Lehigh Valley

Northampton County mulls request for additional $50,000 for Da Vinci Center's Easton mega project

EASTON, Pa. - Da Vinci Science City, a $130-million aquarium complex proposed for downtown Easton, may be swimming up stream as it tries to land another $50,000 from Northampton County Council to pay for feasibility studies.

Northampton County Council has already committed $50,000 for a study but at Thursday night's council meeting Da Vinci's Executive Director in Allentown, Lin Erickson, made a pitch for an additional $50,000, which would bring the county's contribution to $100,000.

No vote was taken and no decision is expected until council's next meeting but based on comments by two council members, including Council President John Cusick, it may not be an easy sell.

Council Member Ken Kraft told council he believed it was "throwing money into a pipe dream" and chastised Da Vinci officials.

"You keep coming back to the trough," Kraft said. "I've got to say no."

Kraft then referred to the $130 million price tag, saying "No one knows where the money is coming from."

Easton has promised to kick in $30 million and buy the proposed site, the Days Inn.

Kraft questioned whether council is "throwing money at something that may never happen" and said other major projects, including Steel Stacks and others, did their feasibility studies on their own before asking council for financial help.

Council member Robert Warner disagreed.

"I think it's worth it," Warner said. "I feel its a good investment for the county."

Cusick was not swayed.

"It's more than I'm willing to spend," Cusick said. Cusick also questioned the proposed location, saying it is near an already congested intersection.

"I have concerns about traffic, parking," Cusick said. He also questioned who will ultimately pick up the tab.

"I would just say taxpayers have to hold onto their wallets," Cusick said. He said he would vote "no" for Da Vinci's request for another $50,000.

Council authorized the county to tap into the hotel tax for the first $50,000.

Erickson told council the funds are crucial to determining the economic soundness of the project.

Da Vinci officials have based their business model on a projected 600,000 visitors a year to the facility.

She said the projected attendance figures must be validated in the study, which is expected to cost $1.2 million.

In other action, council received good news on the financial health of Gracedale, the county's formerly struggling nursing home.

County Executive John Brown said the nursing home ended 2016 with more than a $1 million fund balance, which he attributed in large part to a one-time $834,000 cash infusion from the sale of licensed beds, plus $208,000 in funds left over after expenses.


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