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Friday, March 05, 2010

Easton's Metaphorphosis

If Allentown mayor Ed Pawlowski would like some pointers on turning Allentown around, he might consider a trip to Easton. After listening to a presentation by Easton's Main Street Initiative and its "Ambassadors" at yesterday's county economic development meeting, I actually began feeling enthusiastic about Sal Panto's Shadtown. What's going on there is remarkable. Instead of trying to attract big players with KOZ grants, Easton's focus is attracting small businesses and encouraging everyone to shop there.

Main Street manager Kim Kmetz and Megan McBride, with a little help from seventy volunteers, have been very busy. here's just some of the things they've done over the past two years:

* $72,000 for 14 new facades around the 400 and 500 block of Northampton Street, with three more facede grants pending for $20,000.

* street scaping, painting parking meters, planters, seasonal plantings; newspaper boxes;

* public art that doubles up as bicycle racks;

* snowflakes for Easton, 27,000 snowflakes decorating available properties;

* "town gown" initiative for students, annual student tours, an annual Lafayette Day with free food to encourage students to start shopping downtown;

* free summer concerts, dancing on the thirds (third Friday) , weekly bike rides around town in the summer, carriage rides on Friday nights in December, chocolate lovers' soiree, heritage day, garlic fest;

* the oldest open air farmers' market in the country, which was just approved to accept food stamps;

* trolley rides this summer between the farmer's market and the west ward;

* discounts at Easton stores if you show produce purchased at famers' market;

* retail kiosks in center square for rental by merchants on a daily basis; and

* 40 net new businesses since 2008.

Easton Ambassadors. - These are funded with $20,000 in hotel taxes. A smiling Sandy Levisay, in her red Ambassador shirt, told Rev. Dowd's committee that six of them manage to work 7 days per week. They are all trained in CPR, carry First Aid kits and undergo background checks. They provide directions and direct visitors to nearby Easton stores and restaurants. Their chief goal, however, is to promote good will.

Last year, they cleaned 80 tons of refuse and garbage from Easton's streets. They use power washers to remove graffiti. They clean the bus stop on Northampton Street three or four times every day. They even remove weeds from the streets and sidewalks. If they see a drug sale going on, they call the police.

After years of listening to suits drone on and on, I tend to get cynical. But yesterday, I actually felt enthusiastic about Easton.

Rev. Mike Dowd, who chaired yesterday's economic development committee meeting, will also be inviting Bethlehem, the Slate Belt and Nazareth to learn what they are doing to improve their economic climate and see if there is any way the County can help.


Anonymous said...

Allentown was, Bethlehem is, and Easton will be.

Anonymous said...

Good post. There hasn't been a gang murder in at least the last few minutes. Everything is great in Easton.

michael molovinsky said...

in addition to cleaning the bus stop, they're going to clean the bus people, until which time they relocate them from the square to the al bundy sports museum and transportation depot.

Anonymous said...

those easton ambassadors-they get a 270,000 grant from Lafayette College to pay for them. When the grant ends, they expect easton residents living in the downtown to pay the freight at the tune of a 1,000 per house. For many homeowners that is more than what is being paid in taxes.

Anonymous said...

anon 5:46 is full of crap. homeowners won't pay a damn thing to anything. business and propery owners should and will pay for those things, not taxpayers and not homeowners.

stop telling lies.

Anonymous said...

Good for Easton, but check out the work on 7th St in Allentown. Just as impressive. Great job by BOTH organizations. Can't turn these communities around in a year, so please keep plugging away and don't listen to the morons telling you you're wrong.

Anonymous said...

If only Allentown would clean Front Street from Hanover to Tilghman every morning at 5 a.m., what a difference it would make to commuters. The intersection of
Front at Tilghman is especially filthy. All the slogans in the world won't erase this image to thousands who visit Allentown.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"in addition to cleaning the bus stop, they're going to clean the bus people, until which time they relocate them from the square to the al bundy sports museum and transportation depot."

