EASTON, Pa. - Easton, once an old, struggling, blue-collar town just happy to survive, is growing and gaining momentum amid a surge of large-scale projects worth more than $400 million, Mayor Sal Panto Jr. said Wednesday.
Panto, in his annual state of the city report to council, gave a sweeping overview of the city, then and now, in a presentation showing once rundown buildings that have been renovated or soon will be.
Using a slide show of city landmark buildings, Panto referred to the former, long vacant Pomeroy Building, which has two restaurants on the first floor and more than 40 apartments in the works; the former Hilltop Café, which has been restored after being vacant for more than 20 years; and the Mt. Vernon, now Two Rivers Brewing Co. and restaurant, among others.
The mayor said another group of buildings, vacant for more than 25 years, are being reconstructed.
"Some people thought we should just tear them down but we now have a developer who is restoring them and placing them back on the tax rolls and bringing more people with disposable income to our city," said Panto.
Next month, he said, work begins on the Governor Wolf Building to convert it into apartments.
Alpha Building, which houses City Hall until a new building and transportation center is constructed, will also be converted by the same developer into apartments.
One of the strongest assets the city has is its relationship with Lafayette College, Panto said.
Lafayette is expanding from its College Hill campus to the downtown, with the development of its Film and Media School on North Third Street, he said.
Turning to the city's finances, Panto referred to the city's A+ bond rating, which he said will save the city more than $1 million in financing charges on the new city hall projects and all future projects.
"Now understand, this doesn't mean we are wealthy," the mayor said. "It means we manage our money well."
Referring to the city's crime rate, Panto said the city saw an overall decrease in crime of 22.5 percent last year.
He credited the city police, which now has 63 officers compared with 52 in 2008.
"Crime reduction does not happen automatically," Panto said. "It is the result of hard work and community engagement."
Allentown, PA 18102