Monday, June 21, 2010

Transit Center Design Public Review Tonight

By Dennis R. Lieb

(This is NOT the Easton design)

There are a lot of very nasty things going on in the world right now...many of them not very good for this country's future. I will be writing about a number of them in the coming days. But we can't miss the forest for the trees and overlook local opportunities to mitigate out national and global problems at the local scale. Tonight at 7:00pm there will be a public presentation of the preliminary transit center design held in the ballroom of the Eastonian on Northampton Street.

There have been a number of these meetings previously and the public attendance has been disappointing. We need to be at these events if we want the decisions about what our money is spent on to result in pleasing buildings and landscapes that activate street life and facilitate community cohesion - especially when they involve our future transportation choices. If we don't, we will be stuck with the unwanted results for a long, long time.

My initial reaction to the current design was to suggest modifications to various components that make it work better in Easton's context. As I have thought about it further I come to the conclusion that this isn't enough. Style choices (and therefore conscious decisions about what is good and bad about the aesthetics of the building) can no longer be ignored. We have become too worried about cultural relativism: everyone is entitled to there own opinion and there being no such thing as right and wrong
can no longer be acceptable for our decisions. If we do not make the formal decisions about what we want to see built in our town, then those choices are left as bureaucratic ones - something we can't afford.

I would most closely relate the current transit center design to the new County Historical Museum in the old Segals building (incidentally, they share the same architect). I have no problem telling anyone that the design leaves me flat. That building says nothing to me; it says nothing about the context of Northampton Street and nothing about the history of the city or county. Abstract compositions of glass and stone are nice mind exercises and they can come off well (sometimes) as free standing "object" buildings if they are framed properly as part of a terminated vista.

I fear that the renderings, as they've been presented so far, could easily end up becoming another Historical Society facade stretched across a whole city block face. I don't want to see three floors of sheet glass and stone slabs presented to the public as a street scape - whether there is a public plaza attached or not. I know a lot of people agree with me but don't know how to express it succinctly. I also already know that the HARB is going to feel the same way when this hits their desks. We need this facade to morph into a mostly masonry building with punched openings - even if they are over-scaled openings - while maintaining it's modern identity . It can certainly be modern and still play off the facing street facade's context much better.

The photo above is from a proposed mixed-use building with subterranean parking in Oakland, Ca. It is my contribution/example towards the direction I think the project should take. It is about as far from the stiff composition we have now as imaginable and I am willing to work towards something in the middle ground. Please come out tonight and add your voice to the discussion. Shaping public opinion can not take place unless the public agrees to participate.


michael molovinsky said...

mr. lieb, the lanta terminal in allentown had disastrous consequences for the merchants here. although people were willing to shop while waiting for their next bus, they would not make an extra stop to do so. from several dialogues with mayor panto, he still doesn't understand the ramification between a bus stop and a transfer stop. he thinks because the buses will still run and stop on northampton street, nothing changes, but it does. easton passengers will not make the extra stop, nor will they walk the two blocks back to the square to shop. business will decline on northampton street. sal wanted me to come to easton for his explanation, but it was incumbent on him to come to allentown and speak to a few merchants. the high school sports museum is beyond comment.

yes, the location may be better than the wolf parking lot, but the basic lanta terminal concept is still badly flawed. waiting bus passengers has been the coin of merchants for decades, you don't isolate that market share three blocks from your stores.

noel jones said...

Michael, thanks for commenting!

Argh--I didn't realize the meeting was tonight--I might have had to miss it for work anyway, but if I had known, I might have tried to come late and catch the tail end of it.

Dennis, please let us know your thoughts after the meeting is over...I remember that at the last public meeting, a resident suggested incorporating more historically appropriate materials into the facade, and the mayor said he would have the architects look into that--actually, he directed them right there at the meeting to do as much. Hopefully they listened and are not just trying to push their own vision through, despite public input. The mayor was clear, but the architect didn't look happy, so I'm interested to know if the latest version of the design presents the materials suggested.