I've been reluctant to jump on your bandwagon in the case of Easton, which is different than A-town. First, no stops are being eliminated. Second, the stores on Northampton Street and at centre square gets lots of foot traffic totally unrelated to the buses. Third, right across the street from these stores is Two Rivers Landing, which draws thousands of tourists evetry day. The Ambassadors are making a big effort to get these tourists out and about, to visit the shops and stores in downtown. It's working.

This summer, when the farmer's market opens, there will be free shuttles between there and West End, in a speciic effort to attract more low income customers. So no effort is being made to rid the streets of people with low incomes. In fact, the effort is actually in the reverse direction. That's why the farmers market went to the trouble of getting certified to accept food stamps.

You know A-town very well. I don't think you know Easton. Someone like Dennis Lieb knows Easton, and I will discuss your concerns w/ him. I think uou are offbase here, and imputing motives that are contradicted by other things that are going on. But given A-town's sas recent history, I don't blame you for being concerned.

Anonymous said...

"but check out the work on 7th St in Allentown"

We were on 7th Street a few
nights ago. It was a free-for-all.
Cars and trucks double-parked everywhere, including one 18-wheeler in the middle of the road
made it a nightmare to travel.

Anonymous said...

"They expect easton residents living in the downtown to pay the freight at the tune of a 1,000 per house."

$1,000 per house!
Please tell us where this information comes from.

michael molovinsky said...

bernie, the following quote is from michael duck's article, how plain must it be said? i researched the situation in easton, and as you know there is a big difference between a bus stop and a transfer stop.
sorry that panto cannot see the difference, and that you have either forgotten, or you're reluctant to criticize panto.

On the other hand, some other nearby businesses say they'd be happy to see the bus riders move along. At the Terra Cafe, a coffee shop between Family Dollar and American Dollar, owner Marcel Bedoya said he and some nearby higher-end shops don't get a lot of bus-riding customers -- and in fact the lower-income bus riders tend to scare off some of his clientele.
Bedoya said he feels for the dollar stores, but moving the transfers ''definitely will benefit us, because we will not have that type of crowd hanging around in front of our stores.''

Bernie O'Hare said...


I did read that news account and think the asshole who owns terra Cafe is an elitist. His remarks do not explain why this move is being made,and i believe that Easton is actually trying to attract more low income shoppers, not less.

If I felt Sal Panto were doing the same thing as Pawlowski, I would confront him. But unlike pawlowski, Panto would answer me. He's accessible. He does listen to people.

As I mentioned earlier, the farmers' market on the circle went thru the strouble of getting certified to accept food stamps this year. Does that sound like the actions of elitists who are trying to sweep those people under a rug? In an effort to attract more low income shoppers, they will be running a shuttle to west end neighborhoods this summer.

The circle where the farmers' market is located is right by the current bus stops. That is Easton's pride and joy. Why on earth would Easton want to remove foot traffic from what really has been its summer anchor?

Also, the deal with discounts for people who buy produce is designed to get them walking one or two blocks to the stores in question.

I understand your point. You may recall I joined you in the case of A-town, and at that time, i was a Pawlowski supporter. Believe me, if I felt your concern about Easton were justified, I'd be joining you again. I'd certainly be willing to tell Panto I think he's wrong, as I did when his wife was appointed to council. I do not presently feel your concerns are justified. I think they are worth considering so that A-town's mistake is not repeated, but I'm not seeing it.

Anonymous said...

I received a letter from the Greater Easton Development Partnership saying that the average assessment for property owners is 1,000 per year with 285 as the median. Residential property owners are included because there are not enough business properties to make the assessment program work. The letter had a survey and asked what services I wanted as a residential property owner.

Anonymous said...

you speak about the farmers market and its importance is being overblown. The market operates one day per week and only operates during warm weather months. In fact there is not much in offerings as far as local produce until we get well into the growing season. Easton needs businesses. There is a new food market on South Third Street. Prices are very reasonable. We need more businesses like that for the residents who live in the downtown.

michael molovinsky said...

bernie, your points are what you often refer to as non-sequiturs. of course mrs. panto should not run for city council. the farmers market has already been addressed. your previous comment about dennis lieb was also a non-sequitur; yes, the new location is much better than the previous absurd one behind wolf school.

i will concede that less merchants will be adversely affected than in allentown. i will concede that the "greyhound" commercial bus element makes the terminal more useful. i will concede that the "gentrification" element will be more profitable, as opposed to allentown which lost one demographic, but didn't achieve another. as i wrote on renew lv, and the lanta blog, they (and you) should acknowledge that merchants will be hurt, and that bus riders will lose the shopping opportunity they now enjoy. however, i know that neither they or you have that capacity.

