Monday, February 03, 2014

Brother, Can You Spare $2 Million?

This is part of the Camel's Hump Farm once owned by Bethlehem's first mayor, Archibald Johnston 
When Archibald Johnston gave his first annual message to Bethlehem as the City's first Mayor in 1918, it's unlikely he thought those words would be repeated nearly 100 years later. But that's exactly what community activist Vicky Bastidas did on February 1, when she and about fifty other "Friends of Johnston" kicked off a $2 million capital campaign to preserve and enrich what Johnston once called "Camel's Hump" farm.

Diane Rosencrance of Natural Lands Trust
This large tract along the Monocacy Creek is familiar to many Bethlehemites, including Northampton County Council member Ken Kraft. As a boy, this was where he and friends would launch inner tube expeditions. As he got older, he took a young lady there to impress her with all the wildflowers. It worked. She married him. Kraft is one of the Council members who voted unanimously last year to spend $675,000 to help preserve part of that land. Joining him were Scott Parsons and Bob Werner.

The Natural Lands Trust has increased that sum to over $800,000. "I feel the soul in this property," remarked the Trust's Diane Rosencrance.

Instead of strip malls, Friends of Johnston want birdhouses
This is land that, until recently, was under threat of development for yet another strip mall along Route 191, along with "luxury" apartments that would displace wildlife and threaten the Monocacy Creek at a vital recharge point. That threat still exists. Unless $2 million is raised to complete the purchase and maintain the property, the land will have to be sold to someone else.

What's at stake are 44 acres currently owned by the Central Moravian Church and the Leckonby Estate. This is next to other former Archibald Johnston properties that have already been preserved.

Johnston's granddaughter, Janet Housenick, conveyed 36 acres of Camel's Hump to Northampton County as the Archibald Johnston Conservation area. In her Will, she devised another 55 acres, including Johnston's mansion, to Bethlehem Township as a park. She also set aside $2 million for the Township to maintain the property.

Leckonby barn a focal point for community farming
Working in concert with The Natural Lands Trust, Bastidas hopes to create a multi-faceted nature center that would include a pre-school center and environmental education center and day camp for learning applied sciences. This is in line with Johnston's belief that educational resources be maximized.

It will also serve as a community garden and volunteer farm that will provide fresh produce to local food banks at no cost. This is another homage to Bethlehem's first mayor. During the Great Depression, capitalist Johnston formed the area's first cooperative farm, enabling families to stay in their homes and feed each other during the lean years.

Former Exec John Stoffa Calls it Central Park of the LV
Lands near the Monocacy Creek will be converted into a riparian buffer, with trails connected to 135 acres of preserved land. This is expected both to mitigate flooding in downtown Bethlehem, and help preserve what local Sierra Club President Don Miles has called "the most environmentally sensitive land in Northampton County."

Former Northampton County Executive John Stoffa, who joined Bastidas for this capital campaign kickoff, repeated his belief that this is nothing less than the creation of a Lehigh Valley Central Park.

State Senator Lisa Boscola, joined by State Representative Marcia Hahn, suggested tapping into casino funds as a possible source of revenue.

Of all the numerous funding projects on Bastidas' wishlist, the most critical is the $750,000 needed to complete this purchase. The "For Sale" signs on the property indicate that, instead of being preserved, this land could soon fall under a developer's bulldozer.

Also attending this kickoff were Bethlehem Township Commissioners' President Tom Nolan and Bethlehem City Council member Karen Dolan, whom Bastidas referred to as "my sister on the creek."

For more information, visit the Friends of Johnston.
The "For Sale" sign indicates what will happen if funds cannot be raised

27 comments:

Anonymous said...

A community has to do what a community has to do...

Anonymous said...

What is the name of the organization so we can send $$?

Anonymous said...

Great project but $2 million additional dollars?

Nobody has that.

Anonymous said...

Hey, I know: How about asking Stephen Donches to raise the money? He can find millions! And spend it on himself. Seriously. These are good people who want to move forward with a good project. It's a perfect proposal for that area. No more new buildings!

Anonymous said...

I fully support this park and also the county's involvement.....but......should the county be giving such a large sum with the threat of losing the property. This concerns me and does it place a larger financial obligation on the county? Should the grant have been a matching grant? I would even support the county giving a million dollars when a million dollars was raised. How much of a risk is this?

Bernie O'Hare said...

The county won't lose a dime of the deal falls through. The money being provided is to acquire the land. If the land is not acquired, the county obligation will cease.

Bernie O'Hare said...

9:16, You can find out more here:

http://www.friendsofjohnston.org/contact-us.html

Anonymous said...

I find it strange that the shingle that the LVRA prez stnds behind is not littering the property? Just one more question is, who or what dicktates the value of said neglected property values? This is not a colluded effort of sale to sell to someone that can not afford it, like banks and realators, and appraisers/inspectors cooking the books to sell blight to perchaser on public assistance?

The Hamilton Street Gang of Thugs and there hostel takover taktic in the new new new ReNew the valley?


redd
patent pending

Anonymous said...

Really ?! Karen Dolan and Victoria Bastidas ?! Just threw up a little in my mouth. Project is a loser from the start. $$$$$$$
might be two mil to purchase but a shitload more to refurbish and run. who pays for that?
Who will run it ? How much will it cost in salary's per year?
Wildlands conservancy, one of the biggest and oldest "non profits" in the lehigh valley and beyond has a yearly operating budget of OVER $500,000.00 this will be no different. where is all that money going to come from? don't be fooled by nobel intentions. Reality is reality. The devil is in the details.

