Could a plan to build a grocery store with market-rate apartments become an anchor project for other business development outside of Easton’s downtown core?
A Realtor and lifelong West Ward Easton resident is hopeful it will.
Dennis Lieb, a Realtor for Berkshire Hathaway Paul Ford Realtors in Easton, said his client, Ari Schwartz, a Brooklyn developer, put his property at 630 Northampton St. on the market for $1.5 million in a bid to spark interest in developing the site.
The property consists of a vacant building and pocket park that’s been proposed to become a grocery store with a parking garage and 32 apartments above, Lieb said. While the project, Dutchtown Commons, had been shown to the city’s planning commission several years ago, it has never been fully endorsed, Lieb said.
Since that time, the project has sat dormant while the city’s downtown core, several blocks away, has seen a resurgence of economic activity, from new restaurants to the addition of high-end apartments converted from historic structures.
The West Ward is overlooked, according to Lieb, who said there are about 16,000 people within a half-mile of this area.
According to his research, Lieb estimated that people in this area spend $16 million on food – but 85 percent of that money is spent outside that area.
“It comes down to a lot of money that the city is missing,” he said.
Transactions that occur within the city have a multiplier effect that also benefit the city, he added.
While Schwartz had previously tried to develop the project, at this point, he wants to sell it, Lieb said.
Ultimately, Lieb said, he would like to see the project developed in a way that will benefit the people living in the West Ward and act as an anchor project for other developments.
While the concept of the project could change based on who buys it and what the developer wants to do, Lieb said, the neighborhood appears to support it, based on a presentation in 2012. He said the project was presented to the city planning commission as a courtesy to show they were working on it to gather feedback from the community.
Steven Glickman Architect of Easton completed the renderings and said the 600 block of Northampton Street is the longest block in Easton.
“It has a lot of potential,” Glickman said. The slope of the property going up to the Northampton County Courthouse allows for a lot of flexibility, he said.
The challenge is funding the project, which Lieb said could cost $18 million to $20 million to build the grocery store, parking garage and 32 apartments. The building would total seven stories.
The project is within the area designed Local Economic Revitalization Tax Assistance, at least until the end of this year, Lieb said. A LERTA designation allows real estate taxes to be abated at a pro-rated amount over the next 10 years. The funding incentive can be used for improvements, including new construction, to a property in that LERTA zone.