Action is underway to prep a long-dormant site for economic development.
A state program designed to stimulate the cleanup of environmental contamination at industrial sites will provide Easton with $153,382 for a second environmental assessment of the nearly 4-acre Black Diamond Silk Mill industrial site in the city’s south side.
Gov. Tom Wolf made the announcement, with funds coming through the Industrial Sites Reuse Program of the state Department of Community & Economic Development. The city will use the funds to study the environmental condition of the site to prepare it for low-income housing and commercial uses.
The program provides loans and grants for environmental assessments and remediation, with the goal of bringing blighted sites back to use.
The Black Diamond Silk Mill, a vacant complex of buildings owned by John Robinson, is also in the Keystone Opportunity Zone, which offers business owners state and local tax breaks, a major hook that attracts developers.
For years, the city has sought developers to revamp the property and selected Timothy Harrison of Brooklyn, part of the team behind the massive Hamilton Crossings retail center that opened in Lower Macungie Township last year.
Harrison is collaborating with PIRHL Developers LLC, a Cleveland company, on a plan to build a 60-unit low-income housing complex, complementary community center and a playground, once workers assess and remediate the site.
This year, workers did an environmental assessment that identified areas of concern that spurred further investigation. The second phase will consist of an initial assessment and the investigation necessary to complete the site characterization following demolition.
The city will use the funds for site work that includes soil borings, geophysical surveys for two potential underground storage tanks, soil investigation, ground water testing, reporting and administration.
The city likely would not receive the funds until spring, said Dawn Hart, director of the city’s Department of Community and Economic Development. This stage of the project would be the first of many to receive funds and, after the city goes through the assessment process, it would go through remediation, which could cost about $1 million, Hart said.
The city also is hopeful it will receive tax credits issued by a state agency toward funding the rehabilitation of the site, Hart said.
SEEKING MORE GRANTS
PIRHL Developers made an application to the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency to receive low-income housing tax credits, which would include funding part of the cleanup, said Lara Schwager, vice president of development for PIRHL Developers. The company will be looking for an additional Industrial Sites Reuse Program grant or loan and use those tax credits to pay for further remediation, she said.
“We won’t know if we have an award for that project until the spring,” Schwager said.
The funds from the Industrial Sites Reuse Program for the second assessment and cleanup work are available as soon as PIRHL completes and submits information to the state.
“Some of that work involves invasive digging, so we will possibly be starting that phase two in the spring,” Schwager said.
CONSTRUCTION POSSIBLY A YEAR AWAY
If the project earns the tax credits, construction could possibly begin by the end of next year, Schwager said. Workers would complete demolition and remediation work before construction starts.
“There’s a need on the south side of Easton for housing, especially with all the market rate housing coming into the downtown,” Schwager said. “You have a nice resurgence that’s happening in that area.”
The project would be called The Mill at Easton. WRT of Philadelphia is the architect, Schwager said.
Remediation is costly, and the company is looking to take advantage of everything available to it in the form of loans and grants.
Since the project would bring more affordable housing units to the city, it would offer more of a mix of housing in Easton, Hart said.
“I think it’s going to be great for the neighborhood,” Hart said. “I think we are happy with the direction it’s going.”
Schwager said her company specializes in building low-income housing units.
“We’ve got 13 other projects in Pennsylvania that we built,” Schwager said. “We really like Easton as a location. It’s a really great location for people to have access to work and resources. The municipality is encouraging development.”
The property offers flexibility for future development, which could include complementary mixed uses, such as a grocery store, retail and medical office/urgent care clinic or more housing.
“We do believe it has an extremely strong chance of getting funded,” Schwager said. “To have new housing that’s affordable when you have so much older housing stock in town, it’s a win-win.”