Bernie O'Hare said...

It is much less than $2 million to complete the purchase. That would be about $760,000. $1 million would be a endowment to keep the facility maintained. The rest is for restoration.

This is not the Wildlands. But the Natural Lands Trust has a big budget and numerous private donors. Details were spelled out. Also, someone with your financial acumen and skepticism should get involved to make sure the $ is spent properly.

Anonymous said...

I keep seeing pictures of the old mansion in the papers and references to giving money to repair it. Thought bethlehem township owned it and it was a public park ? Is the township in bed with this group? I'd be really pissed as I pay taxes to bethlehem township and I don't want my tax money going to some private group. Can Bethlehem township do that? Is this place any different then any of our other township parks? We could certainly use some of that money to fix the fitness trails at the community center, TERRIBLE.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Bethlehem Township owns Housenick Park, which includes the Archibald Johnston mansion. There is also a $2 million bequest for expenses. This is a separate tract, and is in Bethlehem. This group of which you are so suspicious is trying to raise money to repair the roof of that mansion. Most BT residents I know are very happy to see this kind of involvement.Your negativism belongs to a select few.

Anonymous said...

bernie i'm not negative or suspicious. I'm quite sure they are a ligitimate organization. two million dollars, wow! why dosen't the township just fix the roof themselves. just saying if they want to give money to fix that roof can't they just give money to fix the trails at the community center and let the township fix the roof out of their two million dollars. There both township parks. Forgive me but I don't see a difference.

Bernie O'Hare said...

the twsp has the roof buttoned up and may fix it themselves. But every penny they spoend dips into that $2 Million. So if privATE FUNDS and other grant money can be used, that is looking out for you.

Anonymous said...

I see. But how about some money for the community center too ?
Maybe they can just contribute one check to the township and they can use it on any park they want instead of just this one. I'll make sure we go to a meeting and tell them to use some of it fixing the fitness trails.

Bernie O'Hare said...

The $2 million for Housenick park is restricted to that park.

Anonymous said...

Bernie I agree with 7:09 in principle. What I don't get is, if Bethlehem Township has two million dollars in a fund commited for that park who in their right mind would want to give them another couple hundred thousand. Its their park, let them spend their own money !
Sounds like the friends group is going to need all the money they can get to get off the ground and they only have a year to do it. The hell with Bethlehem Township and their park. Keep the money, couple hundred less they'll need to raise. Sounds like a no brainer !!!!

Bernie O'Hare said...

The money is not sitting in BT coffers. It is held by the Housenick trust. Right now the emphasis is on establishing trails and restrooms. The roof is buttoned up, though not as good as everyone would like. That $2 million bequest is designed for park maintenance. A good fund manager could probably generate $100k from that annually, and that bequest can fund maintenance for many years. But dipping into the principal does not help. If the Friends want to raise money to help the park, why not? Commissioners have said they would welcome it. Obviously, their primary focus right now is to raise the $760k or so needed to complete the purchase of the Leckonby and Central Moravian tracts. There is nothing unusual, foolhardy or stupid being planned, and you can participate yourself if you so desire.

The point here is that this was all once Archibald Johnston's land. That is why the Friends would like to help BT thru the parks and rec board. You can go to one of those meetings and get familiar with everything. They are a very good group, and several members were at the Saturday fundraiser.

zoid said...

Unfortunately BT commissioner president Tom Nolan is clueless, it is more about him and always has been than what really is at stake!! He is an egotist, micromanager and want to be in control freak he does not get it and no one should be pulling strings setting plans or calling the shots for the Housenick Park except the township.

zoid said...

Vicky Bastidas is a self serving egotist as well.. There is something in this for her or why would she be involved!!

Bernie O'Hare said...

Zoid, What the hell is wrong here? Seriously. This group has acquired monies to purchase the tracts adjacent to Housenick. Now they are trying to raise money to complete the purchase. As for the Park, are you telling me you do not want this group to try to raise money for the Park, especially after the board expressly asked them to do just that? What gives? Doesn't that make all the sense in the world?

As for Vicky, I think it's pretty clear by now that the time she has invested in this far outweighs whatever she will get as an exec director, assuming that ever happens. During all this time, someone with her educational background could be making mountains of money doing something else. I think what's in it for her is that genuinely believes in what she's doing.

Anonymous said...

Oh, and bernie, I'm sorry you believe that you give lawyers a bad name. At least I'm trying to give social workers a good one.

Anonymous said...

Is that Zoid? Or is it Roid?

Anonymous said...

Its HUDzoidAK

Anonymous said...

What's the average salary of a "executive director" for a non-profit in the greater lehigh valley, 90-100K ?
Sounds like she's in it for the money to me. A lot of effort for believing in what your doing. Good intentions don't pay the bills. Nothing wrong with drawing a fat salary on the back of a non-profit , they all do it. Just don't misrepresent yourself. Have the guts to admit it. I wish her luck.

Bernie O'Hare said...

That's not the average. Not even close. Most barely get by. I don't believe there's been an ounce of misrepresentation by Vicky. She has pretty much thrown herself into this, not to make a few bucks, but bc she believes it is the right thing to do. And this meeting was in Bethlehem, not the Township. Live and let live.

Anonymous said...

Bring it bernie