “If we are to have new parking garages, deargod, let them be built with the most modern ideas.”

What kind of garage will it be?

Pretty much the only conversation Gadfly has overheard has to do with the number of spaces.

But there is more to a garage than that.

(Can you tell Gadfly has been not only reading Speck but has been influenced by him? A little knowledge outside one’s field is dangerous!)

If construction is to begin in December, odds are there are plans already.

Who’s doing the design? What is the design?

Are we looking at a ho-hum cookie-cutter design?

As far as I can tell, no design has been shared with the BPA Board nor open to public view.

Gadfly hopes the design will be open to conversation before it is set in stone (damned cliche again).

Influenced by Speck, Gadfly is wondering, for instance, how the garage fits in with any related City goals — like walkability or Climate Action or whatever.

Not just the technical aspects of City codes.

Speck has suggestions about how the garages relate to streetlife and walkability, for instance.

What about beauty? Aesthetics?

How “independent” is the BPA? Are designs coordinated with the City? Does the public get a chance to weigh in?

Gadfly was yet to be Gadfly with the run-up to the New Street Garage, but he remembers some controversy, for instance, over the connecting pedestrian bridge. He will go back and look for details, but what he remembers in detail, for instance, is the criticism that the bridge would not put “feet on the street” — a goal for supporting local business.

In fact, after reading guru Speck, Gadfly’s of the opinion that he would have recommended the garage for the 3rd and New building be on the Polk site, a 4-minute walk past a variety of neat shops.

And wasn’t there concern about the bridge running over the Greenway?

Gadfly is way out of his league here (and he is cliche-bitten), but would you agree that standard parking garages add nothing and, in fact, are detrimental to streetscape?

Are we making sure that we are getting something inventive, exciting, distinctive, state-of-the art for our $16.8m?

Gadfly thinks he has heard that the New Street Garage won awards. Or was it the building? Either way, Gadfly is not sure he understands.

If we are to have new parking garages, deargod, let them be built with the most modern ideas.”

Why not reward Bethlehem residents with a meter-rate rollback?

(103rd in a series of posts on parking)

Gadfly,

How about rolling back the meter increase to $1.00/hour and increasing the fines? Some on Council felt that was the right way to increase revenue in the first place. Where is that analysis? If fine increases aren’t necessary, why not reward Bethlehem residents with a meter rate rollback and penalize violators with increased fines? This is plain backward thinking by penalizing law-abiding meter users and now not needing the increased fines. Does anyone realize how stupid this sounds?

Dana Grubb

Council, are you listening? Gadfly will get his pencil, pencil-sharpener, and green-eyeshade, and try to run some figures. But somebody has to be better at doing that. For instance, focus on fines proposed to move from $10 to $15. If the meter rate is rolled back from the current $1.50/hr. to the old $1/hr., what would the fines need to be to raise the same amount of revenue? Gadfly will handle placement of the Oxford commas, if someone else will deal with the decimal points.

Three very basic unanswered questions about the $16.8m Polk Street Garage proposal

(102nd in a series of posts on parking)

On the chance that the Bethlehem Parking Authority will return to Council tonight (remember, 5:30PM start time tonight) with the final version of its proposal regarding financing of a Polk Street Garage, Gadfly will start to wrap up this thread that started way back at post #79.

If the BPA is not at Council tonight, they will be August 20.

In regard to construction of a Polk Street Garage, the BPA holds all the cards (damn cliches . . . like a disease). As Gadfly wrote in post #90, objections and questions (like those of Councilwoman Van Wirt’s recorded in past posts) are like blowin’ in the wind.

For if the BPA progresses to construct the Polk Street Garage with a private loan as planned, City Council apparently has no say, has no oversight. BPA does not need City Council approval for a private loan.

At least that’s the way it looks to Gadfly.

But there are some basic questions that potentially undermine the validity and legitimacy of the project that ought to answered (a whittled-down version of the Gadfly questions posed in post #89):

1) Are there options to the Polk Street Garage?

