Thursday, March 13, 2014

Mayor Says Continued Development Key to Easton's Improved Economy

By Christina Georgiou

Easton Mayor Sal Panto gave the annual "State of the City" address to
city council Wednesday evening, with about 20 members
of the public in attendance.
The city's revitalization efforts of the last three decades are paying off, and Easton is on a much more solid financial footing than it has been in a long time, Mayor Sal Panto said in his State of the City address to city council Wednesday night.

"Unlike many cities throughout the northeast, Easton has weathered challenging economic times, and we remain steadfast in our determination to move progressively and positively toward a better future," he said. "As mayor, I am committed to harnessing the physical, cultural, and intellectual strengths of our city, transforming those matchless qualities into sustainable and unrivaled developments that will benefit residents and visitors alike."

Urban renewal was more like "urban
removal" for Easton, Mayor Sal Panto
noted. Revitalization and adaptive
reuse over the last 30 years has
be key to the city's turnaround since
 Showcasing dozens of city buildings that have been redeveloped over the past thirty years  with before and after photos, Panto said that urban renewal during the 1960s, 70s, and early 80s, were more like "urban removal," and contributed to the city's decline during that period.

He credited former mayors Thomas Goldsmith, Michael McFadden, and Phil Mitman with continuing revitalization efforts after his own first mayoral tenure, beginning in 1984.

Despite the gains that have been made, the city needs to continue on its redevelopment trajectory to grow the population and keep tax rates down, he said.

A sketch showing the Easton Home's plans to add senior
apartments along Northampton Street in the city's West Ward.
"Our population fell below 30,000 (during that time). We need to get it back up so there are more people living and working in the city and paying taxes," Panto said.

The redevelopment and adaptive reuse of existing properties in Easton, such as the nearly completed Pomeroy Building, which houses two restaurants, office space  and more than 40 residential apartments, brings new tax revenue to city coffers, he said. Other planned projects, such as the conversion of the Governor Wolf building into upscale apartments and the redevelopment of old industrial sites such as the Simon Silk Mill on South 13th Street, will add to that.

"The Governor Wolf building will be coming back on the tax rolls in the next 30 to 45 days," Panto said. "You're going to see some major development going on (at the silk mill site) after the weather breaks."

New construction will also contribute to the city's well being too, Panto said, pointing to Lafayette College's plans for a new arts complex on North Third Street, and the Easton Home's plan to add senior citizen apartments on Northampton Street in the West Ward, as well as the new city hall and transportation center that is expected to be complete late next year.

"I think anyone who lives in that area of the West Ward will feel better about their neighborhood," he said in reference to the Easton Home project.
Investments of more than $420 million over the past six years have translated into more than just improvements in the city's infrastructure too, Panto said.

Overall crime in the city was down by 22.5 percent, and sound fiscal management, which has resulted in an "A+" bond rating for the city, are good news too, the mayor said.

"We'll save over a million dollars because of our credit score," Panto noted.

Still, Easton faces challenges in the years ahead.

Highlights from various city departments' annual reports
Click on any image for a full-size view
"We're very concerned about our pension costs...but we're doing much better," the mayor said. ""We've been trying to live within our means, but it's not easy...legacy costs will eventually put...every municipality in the Commonwealth under if our legislature doesn't do something soon."

Easton should continue on the path it's on, and that will mean a rosy future for the city, Panto said.

"We were elected on progressive change," the mayor said, adding that positive changes should not come at the expense of any one group over another.

"We've done this without gentrification. We have not pushed people out," Panto said. "The state of our city is progressing, growing."

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