The first phase of a planned $3.2 million facelift of the historic downtown’s streetscape is expected to get under way by June 4, a city official told merchants on Tuesday.
However, if the project, which is expected to take no less than six weeks to complete, is not started on time and cannot be finished before Musikfest begins, the project will be put on hold until after the annual August festival ends.
So said Kathy Vossough, the city’s deputy director of Community and Economic Development, who represented the city at special meeting of the Downtown Bethlehem Association Tuesday morning.
The merchants gathered in the ballroom of the to get a first hand look at project plans.
Mayor John Callahan and Bob Kiel, senior vice president of Liberty Property Trust, a downtown property owner, which kick started the project with a $300,000 contribution, announced the streetscape overhaul .
Kiel was at the meeting to describe the project, answer merchants questions and sell them on the full six-phase facelift. There will need to be more private and public sector funding to make all six phases happen, said Kiel, who asked the merchants and other downtown stakeholders to “dig deep.”
“For Liberty Property to be taking a leadership role in this is very huge,” said DBA Chairman Neville Gardner, owner of and . DBA is having a hard time raising $30,000 to sponsor Liederplatz at Musikfest, he said.
Callahan said last month that he intends earmark $250,000 in the city’s 2013 budget to add to the project. But with Liberty’s $300,000 commitment and a $50,000 state grant, the first phase can proceed almost immediately with an overhaul of the T-intersection at Main and W. Market streets.
The sidewalks and roadway will be covered with brick pavers and granite trim. For a dramatic touch, a 50-foot long by 30-foot wide Bethlehem star will be inlaid in granite into the intersection.
Subsequent phases of the streetscape improvements would cover other sections of Main Street, including a new gateway to the historic district from Main Street exit ramp off of Route 378.
The city will release more details of the construction schedule as they become available, Vossough said.
Project laborers will work to minimize the daily impact of the improvements by only removing the number of pavers that they can replace in a shift, Kiel said. The contractors will work with affected merchants to coordinate the work, he said.
A few merchants had questions about parking and traffic. While construction is taking place, it might be wise to advise customers to use the city’s off-street parking decks on Walnut Street and North Street, Vossough said.
The Bethlehem Parking Authority will be offering parking meter tokens and parking deck vouchers to merchants at a discounted rate while construction takes place, said Tom Hartley, the authority’s executive director.
Gardner said there could be some short-term pain for merchants, but doing the project at any other time of year, he said, would not help this.
“If there is some pain, get over it,” he said, to applause from many of the other merchants.