Sunday, November 29, 2009

More Silk Mill

The West Ward's Simon Silk Mill

Posted by: Noel Jones

Below are the most recent articles on the Silk Mill project, which the City has slated to be developed as a cultural arts center. My question is, why the single focus, and why weren't we asked what we would like to see developed there, and what we as residents would support? 

Why not a grocery store, a brewery, a movie theatre? Being an artist myself, I would love to see a thriving cultural arts center in town as much as  anyone, but there is already a project called the Governor Wolf Athenaeum project, that has been gaining traction, garnering the support of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and Lafayette College along the way, and it would cost only $8 million as opposed to the $100 million projected for the Silk Mill.

If it's on Bushkill Creek, one of the best trout fishing coldwater limestone creeks in the U.S., and with the new hiking and biking trails to be finished soon nearby, why not consider other options for development, like focusing on fishing, boating and hiking/camping gear stores, etc? These are just ideas, but isn't that the point? Shouldn't we be brainstorming all possible options and figuring out together--the public, the City and developers--what is most desired and most viable in the community? Be sure to read the comments posted after these articles, and jump into the discussions there:

Morning Call Article by Michael Duck on Latest Developments for the Silk Mill

Valley 610 Blog Article by Michael Duck on Latest New on the Silk Mill

Holding public meetings announcing what the City intends, rather than holding public meetings to ask the community what it would support, are two vary different things. One of the problems with the ill-fated Riverwalk project that died earlier this year was that the City took a similar approach, rather than involving the public from the beginning of the planning process. 

I would like to hear various viewpoints from residents on what you think about the best directions for this project. Please post with your name so that we're not just having a conversation composed of anonymous proponents of the current project as planned--everyone is welcome to post, but let's have an open and honest debate here.


Noel Jones
Neighbors of Easton


Ruben said...

I think that Easton has a lot of potential to shine on its own and be competitive. It makes me uncomfortable when I mention Easton to anyone, they consider this town a dump. The fact that a project like the "Silk Mill" and other projects, which are in the works, gives me a sense of hope to show outsiders that we have a lot to show for. As I read comments in different newspapers all you read is negativity coming from area residents whom are not welcoming to new projects or changes. It is very important that we as residents have some input so projects can be done according to our needs and what we want to see being done.
Also the fact that something like the "Silk Mill" project is been done away from the downtown area is very important to me, so that we could cover the whole city and make it walkable for us and tourists. I hope we can do some brainstorming and come up with the best ideas for it.

Easton Heights Blogger said...

I've been living in Easton since '95 and the only thing I've seen at the silk mill was a carpet business. it's been empty for so long, I'd like to see them do ANYTHING with it.
redeveloping old buildings is 'artsy' and 'cool', but regular businesses and developers usually don't want anything to do w/ it becasue it's a lot more expensive than tear down and rebuild. a grocery won't touch it because the retrofit of necessary utilities is prohibitvely costly.
empty buildings are empty for a reason; no one wants them. so to see they city actually figure out a use for them which doesn't include tearing them down, that's cool.

wardman79 said...

Thank you thank you thank you Ruben and Heights. This is another great project and the use has been fully vetted. I was involved in focus group meetings three years ago and last year I was asked to serve on the community group when ArtsMarket did the feasability study on the intended use. A lot of community input as been received on this project and what we as a community would like to see. The vision is phenominal and I believe this Administration with their development background can really make it happen. I was involved in a few meetings with the former administration but this project has really taken off in the last 2 years.

The author of this article is either new to town or has been in a cave. Why didn't they get involved? And as for the criticism, every use mentioned can be located in the mill. It is for the creative arts businesses. Food? how about a culinary school with a restaurant. Graphic design. There is more than 300,000 sf and the city has developed a plan that is doable. Recreation? Go to the meetings. There will be water sports in the Bushkill. Kayak and canoes all out of one of the neat buildings right on the waterfront.

The author needs to stop constantly questioning and get involved in making things happen. This project is a real deal for us and I have been in meetings with nationally renown developers and artists.

Oh that's right, the author also had negative remarks about the Movies at the Mill. It was a great night and showcased the buidings tot he entire LV and beyond. I sat next to a couple from New York City.

Let's get behind this project as a neighborhood. It will create jobs our residents can walk to!