Remember that we are talking about $16.8m that — one way or another — “we” will pay for.

That’s big money.

Walkability guru Jeff Speck — who did a study for Bethlehem in 2009 and whose books Gadfly has been reading — says, “Locate large parking structures strategically as downtown anchors. And don’t build them unless no other option exists” (2018).

“Don’t build them unless no other option exists.”

As far as Gadfly knows, there has been no credible definitive statement about the unavailability of the “Ruins lots” as options.

2) Is building a garage “legal” at that location?

At the very moment I am writing this (9:08AM), Peter Crownfield posted, “I’m still waiting to hear what gives BPA the right to exceed their mandate [to provide parking in commercial district zones] and construct a garage at Polk Street to benefit private developers. (Or is that now the norm in Bethlehem?).”

Yes, that question has been asked a half-dozen times in public meetings and has never been publicly answered.

It just hangs in the air, casting — for Gadfly anyway — a shadow over the project.

It’s a question that seems easy enough to publicly answer yes or no.

3) Can the BPA carry the debt?

Gadfly doesn’t think he could get a mortgage if his payment would exceed 30% of his income.

In 2024 — when the Walnut Street Garage is in the mix — the BPA draft pro forma shows projected total debt service as $3,472, 933 (page 5) with projected total revenue  of $8,549,242 (page 4).

Debt service is projected to be 41% of revenue.

If Gadfly is reading the figures right, is that fiscally responsible?

Gadfly isn’t sure. Just askin’.

The buck starts here

(101st in a series of posts on parking)

We’ve all heard the saying, “the buck stops here.”

Let’s turn that around.

The buck starts here.

Here being with City Council.

And the buck we’re talking about is the City’s income.

City Council controls the City money matters.

Except that in 1988-1989 Council delegated the power to establish revenue rates for parking meters to the Mayor.

This is no mean power. Meters brought in $1,976,547 in 2018.

Let’s call it $2m.

In delegating that power to the Mayor, no mention was made of the fine structure, so that revenue power from fines remained with City Council.

Weird.

Not including the fine structure or even mentioning it in those 1988-1989 Council deliberations seems like a complete oversight.

There was nothing calculated about it.

Nobody designed a system of checks and balances as some people believe is the reason for this two-headed system.

The two-headed system was not designed to mirror our executive/legislature form of government.

The two-headed system was not designed to solve some sort of problem.

It just happened.

As a matter of fact, critics of the proposed change at the time worried that it would create unnecessary trouble.

What we have now — Mayor responsible for meters, Council for fines — is the result of an oversight.

Gadfly has documented the history of the origin of this two-headed revenue system here:

The strange separation (75)

The timeline of the strange separation (76)

Gadfly has several times pussyfooted around saying what he believes about this two-headed system.

No more.

Gadfly thinks Council should take back power over the meter rates.

When it comes to raising money from our residents, the buck starts with Council.

Council needs to exercise control over the BPA finances in the way originally conceived.

What Council has wrought, Council can unwrought.

Ok — now let’s get back to the main issue, the Polk Street Garage itself.

The proposed increase in parking fines

(100th in a series of posts on parking)

100!

Wow!

Gadfly was on a pretty good roll there for a while examining the draft document about the proposed $16.8m Polk Street Garage that the Bethlehem Parking Authority presented to City Council at the July 2 meeting.

The BPA plans to sign formal documents for construction of the garage at their August 28 Board meeting.

The BPA plans to return to Council with the final presentation of their document either tonight or at the August 20 meeting — that is, before the document signing.

When BPA returns to Council, the issue of the parking fine rate structure will also have to be settled.

Let’s think about that piece of the action now.

