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The White Box

It all comes down to the white box. Will the blank spot on the proposed Walnut Street Garage replacement be of commercial or residential use, or another designated parking area?

These are some of the underlining unanswered questions remaining after a five-hour-long special Committee of the Whole Bethlehem City Council meeting Jan. 29 to discuss the Walnut Street Garage Project.

Mayor J. William Reynolds spent over an hour going over the history of the 770 parking spot structure, how it is paid for and “even at its peak times, you are still looking at 400 and some spots” that were being used.

The two proposed structural plans for the site, from THA Consulting, provide a lesser amount of parking spots: 527 spots at a cost of $24.1 million, and 590 spots at a cost of $27 million.

Both plans contain what is referred to as a white box.

Director of Community and Economic Development Laura Collins spoke about a mixed-use development for the site of the white box, confirming the city is looking for a partner for this development and “getting ideas and concepts of what is possible on the site.”

Faced with questions from council members, Reynolds was firm. “I think at this point, after hearing about the white box 55 times, if there was more information to share, and you’re going to find out that there’s more information to share, we would tell you what it is.”

Joe McGavin of the Historical Architectural Review Board raised concerns about the height of the building.

“We cannot look at having this building built as high,” he said. “Why do you only have the white building on the west side? It’s because they know there’s going to be a building going right up against it.

“One of the reasons why I think you can’t go and put the garage on the west part, and the apartments on the east part,” he continued, “is because they are talking about possibly it being seven stories.”

Connie Postupak, also of HARB, echoed these concerns, reminding council of HARB’s recommendation to reject both proposals.

“This garage project was denied based on size, mass, proportion and scale,” Postupak said. “Council does not have all the information from HARB as this project was not, and is not, ready for approval for Certificate of Appropriateness.”

PRESS PHOTO BY MARIETE ANDRONACHE Bethlehem Parking Authority Executive Director Stephen Fernstrom, Director of Community and Economic Development Laura Collins and Mayor J. William Reynolds listen as concerns over what the “white box” represents are raised by council members.
Historical Architectural Review Board member Connie Pastupak reminds council of HARB's recommendation against both Walnut Street proposals.