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Can You Dig It

The way to fight blight

- Last modified: July 23, 2013 at 3:41 PM

Suffering from water damage, peeling paint, deterioration and loose bricks, two buildings that have sat vacant in downtown Easton for more than 20 years soon will see new life.

There’s an old quote by Ovid, a Roman poet, which says, “Dripping water hollows out stone, not through force but through persistence.”

The same could be said for combating blight. It’s not something that happens overnight. It can take years, decades even. But through force of will and strategic partnerships, it can happen.

These properties include 118 Northampton St., which the city’s Redevelopment Authority owns and tried to sell to a developer multiple times over the course of almost 10 years, and 120 Northampton St., which the authority acquired through eminent domain.

Now, once remediation work is complete, the redevelopment authority will sell the properties to Post Road Management LLC of Allentown, a firm that specializes in adaptive reuse and renovating distressed, blighted properties.

“We think we have what it takes; I think it’s going to be a great fit for the city,” said Borko Milosev, owner of Post Road. He would like to establish a mixed use property with commercial and residential use.

For decades, these buildings have sat unsightly and vacant, but that could all change as Easton continues its rebirth. With construction set to start in two weeks, according to Mayor Sal Panto, this project could be a reality, drawing in extra business, residents and visitors to the city. Initial project work includes asbestos and lead removal, plus installing a new brick facade.

The city and redevelopment authority had some help from the Lehigh Valley Land Recycling Initiative, a program of the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corp., which provided funding through a grant to perform a remediation study. This group promotes economic development through the reuse of abandoned and underutilized commercial and industrial properties.

The city’s redevelopment authority is its direct partner in this program, said Andrew Kleiner, an assistant to Tracy Oscavich, director of the LVLRI. Other partners include Northampton County and the Department of Environmental Protection. Total estimates of the remediation program are about $30,000. with the redevelopment authority paying half and LVLRI paying half, Kleiner said.

Funds go toward environmental survey work, the development of the cleanup plan, preliminary architecture/design services and historic preservation services.

“We are in a partnership now to see this project through to fruition,” Kleiner said.

Additionally, the city’s redevelopment authority purchased a parking lot across the street at 129 Northampton St. to provide adequate parking.

All three properties are near the main entrance to the city’s downtown and waterfront, close to the free bridge connecting Phillipsburg, N.J., with Easton.

The proposed project includes a complete restoration of the two buildings with first floor commercial space and 10-14 upper floor residential units. Total estimated construction costs, including the authority’s work and the developer’s work, would be just under $2 million, said Gretchen Longenbach, the city’s director of economic and community development.

As the city continues to transform its image and draw new businesses in, this could be one more example of positive growth.

With a view of the city’s waterfront, the site could offer an attractive amenity for residents and a bonus for business owners looking for high-profile foot traffic.

It’s good to see the potential happening, and it pays to keep in mind that sometimes, slow and steady really does win the race.

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