Reminder of the back story:

  • There is a division of revenue responsibility: the Mayor controls parking meter rates, City Council the fines.
  • Originally, Council controlled both revenue streams, but Council voluntarily delegated the meter stream to the Mayor in the late 1980s.
  • The two rate structures should exist in a logical relation, so that the threat of fines compels adherence to paying at the meters.
  • When meter rates go up, logically the fine rates should go up in tandem, in proper proportion.
  • Because of a conflict between Council and the BPA last fall, the meter rates went up 50% on January 1 but the fines did not increase at all.
  • Currently, then, there is no real punishment for not feeding the meter, no real incentive for “turnover” of spaces that is important for business customer flow.

The BPA plans to again ask Council to raise the fines. For instance, a $10 fine would become $15.

Some more back story:

  • The BPA is an independent entity that manages parking in the City.
  • The BPA must live on/within the revenue it raises.
  • BPA revenue comes from curbside meters, fines, and the garages.
  • To finance the building of garages, BPA must have sufficient revenue for debt service.
  • It makes fiscal sense for the BPA to put money aside for new capital projects and capital repairs.

Are you with the Gadfly so far? Faithful followers in the know will jump in if he does not have things right.

Now here’s the interesting situation.

  • In that draft document presented July 2, the BPA says it doesn’t need the increase in fines to finance the PSG. It has enough revenue just with the meter increase.
  • And the BPA proposes to finance the PSG with a private loan, not a bond that the City (taxpayers) would have to back.

Yet the BPA is going to ask for the fines increase anyway.

Now is that ok?

If you were City Council, would you approve?

The BPA will probably argue, perhaps among other things, that

  • The current situation defeats the objective of fostering necessary “turnover” in spaces for business purposes.
  • The rates proposed are perfectly and properly in line with our comparison cities, which is one reason why the meter rates were raised in the first place.
  • Another garage expenditure — the repair or replacement of the Walnut Street Garage — is in our very near future at a similar $16m figure, and surplus revenue realized will be applied there.
  • The current situation is simply absurd, which, they will remind, several members of Council recognized when the fine rate increase was voted down late last year. Council will be a laughing-stock if they don’t approve the fine increases.
  • Repealing the meter increase and returning to the 2018 system is also absurd: the loss of a projected increase of 2019 meter revenue over 2018 of $292,378 would mean that the BPA will need a taxpayer-backed bond instead of floating a private loan.

Strong case for raising the fines.

As much as Gadfly would like to see a rollback and residents saving at the meters if the fine revenue is not immediately necessary, it doesn’t look possible.

Agreed?

Gadfly missing anything?

Chew on this, and let Gadfly know if you see this differently.

And now we can get back to the main issue — the Polk Street Garage itself.

Looking at BPA numbers (5)

(99th in a series of posts on parking)

A Gadfly tip o’ the hat to Dana and several others for answering questions and filling in gaps of Gadfly ignorance on previous posts in this “BPA numbers” series!” Much ignorance! Much appreciated!

Mrs. Gadfly is happy that we’re having internet trouble.

She says this series of posts on BPA numbers is killing her.

She fears Gadfly followers are catatonic.

She’s probably right.

But bear with Gadfly for one more post as he tries to read closely the BPA financial documents.

He’s trying to figure out if he trusts the BPA on the Polk Street Garage or not.

Always remember that this is a $16.8m project with another like price tag for the Walnut Street Garage tagging along right behind. It behooves us to look at the numbers. And think about them.

One thing Gadfly doesn’t see in the numbers.

The Desman Parking Study (page 54) suggested setting up a $200,000 capital repair and replacement line item:

Historically, the BPA has paid for new equipment and repairs to its parking garages and surface lots from operating revenues. However, DESMAN typically recommends that parking owners set aside funds annually to be used for future capital repair and replacement projects, as opposed to financing these projects with debt. If the BPA chooses to follow this practice, that would mean setting aside more than $200,000 annually to pay for these future costs.

Gadfly may have missed this in the budget details, but he doesn’t think the BPA has acted on this good suggestion.

And Gadfly wondered about the Mayor justifying need for the PSG on the basis of unnamed future projects in the eastern corridor of 3rd Street. Gadfly wondered if indeed there were actually more projects in the pipeline.

