$1.2M state grant fuels Easton’s West Ward revitalization program

The economic development organization announced the start of the West Ward Community Initiative, a program funded through a Neighborhood Assistance Tax Credit program (NAP) grant from the state Department of Community & Economic Development. Officials made the announcement at The Easton Home, a senior living community on Northampton Street in the city’s West Ward last week.

Four companies will use the tax credit program to fund the grant, each of them pledging to donate $50,000 per year for six years, said Amy Boccadoro, manager of the West Ward Community Initiative. She has served as assistant manager of the Easton Main Street Initiative program for nearly six years and will lead this new effort.

The four companies are PNC Bank, Peoples Security Bank & Trust Co., Lafayette Ambassador Bank, and HM Life Insurance Co., a Highmark Company.

Officials said the state would award the grant to the nonprofit partnership in segments, providing $200,000 per year for six years to support community revitalization activities from Sixth to 15th streets and Butler to Jackson streets in the western portion of the city.

To qualify for a NAP program, the state requires a project to serve distressed areas or support neighborhood conservation such as affordable housing programs, community services and job training.

Long-term collaborations, such as The Neighborhood Partnership Program, a component of the NAP, allows corporate sponsors to earn a tax credit up to 80 percent, according to the state DCED.

GEDP will coordinate the West Ward program.

Jared Mast, executive director of GEDP, said this grant would not affect downtown programs but instead expand the organization’s focus to the West Ward. The program focuses on a number of priorities including providing more businesses and services, improving mobility access and creating more open space and public amenities.

For the first year of the program, the organization plans to begin several projects, including increasing lighting along streets, starting a West Ward newsletter, and a carrying out a grant façade program.

Officials said they would like to highlight the entrepreneurial culture through the West Ward’s neighborhood business association and the development of flexible work environments.

Neal Koplin, executive vice president, Lehigh Valley Regional president of Peoples Security Bank & Trust, said his father’s family was from the West Ward. He views this as an opportunity to develop partnerships with the community.

“I like those types of partnerships and for our bankers to get involved,” Koplin said.

Koplin would like to see more affordable housing in this project.

“Prices are going up,” Koplin said. “As prices go up, rents go up. The cost of housing goes up. In a lot of ways, we have opportunities to continue to make housing affordable.”

State Rep. Robert Freeman said he grew up in the West Ward and remembered it had a strong mixed-use back then. It also had a number of textile businesses, he added.

“Businesses are rediscovering the West Ward and the affordable rents,” Freeman said. “It’s a great neighborhood, great architecture; diversity brings a sense of strength.”

Freeman said he sees potential for entrepreneurs working in a walkable community and promoting employment opportunities.

The potential exists for creating a small format grocery store, new mixed-use development and mixed-income housing near neighborhood amenities and open space, according to the West Ward Neighborhood Plan.

The plan also calls for park improvements.

The Greater Valley YMCA is a partner on this year’s Park Leader Program, which will be at Centennial and Vanderveers parks.

Funding for this programming is coming from the Neighborhood Assistance Program, Boccadoro said. She said GDEP received a grant from the Lehigh Valley Community Foundation to help support the Easton Community Gardens program.

Lafayette College has also collaborated with GDEP on many aspects, she said, in relationship to the NAP program; they assisted with the program application, she said.

Brian Pedersen
Reporter Brian Pedersen covers construction, development, warehousing and real estate and keeps you up to date on the changing landscape of our community. He can be reached at brianp@lvb.com or 610-807-9619, ext. 4108.

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