EASTON, Pa. - A plan to relocate Easton City Hall to a proposed new building a few blocks away is gaining momentum.
City council members asked for more financial information from Mayor Sal Panto and administration officials Wednesday night, but generally seemed supportive of the idea to vacate and sell the Alpha Building in the unit block of 3rd Street and move to the proposed $26 million, three-story intermodal facility sometime in early 2015.
Council members indicated they could be ready to make a decision by their March 13 meeting.
No one from the public voiced support or opposition to the plan, which was revealed by the mayor at a news conference on Monday.
In introducing the relocation plan to council, Panto noted that although he supported moving City Hall to the Alpha Building in 1996, "Easton is a very different city today." He said the current space is "too large," "not functional" and "lacking in security."
Moving City Hall would save taxpayer money, and selling the Alpha Building would put it completely back on the tax rolls, Panto pointed out.
The mayor said federal and state grants will pay for $12 million of the intermodal facility's construction costs, and that proceeds of the Alpha Building sale would go to the portion the city has to pay.
Panto added that several developers have expressed interest in the Alpha Building, "and we don't want to miss the opportunity of people willing to invest large sums of money in Easton."
The mayor said that the construction on the intermodal facility is set to begin in April, with a parking garage being finished by "late in the third quarter of 2014," and the rest of the building by December 2014.
Council member Roger Ruggles requested administration officials to put together an analysis showing how much in rent the city will lose from its half-dozen tenants in the Alpha Building, should the city sell.
City finance director Chris Heagele he said he would compile those numbers in time for council's Feb. 27 meeting, and include how much more in taxes the city could expect to collect if the Alpha Building is entirely occupied by private tenants.
Council member Elinor Warner told Heagele, "We'll also need to know what the debt service [on the intermodal project] would be if we don't move and don't sell the Alpha Building."
City administrator Glenn Steckman said there might be hidden savings if City Hall is moved, because a city employee will only have to deal with the concerns of one private tenant at the intermodal facility, compared to the half-dozen in the Alpha Building.
Council member Michael Fleck thanked the mayor and administration officials for clearly presenting "the basics" of the idea. "In two weeks, I hope to see more than the basics," he added.
In other business, council approved a $125,000 agreement of sale with Scott G. Kindred, of Martins Creek, Northampton Co., for a parcel of land he owns at 37-43 North 4th Street.
The city intends to use the property for a 40-car parking lot, Panto said.
The city had been trying to acquire the parcel over the last eight months, and was prepared to take it by eminent domain, Panto said.
However, that was avoided after a 10-minute negotiation session with Kindred last Friday, the mayor said.
"Mr. Kindred is going to use the proceeds of the sale to build a four-unit townhouse on the South Side, so the money is staying in the city," Panto pointed out. "He's a very nice man."
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