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A state grant to the City of Easton includes $3 million that Lafayette will invest to continue revitalizing the North Third Street area at the base of College Hill, the gateway from downtown Easton to the campus.

In a ceremony today at Lafayette’s Williams Visual Arts Building, Gov. Edward G. Rendell presented Easton Mayor Phil Mitman with a check for $9 million in support of the Bushkill Creek Corridor and Village project. This initiative, a joint effort of Easton and Lafayette, combines economic development, environmental improvement, and recreational facilities to revitalize an area that is a highly traveled and visible entranceway to the College, the city, and the commonwealth.

The ambitious project includes improvements to North Third Street (known as Bushkill Village) and two contiguous areas, the industrial tract along Bushkill Drive and the Bushkill Creek and the former Simon Silk Mill site on North 13th Street.

Lafayette has led the effort by investing nearly $9 million to revitalize North Third Street, with more investment to come. The cornerstone is the award-winning, $4.5 million Williams Visual Arts Building, one of the leading high-tech facilities for art education and exhibitions in the nation, which not only serves Lafayette students, but offers ongoing programs for local residents and high school students as well.

Since opening the Williams Visual Arts Building 2001, the College has invested an additional $4.35 million to acquire several other buildings and land between Route 22 and College Hill. The College has improved the area by beautifying building facades and razing two structures it purchased that did not meet local code, a house and the former Fehley Fuel Oil. Other Third Street properties acquired by Lafayette include the former Easton Printing Company, Club Mohican, Case’s Tire, a parking lot, and a building housing Synergetics, a machine shop.

“Our vision is to create a vibrant neighborhood through a partnership between the city and the college,” said President Arthur J. Rothkopf ’55. “We envision a mixed-use area that serves not only the college community, but Easton residents as well. We foresee the area attracting an array of uses that could include quality housing, restaurants, caf├ęs, boutiques, a bookstore, a bed and breakfast, and other commercial uses.”

Streetscape improvements completed this summer on a portion of North Third Street advanced the Lafayette’s vision of a revitalized downtown gateway. With a Northampton County grant and funding provided by the city and the College, the City of Easton installed new, wider sidewalks to beautify the block and increase pedestrian safety, adding a distinctive new decorative crosswalk and cast-iron lampposts.

An investment of $3 million from the Commonwealth will bring about further vital improvements. First, buildings owned by the College will be brought into compliance with city codes, making these attractively located properties site-ready for investment by potential users. Second, the creek span that is part of the Club Mohican property will be renovated. This will open up a view of the creek as it flows through the gateway area, and the addition of decorative wrought iron fencing where the creek flows will create a distinctive look. Parking lots at the corner of Snyder and North Third will be paved and enhanced by the addition of decorative fencing. The streetscape will be completed.

Lafayette’s initiatives already have paid dividends in attracting private investment. Arcadia Properties of Bethlehem, Pa., signed an agreement in November 2003 to purchase the Hubcap and Wheel Store, an eyesore near the Route 22 West on-ramp. The College is working with Arcadia as plans to convert the property into attractive creekside apartments move forward.

The possibility of making the former Easton Printing property a visitors center is being explored. Anchored by the Williams Visual Arts Building, Bushkill Village has the potential to become an “arts avenue,” featuring outdoor public art installations complementing the streetscape and views of the creek. Also under consideration is the establishment of a Keystone Innovation Zone, which will marry the arts with technology in a distinctive technology/arts center.

“Lafayette is committed to a vibrant and revitalized Easton,” Rothkopf said. “I deeply appreciate the dedicated efforts of the three mayors I have had the privilege of working with over the past decade. Phil Mitman, Mike McFadden, and Tom Goldsmith [’63] have been superb partners with the College in advancing the interests of this wonderful city.”

To solidify the appeal of the area as a tourist attraction, the College is exploring the possibility of constructing a funicular railway between downtown Easton and Lafayette’s hilltop campus, with its lower terminus adjacent to the Williams Visual Arts Building. The funicular would be both a practical embodiment and powerful symbol of the connection between Easton and Lafayette. In addition to serving students moving between Lafayette and the Bushkill Village area, it would attract public attention and affection and place a distinctive stamp on this key gateway area to the Commonwealth, the City of Easton, and Lafayette.

Possible uses being considered for the historic silk mill include an athletic complex, community/art center, and retail and restaurant use. Located at the silk mill is the head of the Bushkill Creek Trail, a looping, off-road double trail. It winds along the creek and links with the North Third Street area before connecting with Two Rivers Landing Visitors Center on Centre Square and Easton’s city parks along the Delaware River, finally crossing the Delaware and connecting with Phillipsburg, N.J.

Easton plans to improve the trail for walking and biking and to consider acquiring and demolishing blighted areas along the creek and Bushkill Drive. Enhancements may include a realignment of the intersection where Bushkill Drive meets Detrich Road at the base of campus and the relocation of Easton’s city services yard from its present location along the creek.

Town-gown relations between Easton and Lafayette, one of the nation’s premier undergraduate institutions of higher education, founded by citizens of Easton in 1826, are at a high-water mark. Lafayette’s vital role in revitalizing Easton began with the College’s collaboration in the development of Two Rivers Landing Visitors Center, which opened in 1996. Students in Lafayette’s Technology Clinic developed and installed an impaired-driving simulator in the Weller Health Education Center and played a key role developing plans for the adaptation of the Bachmann Publick House into an Early American history and heritage center.

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