DESMAN (pages 54-61) says it “consulted with the City’s Community and Economic Development and Planning and Zoning departments in order to establish a realistic picture of development” and found there was significant anticipated development, although, of course, still unnamed in the report.

Desman speaks of plans for a 600 space PSG. The current working plan is 475 spaces (which would be significantly filled by current commitments), though a larger building was discussed at the last BPA Board meeting and seems still possible.

Contract parking rates have been a vexed point in discussions Gadfly has witnessed. Are institutional users getting a deal on the backs of the average “Joe and Josephine” who feed the meters? Are, for instance, Lehigh University and St. Luke’s getting a “deal” at the New St. Garage?

The contract rates are $65/month, and $5 increases are planned in 2020 and 2024, and that rate is standard across all contract users in all the garages in the system. In the DESMAN study (page 52), we find “Monthly parking rates in public garages in these municipalities [the comparison cities] range from $65-$275, with an average of $117, compared to $65 in Bethlehem.” At the July 2 meeting we learned that Allentown is $75 and Scranton is $95.

Our $65 compared to an average of $117? (Well, to be fair, there are some outliers in the comparison group, so that average number is no doubt inflated.)

Our $65 compared to $75 in Allentown?

How’s that feel to you?

Increases are planned, but we will still be at the bottom of the scale. There does not seem to be an attempt to make us comparable in this specific area.

At the July 2 meeting the BPA Board chair said the low rate was a good thing. But without substantiation. Gadfly would like to hear the argument for that.

Our low rate ranking was part of the argument for raising the meter rates from $1/hr. to $1.50/hr.: “parking rates charged in Bethlehem are too low and an argument can be made for increasing parking rates to more closely align with the rates charged in comparable cities” (page 52).

The meters went up 50%.

Would not the same logic apply to the garage rates?

Lastly.

The significance of the so-called “Ruins lots” adjoining SteelStacks is a persistent thread in the DESMAN report. Those lots now provide free parking for approximately 300 cars. If the lots are not available, the study indicates significant parking problems on eastern Southside. DESMAN recommends either a PSG or an agreement with the owners, now Wind Creek, about the Ruins lots (pages 69-70).

As noted previously, the combination of new development and an unreliable source of existing parking on the east side of the southside downtown has the potential to create a significant parking shortage within the next few years. The nearly 300 vehicles parking in the Ruins East and Ruins West lots during the weekday peak period could be displaced, if and when restrictions are imposed on parking in these facilities. In addition, development which is expected to be completed by 2019 is anticipated to generate demand for approximately 180 more parking spaces than are being constructed as part of the projects. Finally, additional future development on this side of the southside downtown has the potential to generate the demand for hundreds, if not thousands, of additional parking spaces.

For these reasons, it is recommended that a plan be developed to manage the impending parking shortfall on the east side of the southside downtown. This plan could include a new parking structure, which has been discussed in the past for the corner of E. 3rd Street and Polk Street, or a formalized agreement with the Sands Corporation [now Wind Creek] to ensure that the SteelStacks parking lots will remain available for public parking in the long-term.

Councilwoman Van Wirt is suggesting, Gadfly believes, that no decision on the PSG be made before clarity about the Ruins lots. Which is reasonable. As far as Gadfly can see, no “official” statement about the continued availability of the Ruins lots has been made. The statement of their unavailability by Councilman Callahan at the July 16 meeting would be considered hearsay by Judge Judy. Can we do better than that? What can we know “for sure”?

Can the City seek clarification from Wind Creek about their plans for the Ruins lots?

Can the City negotiate a plan with Wind Creek providing enough lead time for the construction of a garage if Wind Creek decides to revoke public parking there?

Perhaps naive questions by the Gadfly but worth asking he thinks.

As always, Gadfly invites your comments on what you see in the BPA documents or on his ramblings in the past several posts.

Looking at BPA numbers (4)

(98th in a series of posts on parking)

My father had a saying, “Never send a boy on a man’s business.”

