Officials break ground for new Commodore building in Easton

EASTON, Pa. – A long-awaited project in Easton is another step closer to becoming a reality.

Officials broke ground Wednesday at the site of the new Commodore building on Northampton Street.

It will be built where the old Kaplan’s Awning building once stood.

The more than $21-million project will consist of 32 apartments, office space, a rooftop restaurant, and two retail shops.

Construction work is expected to be complete by next summer.

$15-million redevelopment project in Easton secures funding it needs to get off the ground

by Emma Wright | WFMZ

EASTON, Pa. – The transformation of the former Kaplan’s Awning building to The Commodore on Northampton Street in Easton is a big step closer to reality.

Developer Garett Vassel of Optima Durant Group says the project, which has been in the works for over three years, has secured its major funding, a $13 million construction loan and several million more in grants tied to state funding.

“I never felt like I was out of moves. I knew certainly that we would be delayed, of course, but never that we were out of moves,” said Vassel about the future of the project.

Vassel said things stalled during the pandemic. Lenders were wary and the state temporarily halted most construction projects.

Work on The Commodore will begin this spring. It will still include 32 apartments, a rooftop bar, restaurant, and ground floor retail space. Venture X, a co-working, office-space provider, will take up some of the 14,000 square feet of office space.

“We’re just really happy we’re at this stage. We’re looking forward to this moving forward,” said John Kingsley, Director of Community and Economic Development for Easton.

“This is going to be powerful just from a general economic development circumstance, let alone the fact that it’s going to have a transformative impact as people are coming into the city [of Easton] and what they see, what their initial experience coming into the city and Pennsylvania is.”

‘Commodore of Easton’ project secures financing, office tenant and is soon to begin construction, developer says


The “Commodore of Easton” project will begin construction this spring at Northampton Street and Larry Holmes Drive in and around the old Kaplan’s Awnings building, the developer says.


The eight-story mixed-use effort, which will feature 32 rental apartments as well as 14,000 feet of office space and a rooftop restaurant, has secured its $13 million construction loan as well as a $3 million bridge loan tied to the $3 million RCAP grant the project has been awarded from the state, Optima Durant Group President Garett Vassel said in a news release.

The building has also received a $3 million C-PACE loan, which involves adding energy saving measures and requires reaching a certain threshold of efficiency, Vassel said.

The office space is already taken before the first shovel breaks ground, as Vassel made a deal with Venture X, the coworking/shared office space provider that already has a large presence in Bethlehem.

Optima Durant’s goal during the COVID-19 pandemic was to resolve the financing for the project and guarantee the construction budget in order to maintain the development plan while seeking “greater efficiency in design in order to find a way forward,” the news release said.

The developer also worked with Met-Ed and the Grand Eastonian for an easement that would “deliver the 2,200 amps (of power) needed” for the project, Vassel said.

Developer Borko Milosev, who rescued nearby 118-120 Northampton St. from the wrecking ball, had said that slice of the city has issues with electricity.

Abatement is completed inside the building, Vassel said. Part of the large and added-on-to structure will be taken down to make way for significant new construction, but the original front will be retained, Vassel has said.

Easton Mayor Sal Panto Jr., who has overseen the neighborhood’s renascence, said Vassel brings something extra to the table.

“I am excited about this project as it will bring a new dimension of mixed uses to our city,” Panto said.
The 100 block of Northampton Street is the “gateway to Easton”, Vassel said, and visitors crossing the free bridge from New Jersey in a little more than 18 months will be greeted with Vassel’s completed contribution to the stunning recovery of the city’s Downtown.

“The project has been a journey. There has been considerable challenges, both controllable and non-controllable, but we have not panicked. We have stayed positive and resilient. We have focused our attention on solutions and greater efficiencies. I made a promise, and I intend to keep it.”