Dennis R. Lieb said...


I am aware of the subtle nature of removing transfer customers from Center Square, despite the remaining bus stops there. I followed the Allentown story closely. I knew that the Wolf location was death. I am doing little more than crossing fingers that this location will suffice but I have done as much as I can (and I think finally convinced the city that my view points are valid)to be satisfied with the current location.

This site is two short blocks from Center Square's previous transfer point and just across the street from the current commuter terminal. Our terminal will handle LANTA, Trans-Bridge, Greyhound, Susquehanna, etc. I don't know if your does. It is being geared more towards regional commuters than local riders, which may or may not be a good thing but beyond my control.

I will not pretend to know what negative outcomes will befall merchants with this location. I do know that the first floor of our building will be completely fronted by real commercial space, will include a real pocket park for public use and be designed so the lease space can be sub-divided in the future when the whacko coaches hall of fame/training center/evangelical roller rink/discoteque thingy goes belly-up. At least we can re-use the building for legitmate business in the future.


The design has changed little. I listened to everyone's comments and then took a deep breath and told them I thought it needed a complete facade make-over. I didn't get lynched but did manage to insinuate my way into Wednesday afternoon's closed door meeting with the HARB to discuss the design. I guess being on the Planning Commission has it's occassional perks.

Wish more people showed up. Not counting me, other appointed officials or anyone with ties to the project, there were about four regular citizens present. They gave very good input. Pitiful turnout though.


michael molovinsky said...

dennis, actually the allentown terminal is only one block from hamilton street, but it turned out to be one block too many for the merchants; business volume on hamilton decreased 40%. in allentown the lanta terminal is only for them, trans-bridge,etc, use a separate facility.

i certainly relate to you having done as "much as you can." to be kind, i believe you are dealing with very slow learners. as a resident of lehigh valley, i thank you for your efforts.

Anonymous said...

First, Easton is much different than Allentown. Businesses are not going to suffer because there are no businesses. The business that gained the most from bus traffic, Rite Aid, closed its doors sometime ago. There are marginal operations, a pawnbroker and empty store fronts that don’t rely on bus traffic. No one is complaining except an individual from another community who may have a problem with bus traffic in that community, not Easton.

The river project died because of financial issues. We have not seen any numbers on this project. I would like to see how it works and the taxpayer is not at risk. It seems that a number of people are concerned that the anchor tenant will not survive. Is that possible? Then save ourselves and forget the building.

Easton stinks as a landlord. It has failed every time it has been in a position to manage property. It has failed under every mayor. When the existing garage was built, the commercial space went vacant for over 25 years with the police department finally moving in. The city could not handle the YMCA apartments, Restlawn, the Alpha Building, etc. Too many vacancies. Now it wants to manage more real estate. Don’t we ever learn?

As far as the proposed garage. The drawings are nice. I see the intent to disguise the garage. Who cares? Buildings work because people want to occupy them. Will these just be another addition to the scores of vacant structures in this community that make up the Grand Easton Museum of empty 18th, 19th and 20th Century architecture.

Easton got a grant for a garage. Build the garage. Then let private money take the risk on additions. This project, if unsuccessful, could be the final one for this town, (note the word, “town”)

Lynn Fraser said...

I opened the discussion about changing the facade last night, pointing out all of the modern structures that already don't work in this city and a few in Bethlehem too. We need an architect that does inner city redevelopment exclusively, someone like Street Works, LLC who has many successful projects in Connecticut and New York and one proposed in Boston.

michael molovinsky said...

anon 11:58, previously, actually two merchants, ( the ones you think of as marginal) expressed concern to the morning call about losing business. also at that time a cafe owner stated he thought the removal of the "bus" people would be a positive for him. allentown found out the only thing worst than marginal businesses and bus people is no people. but don't worry, your mayor says 470,000 tourists a year come to easton.......

Anonymous said...