Updated might mean “Never depend on an English prof to understand a complex budget statement.

But here we are. It is what it is.

The working draft for the Polk Street Garage from the Bethlehem Parking Authority presented at the July 2 City Council meeting.

https://thebethlehemgadfly.files.wordpress.com/2019/07/bpa-presentation-7-2-19-city-council-draft.pdf

Gadfly soldiers on, seeing what he can see, inviting your eyes on the page too.  Remember, the PSG is — one way or another — $16.8m of our money.

FIRST: this morning, Gadfly noticed something he hadn’t noticed or heard of before.

Yes, the $16.8m is reduced by a $2,000,000 RACP Grant. Gadfly is not sure what RACP is, but he guesses that is our money too from another pocket.

But here’s the morning surprise: $500,000 from Northampton Community College. That would be over and above paying for 300 parking spaces annually.  Well, Gadfly guesses you can say NCC money is our money too, but he wonders why the other two entities contracting spaces are not kicking in something as well.

Maybe more importantly, that leads Gadfly to ask whether, say, Five10 Flats will benefit from PSG. Their web site says “On-site premium parking with additional parking available.” Where is the additional parking?

And more broadly, if NCC is kicking in, what about other entities coming on-line in the Mayor’s proposed additional commercial development of the eastern corridor of 3rd St.?

SECOND: There is always the question of whether a parking garage should pay for itself or be subsidized by the overall parking system. Gadfly is not sure what the answer to that is among parking professionals, but he has repeatedly heard critics of the PSG (and other garages) expect that it pays for itself.

What does the BPA working draft show?

On page 5, we see debt service in 2021 for two 2019 loans, which Gadfly takes to be for the PSG: $615,290 + $327,953 = $943,243 in total debt service for PSG for 2021.

And on page 4, we see estimated income in 2021 for PSG is $396,260.

If Gadfly is calculating properly (!?), PSG does not pay for itself by a long shot.

THIRD: Now there is always the question of how much debt is too much debt. Gadfly thinks that’s the basic question Councilwoman Van Wirt was getting at in part of her comments on the BPA working draft at the July 2 meeting.

There are no definite plans for the repair or rebuild of the Walnut Street Garage yet. But figures for it are included in the BPA draft for demonstration purposes.

On page 5 we see that in 2024, the projected debt service (including the WSG) is approx $3.5m, just shy of 50% of the entire system expenses.

Is there an accepted ratio of debt service to other expenses? Of debt service to revenue? For instance, isn’t the affordable housing rule of thumb that your monthly mortgage payments be not more than 30% of your monthly income? Or something like that.

A question for the green-eyeshade people.

Gadfly believes the BPA financial advising firm also handles the City business. He has seen the managing director making reports about the City finances.

Do we trust their judgment that BPA can handle the debt and that the City is not at risk?

Looking at BPA numbers (3)

(97th in a series of posts on parking)

Gadfly back in headquarters. Yard all tidy.

You and I are just walking through some of the relevant BPA documents seeing what we can see.

Salaries — are the BPAers fat cats?

Salaries are not broken down on the budget sheets (page 4). To be expected. And Gadfly would not be able to get them through a “Right-to-Know” request either. Confidential.

The Exec Director has been in the saddle five years. His starting salary was published in the newspaper when he was hired. It’s a good salary. But it seemed to Gadfly commensurate with the nature and scope of the job and probably roughly on par with City department heads. It doesn’t look like an easy job.

Last year while engaged in controversy with BPA, Gadfly wanted to know who pays the Exec’s salary — who signs the pay check — and if there were performance reviews. Gadfly was trying to identify the “chain of command” for purposes of accountability. The BPA is considered “independent.” But what does that mean? Who does the Exec report to? So Gadly asked (Right to Know) for a copy of the original contract (salary redacted) and evidence of performance reviews (though, of course, not a review itself). He wasn’t told he couldn’t have this information; he was told there were no contracts or performance reviews. Gadfly was stunned. Really?

