THE LVEDC INTERVIEW: Easton Mayor Sal Panto
By LVEDC Staff on August 19, 2014
EDITOR’S NOTE: Sal Panto has a connection to his hometown, the City of Easton, that transcends his tenure as mayor. Born and raised in Easton, Panto has been active in town since he was a young man, serving in various leadership positions and as a teacher in the Easton Area School District. Anyone who has spent time with Panto knows his enthusiasm for Easton – and his position as mayor – are nearly indefatigable. What makes him tick? We start off this week’s LVEDC Interview with that line of questioning and shift to discussing salient economic development issues and LVEDC.
LVEDC: It’s not an exaggeration to say you’re an institution in the City of Easton. After several years as the leader of your city, what still invigorates you every morning when you go to work?
Mayor Panto: My involvement in local office grew out of my passion for our community. My interest in the city grew from the historic preservation movement of the 70’s and 80’s as well as my involvement in the Easton Area Jaycees sponsoring more than 30 events a year. In 1983 I was drafted to run for Mayor because the other candidates did not have a preservation platform. My desire to run again in 2007 was the result of my private experience with three of the finest entrepreneurs in the Valley: Charles Chrin; Dr. Emil DiIorio of Coordinated Health and Gary Strausser. My experience with all of them honed not only my business skills but also my real estate development skills. I saw the city housing stock declining and wanted to make a difference. Today, I am still invigorated to come to work so that I can help people. A city is not buildings, a city is people and I enjoy making our city a better place to raise a family.
LVEDC: During your State of the City address in March you noted some of the significant economic development projects happening in the city. What are they and how do you as mayor plan to assist toward their successful completion?
Mayor Panto: Our administration has worked hard to bring significant projects to fruition. The largest, the Silk Mill, is under construction and six years ago there were people who said it would never happen. Based on our own experience with development, Gretchen Longenbach and I knew that no developer would spend the millions in the due diligence required to determine the feasibility of the project. We lobbied hard for grants that ultimately provided the Master Plan, Structural Analysis, Marketing Study, environmental remediation of lead paint, asbestos and contaminated soils. We then reviewed several proposals from private developers prior to naming VM Development as the primary developer. Today Phase I is under construction and a developer has been secured for the HogTown building portion of the project. The trail portion of the Bushkill Creek Corridor project was completed and opened last year while the final portion, the Lafayette College Film and Media School at the eastern end, is also under construction.
Other major projects include the Sigal Museum, Pomeroy Building, Neston-Heights, the HogTown Building, Governor Wolf Building, 118/120 Northampton Street, the W.E.S.T. building and the A&D Tile Building. Many more have helped to secure additional tax base, jobs and residents for Easton’s future.
We also inherited the long-debated and controversial intermodal project. Several designs and locations were explored and more than a million dollars of taxpayers money was spent on previous locations. We looked for a site and design that made sense and were able to cure some old urban renewal mistakes in the process. Today the intermodal is under construction and the new more efficient, cost-saving City Hall will open late summer 2015. One casualty of the time delay was an additional $4 million grant from the Delaware River Joint Toll Commission but those funds were re-directed to enhancing our waterfront.
All of these large projects certainly have a positive impact on our city. Increased tax base and increased population are important. But the program I am the most proud of is the city-directed residential rehab program in our neighborhoods. We obtain vacant, blighted homes and restore them to their historic grandeur before selling them to working families. Many times we converted multiple units back to single family owner-occupied homes. With the success of the program we are now seeing private developers investing in these neighborhoods as we improve them one house at a time.
LVEDC: At the time of this interview you were quoted recently in The Express-Times as saying you “envision Bushkill Drive as the next major economic development in the city.” Why do you believe this to be true?
Mayor Panto: With the completion of the projects currently underway the city cannot rest on these successes — there is a lot more to do. We are already looking to what Easton will be in 10 and 20 years. One area that has the potential to be re-developed is the Buskill corridor between the Silk Mill and Lafayette College. There is more space there than most people realize. There are even paper streets the city envisioned but never built. I see this area as an area for green space, light industrial and office parks. One of the public projects that will enhance this area is the upgrade of the 13th street corridor and the Route 22 interchange. We are currently working with PennDOT on the design.
Cities are not stagnant, they are constantly evolving and successful cities plan rather than react. Bushkill corridor gives the city the opportunity to be proactive.
LVEDC: It was just over two years ago now that the City of Easton received a LERTA program designation. How would you rank the results to this point?
Mayor Panto: We are committed to using whatever economic tools we have and the more in our tool box the better. We have been awarded more than $60 million in state and federal grants. We will also use whatever tax incentive programs are available. LERTA and KOZ that are now available to us and our task is to secure developers for these important parcels. The KOZ was the hardest to achieve because it took four trips to the Easton Area School Board to finally get approval. Today these important projects are being developed and we believe that the one major eyesore left in the city should have an announcement with something positive in the next few months.
The LERTA program is a great incentive for developers drawing them to 118/120 Northampton Street, the Alpha Building, and several more. Although this program relieves the property owner of real estate taxes for ten years there are immediate benefits to the city in the form of resident taxes and business taxes. Unlike earlier LERTA programs, real estate taxes aren’t forgiven for ten years but rather are increased at the rate of 10 percent each year.
LVEDC: During your administration how do you anticipate continuing to utilize LVEDC to advance your city’s economic development?
Mayor Panto: As a local public official in the Lehigh Valley I have fully supported a regional approach to economic development. The LVEDC is the one organization in the Valley that can attract the type and number of jobs we need for our residents. The Valley may be 62 municipalities but we are one community. The LVEDC has an excellent track record in promoting the valley and securing more jobs. We plan on using LVEDC and all of the programs they have available and encourage all other communities to do the same. The more jobs with sustainable incomes that we can attract to the Valley the better quality of life our residents can achieve.
LVEDC Advocates for Economic Development Program Funding
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