Garrett Vassel, Optima Durant Group President

The Commodore of Easton Secures $13 Million Construction Loan

Optima Durant Group’s ‘Commodore of Easton’ project closed this morning on a $13 million construction loan, a highly anticipated project development. Also committed to the capital structure is a $3 million bridge loan that pertains to the $3 million RACP grant the project was awarded by PA Governor Tom Wolf in 2019, and a $3 million CPACE loan, which is the first of its kind in Northampton County. The CPACE loan program lends to projects that incorporate certain energy saving measures, and are over a certain threshold of efficiency.
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, Optima Durant Group focused efforts on achieving the project’s construction budget, while maintaining the same development plan offering. As a result, the Commodore project team went back to the drawings to seek out greater efficiency in the design, in order to find a way forward.
The project realized another boost recently when it signed an office lease for all 14,000 square feet of office space in the building, which has proved to be an impressive feat, especially with the backdrop of COVID-19. Optima Durant Group signed a long-term lease with “Venture X,” a co working / shared office space provider that has a presence in the Lehigh Valley (in Bethlehem).
Optima Durant Group now expects to start demo work on the site imminently this Spring. So far, the Commodore has completed abatement work inside the existing building and infrastructure work alongside MetEd, which involved an easement agreement with the Eastonian Hotel to deliver 2,200 amps of power needed for the development. Once the work begins, the construction is expected to last approximately one year and a half.

 “The project has been on a journey. There has been considerable challenges, both controllable and non-controllable, but we have not panicked. We have stayed positive and resilient. We have focused our attention on solutions and greater efficiencies. I made a promise, and I intend to keep it.”

—Garett Vassel, Optima Durant Group President
Located at 100 Northampton Street and informally known as “the gateway to Easton,” the Commodore is being marketed as an exceptional branding opportunity for its location, foot /car traffic and visibility from the Northampton Street Bridge (Free Bridge). The development is within walking distance to the city’s bustling downtown and overlooks the Delaware and Lehigh rivers. It is also adjacent to Scott Park, connecting tenants to multiple recreational trails.
About Optima Durant Group
Optima Durant Group is a fully integrated real estate company that focuses on development, construction, design and property management. Optima Durant, the motto of the founder’s primary school, translates to The Best Endures. The Company was founded in 2017 and pursues projects within the New York, Pennsylvania, and Texas markets.
Optima Durant Group’s ‘Commodore of Easton’ project closed this morning on a $13 million construction loan, a highly anticipated project development.

Real Estate Inverstor MBA Podcast, Episode 6: Garett Vassel – Real Estate Developer

Developer Garett Vassel, and his company Optima Durant Group, is bringing his large development experience, where he worked for one of the largest publicly traded REITs in the county (AvalonBay Communities), to the Lehigh Valley.

Listen to this episode as Garett eloquently discusses why the Lehigh Valley is such a great market and he passionately walks us through the development of The Commodore building. You do not want to miss this episode!

Click to Listen

With his “Gateway to Easton” project approved and moving forward, the City of Easton is receiving a gem with the The Commodore building. It is large development project totaling 91,500 square feet along the Delaware River, at Northampton Street and Larry Holmes Drive, The Commodore is an adaptive reuse of the former Kaplan’s building at 100 Northampton St. with a new, eight-story addition. It overlooks the confluence of the Lehigh and the Delaware Rivers and is adjacent to the Easton Farmers’ Market.

The plans approved by the City of Easton Zoning Hearing Board include 32 apartments, two ground-level retail spaces, 17,000 square feet of office space on the mezzanine/second floor and a 6,560 square-foot rooftop restaurant/bar.

Check out the pictures on Garett’s company’s website of the proposed plans. They are absolutely stunning.

Please visit for more interviews with leading experts from the region.

Construction’s about to start on a 1st for Easton in nearly 30 years. Here’s a sneak peek

Developer Garrett Vassel calls The Commodore: Easton Gateway Project the first mid-rise, ground-up construction in Easton in more than 28 years.

And it’s closer to reality than ever, with construction scheduled to start by the end of 2019. Completion of the close to $16 million development is projected for the first quarter of 2021.

Totaling 91,500 square feet along the Delaware River, at Northampton Street and Larry Holmes Drive, The Commodore is an adaptive reuse of the former Kaplan’s building at 100 Northampton St. with a new, eight-story addition.

Plans approved by the Easton Zoning Hearing Board in April and Planning Commission in August include 32 apartments, two ground-level retail spaces, 17,000 square feet of office space on the mezzanine/second floor and a 6,560-square-foot restaurant/bar and terrace on the rooftop/eighth floor.

The Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce last Wednesday packed partners on the plan and members of the public into the old Kaplan’s space to celebrate the project.

Guests enjoyed fare from nearby businesses, including Greene Marketplace, Green Harvest Food Emporium and Khanisa’s Pudding Bar next door; beer from Separatist Beer Project across Northampton Street; and wine from the Slate Belt’s Tolino Vineyards that has a stand in Easton Public Market.