Our mayor is right. Hundreds of thousands of tourists do come to Easton each year. Moving the bus stop will not eliminate people.

Easton is not Allentown.

Joanne said...

Sorry I missed the meeting and hope to see that final project is something that fits into Easton. I appreciate your introduction and look forward to reading more. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Moving the bus stops to the terminal in Allentown didn't remove the people from the city either. Cities all over the world have central transfer points and moving those by one or two blocks has no negative impact. Any downtown that is so fragile as to have that result isn't healthy to start with.

Either we invest in these cities or we don't. Not to do so will have a far more devastating impact than moving bus transfer points.

Anonymous said...

Sal Panto says:
I will not take the time to address Mr. Molovinsky's comments, that would be totaly fruitless. He doesn't come to Easton but somehow knows that Easton is like Allentown ---- NOT!

The public meeting last evening was not well attended but that may also mean that many of the individuals who flooded city hall (no pun intended) and public meetings on the former intermodal are now satisfied with the new location, additional uses, etc.

This project has enjoyed more public input than any of its kind and I stopped at today's meeting with the HARB and DRL and have to say it was a friendly, professional exchange of ideas. The utlimate outcome will be a better design because the architects are willing to listen unlike some who want to make it their own way or no way. It was also agreed to use the upcoming Environmental Assessment public hearing as an additional opportunity for the public to see the final design.

This is a public building that has a lot of public input from people with varying tastes and ideas. Most will lie it but not everyone will be happy.

Now for the hall of fame which will occupy 1/3 of the building. All the same naysayers who said Larry Holmes Drive wouldn't work, and that Pomeroy's should be demolished, etc. this hall of fame will be making some major announcements in the near future that will show you the level of national support this hall of fame has and needs to be successful. The plan to have the first and third floor as commercial tenants paying market rate rents is a plan destined to succeed. Time will tell and in the interim we are not naive enough not to prepare for the worse. The building is totally flexible.

Lastly, to the Alpha Building and current garage. In the last two and a half years we have increased the rental income on the Alpha Building by more than $200,000. We have half of the ninth floor available. That's $200,000 less taxpayers have to pay for the upkeep of City Hall.

michael molovinsky said...

mayor panto, in today's morning call, a parkland school director is quoted as saying that no public at the school board meeting indicates that no one minds the school tax increase, what an absurd conclusion.

you may conclude what you wish about the lack of attendance at your meeting. likewise, you may dismiss my comments because i didn't accept your invitation for a chat in easton; however, as i said previously, you owe it to your merchants to visit hamilton street and hear their view about the transfer terminal in allentown.

michael molovinsky said...

post script; the allentown parking authority turned into a vampire expanding and doubling their fine menu to pay the bond debt on the new deck, another perk you may look forward to. funny how easton, like allentown, has apologists. funny how you want to say these are municipal trends being done elsewhere (transfer terminals) but don't want to acknowledge or learn from the problems created elsewhere

noel jones said...

I would have loved to have attended the second public meeting, as I thought the first at City Hall was quite a productive and positive exchange between residents, architects and officials, but I did not hear about it in time. Probably my own fault as I have been working long hours lately. But if anyone (the mayor included) knows of another public meeting coming up on the topic, please post here so that residents have another chance of knowing and planning to be there--thx!

The three things that I do hope will be incorporated into the design are:

a) "living walls" to block the noise and smog on the church side and on the plaza side where the buses pull in

b) more trees in the "green space" of the plaza--without real shade trees, folks that sunburn easily like myself are not likely to choose to sit out there, and I would love to see that plaza actually used, rather than just built

c) a resident from the public meeting at City Hall brought up concerns about the facade materials and requested something more historically appropriate--i like the idea of a modern building that takes into consideration the materials of the buildings around it. there is no reason that historic buildings and modern buildings cannot co-exist (New York is a perfect example) but it would be nice to see some element of design, including facade materials, pulling it all together.