Anonymous said...

I went to a meeting in 2008 and was given a budget for GEDP of $723,300 and it showed a shortfall of $211,550. At that meeting I was told that a business improvement district was being proposed for the downtown as a solution to meet the shortfall. I was also told that residential property owners would be expected to contribute to the BID. I stated at that time that there was not a lot of assessed value in downtown when you took out the tax exempt property. City wide, Easton only raises $350,000 per mill on real estate taxes. That would mean that the assessment for a BID on downtown properties including residential properties would be very high to meet that shortfall of $211,550.

I was told that downtown businesses felt that the residential property owners owed downtown businesses for their dedication. I responded that such an equation works both ways. When downtown businesses were closing, residential property owners made a commitment at extreme personal risks and made substantial investments in their properties. That investment probably saved Easton's downtown.

A deteriorating residential neighborhood adjacent to the business district would have sealed downtown's fate. In fact, when I purchased downtown in the 80's, there were empty storefronts throughout downtown, and the adjacent residential neighborhoods were beginning to deteriorate. My friends told me that I was crazy, but others followed and a slow reinvestment began.

I agree with the previous poster that this fee should not be imposed on residential owners. WE have already paid in tens of thousands to improve our properties. I recently received a letter and survey form from GEDP to determine my interest as a resident in participating in such a district. I did note in my response that I was not interested in living in such a district.

The problem with improvement districts is that they are run as municipal authorities by appointed representatives. I am too old fashioned and prefer electing the people who make decisions about my neighborhood. And, from personal experience, authorities are too often not responsive or responsible to the public. Even if residential property owners were not asked to contribute to the improvement district, many of the decisions related to the public management of the district would be made by an appointed board and not elected officials.

If my neighbors believe that such a district is the future, I will accept it and believe that it is time for me to move on, and I wish everyone well.

Mike McFadden
25 year resident of downtown

Bernie O'Hare said...

We now have two MMs, but thins comment is directed to Molovinsky,

You basically insinuated that I am reluctant to oppose the new bus station in Easton bc of my admiration for Panto. I might say that your slams are ispired by your disdain. But I answered you, noting an instance where I did disagree w Panto. How is that a nonsequitor?

I mentioned that I would be speaking to someone who is very familiar with downtown Easton to get his perspective. I am reluctant to accept your condemnation of this proposal bc, quite frankly, your knowledge of Easton is inferior to your knowledge of A-town. I'd need to talk to more people. How does this become a non sequitor? Am I to blindly accept your say so?

I cannot acknowledge that this will hurt merchants. I frankly feel and have felt it will have no impact at all on their businesses. I also feel that Easton's Main Street Initiative and Ambassadors are creating a better business climate for the dollar stores and other small businesses.

Now you may be right about this, but I am just not seeing it. I think right now that you are making the mistake of thinking that your criticism of Lanta in A-town is equally valid in Easton. I will make an effort to learn more this weekend and i am certainly no businessman, but right now, i think you are mistaken.

And unlike A-town, it is ridiculous to argue gentrification here. The evidence contradicts you, as I've twice pointed out, despite the rant of one elitist coffee shop owner.

michael molovinsky said...

both the dollar store merchants know that it will affect their business, and have made their concerns known to lanta. you cannot relocate the bus riders 3 blocks away and not hurt them. allentown taught us that the riders will not make the extra stop, or walk, to make purchases. the effect will be exactly the same as it was for the dollar stores of allentown. the excuses you're making is the exact ones made in allentown, which you labeled as such then. again, dennis lieb's opinion doesn't matter.

interesting that three merchants adjoining the square have already spoken; two dollar store merchants pleaded that they will be hurt. the "elitist" acknowledged that they will be, but said it's good for him. yet you dismiss all this testimony and will consult dennis lieb? bernie, bernie, bernie...