The event itself breathed new life into the old Kaplan’s, as festive balloons floated beneath the peeling paint of the stamped-tin ceiling and people mingled, with a classical trio playing music in one corner. Kaplan’s, the awning company and a Downtown Easton mainstay for nearly a century, reopened at 1298 Spruce St. in Easton’s West Ward in April after Vassel’s Midtown Manhattan-based Optima Durant Group bought the Northampton Street property, according to Northampton County records, for $590,000 last year.

“So why Easton?” asked Vassel, joined at the event by his wife, Ashley. “I must say I have been asked this question hundreds of times, and I’ve probably given hundreds of answers. I’ve visited Easton numerous, numerous times with my daughter Sloan, the Crayola Factory, Bacon Fest. … It’s all of these reasons: It’s a city, but it’s inclusive like a small town with good people, it’s within striking distance of the big cities, there’s natural resources and outdoor beauty … but yet it’s at an affordable price.”

Vassel wasn’t ready to discuss pricing of The Commodore’s apartments, which are divided into two 1-bedroom/1-bath, six 1-bedroom/1.5-bath, eight 2-bedroom/1-bath, 15 2-bedroom/2-bath and one 3-bedroom/2.5-bath units. With most apartments boasting balconies, the new building is designed to capitalize on views of the Delaware and Lehigh rivers, the area’s bridges and surrounding hills.

“I will say that we have a goal of … an elevated offering, to be very thoughtful here, so it should be of no surprise to anyone that we’re at the high end of the market,” he told the crowd. He remains committed to working with the Third Street Alliance for Women & Children on keeping one apartment as affordable housing.

The adaptive reuse portion of the project will maintain the existing building’s 1880 facade while removing a failing wood-frame addition built in 1946. The new portion will wrap around the property to create an interior 1,200-square-foot courtyard, and there are plans for 13 on-site parking spaces in addition to 32 secured nearby next to Frank & Dot’s Beer Depot.

Vassel said he envisions the rooftop restaurant/bar and terrace as the go-to destination for celebrations like weddings and birthdays. Talks are continuing to secure an operator, he said.

“The reason why this component is so important is because the rooftop is for everyone. It’s open to the public,” Vassel said. “The apartments are finite and private for the families that will call The Commodore home, but the rooftop is a destination. It’s an experience.”

Wednesday’s event recognized Vassel’s partners on the project: Aretefact Inc., Jerdon Construction Services LLC, Kudu Creative, Beers Engineering LLC, Helmer Co., Snyder Hoffman Associates Inc. and Keystone Consulting Engineers — as well as the City of Easton, Greater Easton Development Partnership, Easton Area Chamber of Commerce, Easton Area Industrial Land Development, Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency and Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development.

Mayor Sal Panto Jr. noted the state granted $3 million toward The Commodore. He sees the project as key toward two of his goals as mayor, returning the city’s population to what it was before urban renewal of the 1960s demolished entire blocks of homes in the Downtown, and returning taxable properties to the city. Panto said he counts nearly $80 million in state grants to Easton since he took office in 2008.

“But it doesn’t happen without private investment,” he said.

State Rep. Robert Freeman, D-Northampton, said the project has the potential to “be a real game-changer” for the city’s eastern edge.

“I mean Easton has really come back tremendously in the last 15-20 years but there are certain streets that seem to be stuck,” he said. “And the east end of Northampton Street has been one of those streets, so hopefully this’ll be a good anchor to generate a lot more activity and some positive change.”

Anthony Marraccini, owner of Connexions Gallery just up the street beside Freeman’s office, said from what he’s seen, the project looks like a positive for the city.

“Any amount of in-fill and growth is positive as long as it’s balanced and thoughtful and I think he — Garrett — is trying his best to come up with a concept that will help anchor this end of town and hopefully help pull people from the center of town down here to help patronize the businesses in that corridor between the circle and the river,” Marraccini said at Wednesday’s event.

Get a first peek inside this luxury apartment complex proposed for Easton’s waterfront

By: Christina Tatu, The Morning Call

Officials gave the public an “inside look” at the $15.5 million “Commodore” project that plans 32 high-end apartments boasting river views, a rooftop restaurant, retail and office space to Easton’s Northampton Street gateway.

The interior renderings by Bethlehem architecture company Artefact, Inc. show high ceilings, balconies overlooking the Delaware River into Phillipsburg and unique amenities like “smart thermostats” for each unit that renters can program remotely with a smartphone.

