EASTON, Pa. – Easton is reviewing four proposals for the site of the Pine Street garage, including a 100-room hotel, Mayor Sal Panto said Thursday.
Panto reviewed potential tax breaks for a dozen properties with Northampton County Council's Economic Development Committee.
When council President Lori Vargo Heffner asked whether a hotel might be built, Panto was guarded but positive.
"I can't express anything about that right now other than to tell you one of the proposals for the Pine Street garage is a 100-room hotel," the mayor said. Of the developer proposals, he added, "Only one of the four does include a hotel."
The city has been seeking for years proposals for new parking and development to replace the 50-year-old garage at Pine and Third streets.
Other properties for potential tax breaks
Panto listed additional properties for which tax breaks may be considered. Among them are the former Easton Iron and Metal site on Bushkill Drive; 411 Northampton St., once a nightclub owned by boxer Larry Holmes; the former Order of the Fleas Club on the South Side, and 121 Northampton St., site of the Easton Cafe.
Panto said that property was recently sold for $2.1 million, leading to this question from Councilman John Cusick: "If somebody had $2.1 million to purchase the property, why do they need a tax break?"
The mayor said the tax incentive will help the owners refurbish the property. He said development brings money to the city, even with temporary tax breaks. Development has helped Easton to go 12 years without a tax increase.
The three taxing bodies — Easton, the county and the school district — must approve breaks for properties under Pennsylvania's Local Economic Revitalization Tax Assistance Act. LERTA provides partial reductions in taxes on new construction, not the land, for 10 years in a bid to spur development.
Kevin Lott, chairman of the committee, said LERTA can be a good tool to promote development, when the property really needs the incentive. Otherwise, a tax break can be a gift to a well-heeled developer.
The goal is to balance the tax breaks over 10 years with the potential future revenue from the sites, he said.
Panto also discussed Easton housing. New development has been for upper-income young people, he said, but low-income residents have not been driven out.
"We're not gentrifying," Panto stated. The city's population of people at poverty level has been steady at about 10,000, he said, adding that they cannot move to nearby townships because housing costs even more outside of Easton.
Councilmember Ron Heckman said that while well-off people will always find places to live, and there are programs to help residents who are most in need financially, the working class risks getting squeezed out.
County council will consider the requests for LERTA tax breaks at its May 20 meeting. After an initial reading of the bill that day, a final vote will be scheduled.
Video of Thursday's committee meeting is available to view on YouTube.