Anonymous said...

Easton's Main Street program was the top achieving Main Street program in the state in 2008. Great people dedicate their time to this effort.

Personally, I love the emerging restaurant scene in Easton. It's a lot more inviting than when I was an intern in Bob Freeman's office in 2004, before all this stuff got started.


Bernie O'Hare said...

All this testimony? You're talking about 3 merchants. A-town had over 40 sign a petition. I just do not see that this is the same thing, and I will talk to Dennis bc he knows a great deal more about downtown Easton than either one of us, and is no LANTA fan.

Anonymous said...

I always believed Easton had potential. It's not too far gone.

It's on the river, has history, culture, and nice architecture.

The right mayor and a supporting county and state government can bring it back.

We need to stop encouraging sprawl with our policies.

michael molovinsky said...

hurting a few merchants is a tradeoff that easton may well be willing to make, but to deny that this consequence will occur is government as usual.

Bernie O'Hare said...

I know where you are coming from as a result of your A-town experience. I do disagree. I do not think a single merchant will be hurt by this relocation, but will make an effort to find out.

Anonymous said...

Sal Panto says:

Michael, you continue to be confused by the facts. I spoke to the owner of Cafe Terra (have you ever been there) and explained to him exactly what was rtaking place. He understands what we intend to do. Again the facts -- there will still be bus stops on Northampton Street. Transfers will be at the new transportation center. Why? Because you can't encourage people to use mass transit if they have to wait in the elements for the next bus. Yes, a very few may stop in for a cup of coffee but there is a bigger picture here.

Now let's talk about how we help these few businesses -- I invite you to come to Easton and make some purchases. You see the whole mission here is to put more feet on the street. That's what our merchants need the most -- a clean and safe business district. We in Easton have a tough time ridding ourselves of this percpetion that there is crime in our city and our downtown. That is simply not true and with more and more people experiencing our town restaurants and shops they are now realizing that it is just a perception.

I also invite you to talk to the poeple, not just me. Talk to the 310,000 visitors last year to the Crayola and Canal Museums. Talk to the 110,000 patrons of the State Theatre (who come to town at night).

And look for the new projects this year. You will be amazed.

The urban cores are thriving with art, culture, entertainment and tourist. They appreciate what e have. They even envy what we have. Unfortunately it is easier to sell our cities value to outsiders than to native Lehigh Valley residents.

I will again invote you to meet face to face. You speak alot about me on blogs but A) you have never met me; B) you have not accepted my invitationsd and C) you still want to keep spreading accusations and rumors when you have been gioven the facts.

Oh, and as for Bernie, I consider him a friend. Not a 100% cheerleading supporter of mine because a friend will tell you what they think regardless of how famous you become. My friends are honest with me. My friends give me constructive criticism that I learn from and yes, even change my mind or decision. Michael, you are not my friend, you are an individual that thrives on tearing others down, without building anything yourself. I am always available.

Anonymous said...

Sal Panto says:

Oh one other thing, you will be eating your Al Bundy comment about the National High School Sports Hall of Fame in a month or so when some exciting announcements will be made. Just another example of you being confused by the facts (in this case you don't even have the facts becasue all of them haven't been released yet.)

It has the ability to be another shot in the arm for our city. And we will work hard to make that happen.

Anonymous said...

Sal Panto says:

Bernie, I almost forgot to thank you for your post about Main Street, the Ambassadors and the fine happenings in our downtown. There is also a lot going on in our neighborhoods. My State of the City will be up on the Easton website sometime Monday. I invite you to read it.


Bernie O'Hare said...


I have to tell you that until Thursday, I thought the Ambassadors sounded like a goofy program and know some council members felt the same way. But for Rev. Dowd, I think the plug would have been pulled in the last budget discussions.

I was blown away Thursday, not just by the Ambassadors and Main Street Initiative programs, but also by the enthusiasm of the people speaking about them. They were infectious. they were also very honest, noting Easton's many problems. They are very clearly all on the same page, and that is to attract and retain Easton's mom 'n pop businesses.