Language in newspaper articles makes it sound as if the BPA Board hires the Exec. Is then the Exec. responsible to the Board not the Mayor? Gadfly wishes he knew more about accountability in the BPA. Much more.

The BPA has a solicitor. Gadfly has no personal basis for knowing, but he has been told that the solicitor is a politically powerful person in the City. There is a line in the BPA budget for “professional fees – legal,” which was $41,847 for 2018. Gadfly is not sure if that category applies only to the solicitor. The City Council solicitor earns about $25,000.

Does the BPA board get paid? Gadfly is not sure. He believes, for instance, that some of the resident members of some of the ABCs in the City do get a small, token remuneration. The present Chair of the Board has held that position since 2008. There are long-time members of various ABCs (Authorities, Boards, Commissions), so his tenure is long but might not be all that unusual. But it would be interesting to know for sure whether there is any remuneration.

If your antennae are up, you will have heard Gadfly wonder here and there if BPA Board members play active roles in BPA decisions. Gadfly took notice this description in the 2018 Desman report (page 41):

Meetings of the BPA Board are held regularly, typically on a monthly basis. During Board Meetings, the Executive Director of the Parking Authority reports to the Board on the financial performance of the Authority’s assets, informs the Board of new initiatives impacting the parking system and, periodically, seeks changes to off-street parking rates.

Look at the wording. The resident Board is reported to by the Exec and is informed by the Exec. Interestingly, there is nothing here about the Board taking an active, initiatory, agenda-setting, or critical role. Maybe we shouldn’t make too much of this. But this description surely squares with my observation of a passive Board. Which is not good.

Peter perspectives (96)

(96th in a series of posts on parking)

Peter Crownfield is officially retired but spends most of his time working with students in his role as internship coordinator for the Alliance for Sustainable Communities–Lehigh Valley.

Gadfly:

You say “Gadfly has sensed no hue and cry among the parking populace about the 50% rise in meter rates January 1.” . . . I’ve heard many people mocking Bethlehem’s high meter rates. Is a “hue and cry” required?

Point for Peter!

“Who cares whether there’s a Polk Street Garage or not?” I have a more basic question: is it even legal to use its public status & revenues to build a garage wherever they want? — Suppose it is primarily to benefit developers (who would otherwise have to provide their own parking)?

I think we should lock somebody in a closet until we get an answer to that one — but who?

Peter

Gadfly reprints these previous comments in case WordPress’s design caused you to overlook them.

A pause for reflection (95)

(95th in a series of posts on parking)

This kind of number stuff is not Gadfly’s cup o’ tea.

(More cliches from the English prof.)

Gonna take a break and do some yard work.

Gotta assess damage from the storm.

Think of this as a pause to reflect.

Are some of you saying “who cares whether there’s a Polk Street Garage or not?”

“Who cares what the parking costs in the downtowns?”

“It doesn’t affect me or my neighborhood.”

Gadfly gets it. He’s old. Amazon and PeaPod are members of the family. His backyard is all he needs. He doesn’t go “downtown” all that much. The increased parking meter rate startled him into rooting around in the car for more change, but it didn’t raise his blood pressure. So Gadfly gets it. A parking garage on 3rd Street can feel like a distant concern.

But you know I’ve been reading urban walking guru Jeff Speck, not only Walkable City (2012) and Walkable City Rules (2018) but also the report he did for Bethlehem: The City Livable Modest Proposals for a More Walkable Downtown (2009).

In the Bethlehem report he says an important and relevant thing:

Other neighborhoods may be in greater need of assistance. But it is important to remember that a city’s downtown is its one neighborhood that really belongs to every resident, wherever they may live.

In addition, the condition of a city’s downtown plays a disproportionate role in the city’s reputation and thus its future success.

Make a residential neighborhood better, and its residents benefit. Make the downtown better, and the entire city benefits.

Gadfly will see you again on the other side of some yard work.

Be thinking.