Bethlehem mayor highlights new initiatives in ‘State of the City’ address

Bethlehem mayor highlights new initiatives in ‘State of the City’ address

As appeared in The Brown and White by William Newbegin on March 11, 2019.

A standing ovation from Lehigh Valley and Bethlehem residents greeted Lynn Cunningham, senior vice president of the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Conference, as she announced her resignation at Bethlehem Mayor Robert Donchez’s sixth annual “State of the City” address at SteelStacks’ ArtsQuest Center on March 7.

Donchez said Bethlehem will now commemorate Cunningham annually on March 7, now called “Lynn Cunningham Day,” in the city of Bethlehem. He presented the former executive with a Moravian star in his speech’s closing moments.

“Long a cheerleader for this city, Lynn (Cunningham) will be sorely missed when she steps down from her position next month,” Donchez said in his address. “I want to thank you for the tireless work you’ve done on behalf of Bethlehem.”

Cunningham, one of four speakers at the event, will leave her position after 13 years of service. Tony Iannelli, president of the Chamber, announced Cunningham’s resignation.

“Lynn (Cunningham) is going to be enjoying life for a bit,” Iannelli said.

Cunningham’s resignation prompted Donchez’s address, in which he commended the city’s recent economic momentum and pushed for continued progress through innovation and unity.

Developments in infrastructure last year will frame the city’s initiatives in 2019. These developments included a sweeping installment of LED bulbs in street lamps and rebid of the city’s curbside recycling contract that will save $120,000, about 30 new businesses joined the city and new housing was built, such as Brinker Lofts and 510 Flats. Bethlehem spent $295 million on 8,404 construction permits — a record number — in 2018.

A $60,000 grant from Northampton County Executive Lamont McClure will initiate plans to construct a pedestrian bridge between North and South Bethlehem. New lighting and design on South New Street also aim to make the city’s streets more friendly for pedestrians and cyclists.

Donchez also mentioned two big changes coming to the city: Martin Tower could be demolished in April or May, and the transfer of ownership of the Sands Casino to Wind Creek if approved by the Pennsylvania Gaming Board. Donchez said the new owners indicated they would make an immediate investment of $190 million into the surrounding property in the form of a new hotel and renovations.

Cunningham, who credits Bethlehem’s economy to new affordable housing, said the empty lot left by the Martin Tower would be useful for similar development.

Joint efforts between the Lehigh University and Bethlehem police departments cut crime by 4.2 percent in 2018, Donchez said. New LUPD chief Jason Schiffer, a former member of the Bethlehem Police Department, said he hopes to continue strengthening relationships between the two bodies.

Schiffer also hopes to foster a closer relationship between the police departments, South Side residents and Lehigh students as well — a prospect he considers vital.

“I don’t always think Lehigh students always see themselves as (Bethlehem) citizens,” Schiffer said. “(We want to) work toward improving the quality of the off-campus experience.”

But despite the controversies surrounding parking in the city, Donchez chose not to utter the word once in his address, according to the city’s transcript of the speech. Bethlehem recently raised its prices on its parking meters in order to raise funds for a new parking garage on Polk Street on the South Side and renovations to the Walnut Street garage on the North Side.

In an effort of transparency, Bethlehem’s city website will soon feature open data platforms that allow citizens to view line-item specifics of the city budget. Residents can now stream city council meetings on the website.

Donchez said the city also plans to attend to the dilapidated Boyd Theatre on 30 W. Broad St. Cunningham said renovations would likely cost $20-$30 million.

“It was a wonderful theater, but it’s been sitting there empty for a very long time,” Cunningham said. “When you walk by it and are on a rainy day, it just smells like mildew.”

Donchez said Bethlehem is even closer to designation as a world heritage site. There are only 23 such sites in the U.S.

Bob Begliomini, chair of the chamber’s board, welcomed attending board members in attendance to begin the speech: Aaron Sisler of Borton-Lawson, Alicia Karner of the City of Bethlehem, Andrew Kleiner of the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation, Amy Saul of Moravian College and Adrienne Washington of Lehigh University.

To view Donchez’s entire speech, view the transcript here.

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