Yes, we can and do disagree about some issues from time to time, but I support you beacuse you are transparent and accountable. You believe in good government, and everything after that is just window dressing that's why, on a local level, party affiliation means little to someone like me.

You engage people and actually listen to them, even in the wild world of the blogosphere. The morning after your election, for example, you were interviewed by a blog.

You've also followed thru on your campaign pleadges. You have increased the size of Easton's public safety forces, something you said you would do. You have even gone further and held the line on taxes, something I did not think was possible in a finacially distressed city like Easton was when you started.

I work in Easton's most dangerous area, and can see that you've made a big difference since your election. So have many others. I hope Jerry Seyfried won't mind me mentioning him, but on Thursday night, he could not say enough about your stewardship.

Easton and the LV is very lucky to have you. MM's strength is A-town. Despite my personal differences w/ him, he does love that city and has many good suggestions about it. I hope he does take you up on your offer and makes arrangements to meet you face to face.

Thanks for your comments and keep up the good work.

Anonymous said...

Held the line on taxes?

I just completed my Local individual tax return and paid at a rate of 1.75% (the highest in the Lehigh Valley). The rate last year? 1%. That's a pretty big increase Bernie.

I believe the closest local income tax rate in the Lehigh Valley is 1.45 in Moore Township. Forks - 1%. Palmer - 1%. Wilson - 1% in certain areas, and 1.25% in other areas.

1.75% Bernie. What's that increase in tax i'm paying for all earned income?

Personally I like Mayor Panto. He's a nice guy trying to do the best job he can. But do NOT say he held the line on taxes. Not when I just finished my taxes and had to multiply my earned income by 1.75%, compared to 1% last year.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Yes, a friend was talking to me about that just the other day. I should have said that Sal has held the line on property taxes, which is a big help to people on fixed incomes. I do hear from this friend, who does tax returns, that people are going nuts over this increase in income tax.

michael molovinsky said...

mayor panto, in the last year I have visited easton a number of times, and enjoyed dining at restaurants adjoining the square, a very nice experience.

the transfer terminal in easton will have less consequences than in allentown; you have less stores and more tourist attractions. the fate of the dollar stores adjoining your square may well be a price you're willing to pay for the new facility. however, for you or bernie to say that although 40 merchants were adversely affected in allentown, none will be in easton (by the same process), strains credibility.

as mayor, responsible for the commerce in your downtown, it would have been much more relevant for you to visit and learn from the hamilton street merchants, than me as a blogger to visit easton. although "al bundy" and "retread" are little snide remarks, your dollar store merchants fear for their actual future.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Bernie O'Hare said...

The above comment has been deleted bc of concerns as to its source.

Anonymous said...

questions for o'hare:

"Metaphorphosis"? Combination of metaphor and metamorphosis? Your intended meaning?

I thought it meant when two things are compared so often, that they merge or join and become the same thing in public opinion. I am not sure what your comparison is and the evolution?

This is not a criticism. I am only trying to understand your use of language which is generally very good. Thank you.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Metamorphosis is the word used to describe a profound change in form from one stage to the next in the life history of an organism, as from the caterpillar to butterfly. So it is with Easton.

Anonymous said...

The reason I thought Metaphorphosis was interesting ( Metap. . instead of Metam. . ) was how you always describe our three major cities. You refer to Allentown as "Pawlowski's Allentown" and Bethlehem as "Callahan's Bethlehem". Those descriptions are probably important in the fact of how long those leaders have been in office and how most of everything-positive and negative-is attributable to both. Sal may be reaching that point where it is appropriate to refer to Easton as "Panto's Easton" or "Shadtown". There are still events, processes and happenings that may belong to predecessors, but as time goes on the quantity of those diminishes. So, I saw metaphor and metamorphosis as an appropriate line in time.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Easton has forgotten it is first and foremost a river town. New Hope, Lambertville and other towns along the Delaware have played on that, but Easton has forgotten. From whatt I gathered on Thursday, Panto plans to focus on the river aspects of the town, turning it once again into its proud past as Shadtown or Fishtown. He is moving the city in the right direction, although he needs to remember he's only one man. It seems a lot of people share his vision.