Wednesday’s event was the first time city officials and residents were given a virtual peek inside the new construction proposed for 100 Northampton St. The site was the longtime home of Kaplan Enterprises Inc., the maker of custom awnings, flags and banners that moved to the West Ward last year.

“If you build it right, then people will come. We aren’t cutting any corners, and there will be 32 people who realize that,”

said Garett Vassel, the founding president of Optima Durant Group, which is proposing the project.

This will be the New York-based developer’s first project. He expects to begin construction by the end of the year and finish by the first quarter of 2021.

Vassel hosted the event Wednesday evening to thank investors and to open the lines of communication to people who might be interested in leasing an apartment or retail space.

“I’m all for fixing this building up,” said Anthony Marraccini, the curator of Connexions Gallery on the same Northampton Street block as the former Kaplan building.

He said being a business owner on the block is sometimes challenging. It’s somewhat removed from Easton’s main hub, Centre Square.

“People will stop at Second Street and then turn around. My block is a difficult block. Hopefully something like this becomes a beacon that attracts people to this part of Northampton Street,” Marraccini said.

Ellen Shaughnessy, a Realtor with an office down the street from the proposed development, said she’s excited about the rooftop restaurant and bar.

“The riverfront is completely underutilized … Plus, this is our main entrance from Phillipsburg,” she said.

B.J. Metz, a member of the Easton Area Chamber of Commerce, agreed Easton’s waterfront needs some attention.

“Easton is known far and wide for it’s restaurant scene. These views have been neglected for a long time. I think it looks like a classy project,” he said.

Diana Schipani, chair of the Phillipsburg Area Chamber of Commerce, is hopeful the project might jump start development efforts across the river.

“Things took a while in Easton, it didn’t happen overnight,” she said, explaining that she hopes the development spurs business growth and attracts young professionals to Phillipsburg.

By Thursday morning, a website was expected to go live where tenants can get on a waiting list for apartments.

Vassel declined to say what the rents will be, but said units are going to be high-end and rent will reflect that. Plans for the project show 32 units ranging from 884 square feet to 1,232 square feet.

Each will have 14-foot-high ceilings, a point of pride with Vassel.

The smallest units will have one bedroom and one bathroom, while the majority will have two bedrooms and two bathrooms. There will be one three-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bath unit.

There also will be two ground-floor retail spaces, a rooftop restaurant, a gym for tenants and office space on the mezzanine and second levels of the building.

Vassel is in discussions with commercial tenants, including companies from New York and New Jersey, and those interested in setting up shared office space.

He said there will be 14 parking spaces in the basement level of the building and he has also secured 32 off-site spots at a lot near Genesis Bicycles.

In August, the project was awarded a $3 million state grant to fund cultural and historic improvement projects.

Redevelopment at the Commodore building in Easton nearly ready to begin

By: Emma Wright |

Renamed The Commodore, the nearly 100,000 square feet of mixed use space is located at 100 Northampton Street.

Redevelopment has been years in the making. Developer Garett Vassel of the Optima Durant Group, unveiled the renderings to prospective tenants on Wednesday. He says there has been a lot of interest in the office and retail space from the Lehigh Valley.

The first floor will be retail space; two units a little over 800 square feet each. The second floor will offer built-to-suit office space, with its own lobby. The residential floors begin with a private lobby. 32-rental units will include balconies with large windows, and high ceilings, elevators, a courtyard, and a gym. The top floor will offer a custom indoor/outdoor bar and restaurant space with floor-to-ceiling glass windows.

“I’ve been taken aback by the level of interest [in the restaurant space] from groups that have properties in Texas, Pittsburgh. Almost a random regional and national lot,” Vassel said.

“It’s not just a matter of filling the space just to fill it up. I want to think about the full blend. If I’m a resident, I want to know what the two retail spaces are going to be, who is going to be in there.”

Vassel says he is in the final stages of securing building permits from the city of Easton and closing on the financing.

Once those steps are completed, construction may begin this year.

Inside Look: The Commodore Event

The Commodore: Gateway to Easton

October 30th, 5:30pm
100 Northampton Street, Easton, PA 18042

The Commodore Project represents the first true private ground-up construction in nearly 30 years in downtown Easton.

Gain an exclusive inside look at the plans for this new residential, commercial, and rooftop restaurant mixed use building of unparalleled sophistication and class. Optima Durant Group President, Garett Vassel, will share his vision for The Commodore Project and what is to come in Fall 2020.

Free to attend.
RSVP to reserve a limited spot:

Now Accepting Tenant Commitments
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