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.

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