Anonymous said...

The fallacy of your approach is betrayed by the use of the word "town". True, Lambertville and New Hope are towns in the Norman Rockwell vein and attract visitors for their sense of small, neighborly, lemonade sipping, porch sitting leisure.

Easton just ain't there. It is disintegrating to small town status. I predict that its population will fall off in the current census to fifth place among Lehigh Valley municipalities. But, it wants to cry every time it's left out of the big city pow-wows-it exploded when the feds appropriately deleted Easton from ABE. Easton is only a speck in the shadow of Allentown and Bethlehem, but it tries very hard to keep up with the big boys. It has a big city government with all the related big city expenses. And, it has managed to recruit a number of big ego players to manage its political affairs.

River town, it would be nice. But, the town news would have to change and be less about social issues and homelessness and more about street closings for art festivals. Phillipsburg, NJ, now, that's a river town.

Anonymous said...

Anon 8:59

I was at the public hearing on our new waterfront parks and by this fall we will be a river town. The upgrades are great, especially the road diet on Larry Holmes Drive. Although it isn't complete it already is a majo improvement in getting people across to the rivers. Recreational paddle boats and sun fish boats available for rent on the Lehigh, bike rentals qme q gfreat venue for special events or just a leisurely day in thepark using the new WiFi wireless on the net like LV Ramblings. These will be a reality.

I also know from insiders that it was Panto that led the charge to direct attention to the southern portion of downtown. The section that was destroyed by urban renwal of the 70's. All in all i am looking forward to the improvements.

But to say that Easton isn't a major part of the Lehigh Valley would be turning our backs on istory. And if the annexation laws of PA were not eliminated Easton would be a lot larger today.

You also muiss the point of ABE. While Whitehall and Macungie may grow larger in population than Easton, they are not urban cores. Their urban core is Allentown. But for places like Palmer and forks, their urban core is Easton, not Allentown or Bethlehem.

Whitehall can change the title of their Executive to Mayor but they are still a suburban community - theior city is Allentown.

Easton is coming back and it is great to see it happen. Why knock success?

Anonymous said...

Mayor Panto found himself with a large grant from the Bridge Commission and very little time left to spend the grant money. This factor was not his fault but due to the failure of the Riverwalk project.

Under the circumstances he did the best that he could and decided to change traffic patterns and do upgrades to the river park.

I have concerns dealing with river access for boats and parking. I see that internal parking is to be eliminated which reduces areas for boaters to park their vehicles and trailers. Until I see the final completion I cannot see that the river access for boats has been improved.

If you look at Phillipsburg, a real river town, you will see that they constructed a large parking area for vehicles and trailers and a substantial boat access ramp. I was hoping that Easton would duplicate that effort and be recognized as a river town.

Unfortunately Easton did not have time to really study their riverfront. It would have been nice to see the flood walls come tumbling down and be replaced by gradual slopes and flood resistant and flood proof banks. Many communities have done such improvements to bring the community closer to the river's edge. There was not sufficient time to look at that alternative. I could see better recreational access accompanied by natural performing areas.

Anonymous said...

Easton as an urban core is history and does not reflect the current times.

Our federal government says that a community is an urban core if 25% of its suburban populations commute to jobs within that urban core. Easton does not even provide jobs for 25% of its own working population. If you expanded the definition for urban core to look at shopping habits, etc., Easton fails as an attraction for its suburban neighbors.

The factor that supports this conclusion is that Easton's suburban growth has much more to do with being at the extreme end of the New York City metropolitan area. Suburban Easton residential growth supported a lot of people traveling into that metropolitan area for jobs and commercial activity. Prior to that much of the suburban growth supported many people traveling to jobs in Allentown-Bethlehem.

History did define Easton differently, but times change. All roads lead to Rome, but no more do they lead to Rome or Easton.

If Easton concentrates on being a nice town to live in, it can reduce the size of its government and its costs and make everyone's life better. Just think Metropolitan New York City is made up of 700 municipalities that call themselves "cities". We should join their club.

In relevance Easton may be no more than a Tatamy. I am only concerned that it is a nice place to live.