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Authority approves 2 contracts for Easton's Simon Silk Mill redevelopment project

Property to become mixed-use arts village

EASTON, Pa. - Two key pieces of the longstanding Simon Silk Mill redevelopment puzzle are on the verge of being filled.

One of these pieces was filled Wednesday night when the Easton Redevelopment Authority approved two contracts for environmental remediation work at the vacant 15-acre site at North 13th Street and Bushkill Drive, which is being eyed for conversion into a multi-use arts village.

Authority members are confident the next piece of the puzzle will be filled on Dec. 5 when the Easton Planning Commission will consider approving planned infrastructure improvements at the former mill site, including new access roads and utilities. This approval, authority members say, would pave the way for the site's re-developer, the VM Development Group, to develop first phase building plans.

The piece of the redevelopment puzzle filled during Wednesday night's Redevelopment Authority meeting includes a pair of environmental remediation contracts totaling $435,000.

Gretchen Longenbach, the authority's executive director, said both of these contracts are being funded with grant money.

One contract for $196,000 was awarded to Crest Environmental Services of Reading for the removal of oil, abatement of lead-contaminated materials and removal of an underground storage tank. The other contract for $239,000 was awarded to Scot Christopher Rule Painting of Flemington, N.J. for the abatement of lead-contaminated materials in two buildings totaling 55,000 square feet.

Longenbach said this remediation work is expected be completed throughout the winter. Once remediation work is complete, the next step will be to complete infrastructure improvements followed by the actual redevelopment of the existing buildings.

The project's 50,000 square-feet first phase will be comprised of a mix of commercial uses and up to 36 residential units with specific work amenities for artists, Longenbach said.

Subsequent phases are expected to include a community arts center, retail stores, restaurants, boutique hotel and other uses. Total redevelopment is expected to comprise 325,000 square feet.

Longenbach estimates the first phase of the redevelopment project could be ready for occupancy within two years.

Officials have described the redevelopment project as an arts village for the creative industries where residents can live and work 24 hours a day. The project has similarities to the ArtsQuest complex in Bethlehem.

The property, acquired by the Easton Redevelopment Authority in 2006, was first developed as a silk mill in 1883. Before the textile industry began its decline in the latter half of the 20th century, the site grew to include more than 20 industrial buildings.

Officials said the goal is to redevelop, within its existing historic framework, 97 percent of the property.

The authority is looking to sell the property to the re-developer in phases. The first phase of the sale (for two buildings) has already occurred, and the authority on Wednesday authorized its executive director to negotiate the second phase of the sale of four more buildings at a cost of $3.50 per square foot.

The total redevelopment vision for the property, as posted on the Greater Easton Development Partnership website, is as follows:

-- A community arts center possibly involving gallery space, working artist studios, small live performance venues, classrooms and community meeting rooms, shared production facilities (kilns, pottery wheels, metal-working facilities, etc.), artist demonstration stages, an art film theatre, etc.

-- An artist live-work facility providing affordable joint residential/studio space for qualified artists and their families.

-- A boutique hotel and conference center providing overnight accommodations for visitors.

-- A mix of market-rate retail, commercial, office, restaurants, and production facilities catering to the creative industries.

The appointed re-developer, the VM Development Group, is currently completing the redevelopment of the former Pomeroy building on the 300 block Northampton Street.

The VM Group, on its website, said the former silk mill site will become "a tour de force in the museum exhibition and community arts education forum."

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