Anonymous said...

The issue is not the vision.

There is not an issue yet. Only a question.

How do you get from A to B to C etc.?

I have heard numbers of 50 to 70 million to develop the site. Who has those kinds of dollars and does projects of this nature?

There are arts space projects that have been done throughout the US.
Their history limits expectations for this site?

It is not negativity. It is a reasonable question. We may expect to wait twenty years for full development. If that is what everyone wants, so be it.

I have seen dozens of visions. End products don't necessarily mirror the visions. It's life, not negativity.

You are right. There were many focus group meetings and this project and vision was developed out of those meetings.

Nikkita said...

I will be happy if the "vision" includes businesses that everyday people living in the West Ward will go to and enjoy being a part of. Every money making endevour shouldn't be focused soley on visitors and tourism. Things should be created that will engage and bring the residents out to support and bring money into our area. A $100 million project does no good if everyday people can't see or appreciate what it's there for.

noel jones said...

Wardman79, why so hostile toward questions? This seems to echo the general attitude that residents are supposed to simply jump on board when the City announces a project, rather than expecting to be involved in the process from the beginning. I have been here almost three years, and so yes, I consider myself new to the area, since most of the residents I'm in touch with have been here much much longer than myself. As for getting involved, I created this blog, and it requires a lot of time and energy to maintain it--this is my way of contributing to the community, in addition to attending meetings whenever I can. As Easton residents go, I'm pretty involved.

Of all the WW neighbors I know, I have only spoken to one who was at the original meetings on this project, and even then it was posed as a cultural arts center without other options discussed.

I'm not sure why you would feel so threatened by questions, but citizens have the right to question their government and that is precisely what this forum is for.

As for my review of the film festival, I emphasized that it was a great event (a great event run by a close friend of mine) and lamented only that I wished more time had been devoted to the filmmakers--then I reviewed the films, some of which I liked, and some that I didn't.

It is really important that Easton gets past the idea that giving a 5-star review to everything that opens or happens in town is supportive of local business--it actually only results in demeaning the integrity of any review, so that no review is trusted. At least if people read my reviews, they know that I'm not sugar-coating in the guise of being "supportive." Our community will improve steadily if we steadily raise the bar, rather than offering the complacency of giving glowing reviews to all.

Timothy George Hare said...

Now that the City is, thankfully, the public steward of the land and buildings my best recommendation would be for the city to 'landbank' the site for at least 25 to 50 years, and not develop it, sell it, or lease it.

The property's already off the tax roles, so the cost of maintaining the status quo for a few generations would be lower than the cost of developing it.

Considering Easton's near-total destruction that began in 1946, with much fallout still with us today, I think Easton is at a too-embryonic stage to be able to consider the best future development for this site.

The city decided in the 1940s to accept federal dollars to establish a mechanism that administered many many millions of dollars, in exchange for leveling most of the city.

A city plan was established as law, mandating a new 'suburban' moonscape to be built where the former historic city was located.

When the heart and soul is so torn from a small city, with much of its population evicted, with only 30-days notice, the collateral damage among the survivors is what we still live with in and around Easton today.

Fortunately, that plan, which was dependent on the massive flow of federal dollars, got successfully stopped in 1976 by only a very few citizens that included myself.

However, decades later, there doesn't yet seem to exist a recovered-enough community to clearly agree on what should happen next at the Silk Mill site.

I agree that the community should be the group responsible for what happens there.

Perhaps a referendum vote could be cast? After all, if my civil rights and civil marriage to my husband Earl can be decided on by voters, why not real estate development?

Much of the existing Easton community is still suffering, no wonder, from post-traumatic damage from what happened here due to a governmental 'vision' that became a nightmare for Easton citizens (except for those relatively-few who profited financially).

To me, it's too soon for the Easton community, whether those who stayed and watched their city be destroyed around them, or those who were banished to the hinterlands, where their opinion of Easton remains quite tarnished, to recover from this inhumane past that took their ancestoral homes, businesses and churches.

There is much bitterness, bad blood, distrust of longtime neighbors, distrust of city government, as well as enragement about the outsiders who are seen as carpetbaggers who swoop in to profit on the misery of others.

Yes, Easton has an enormous regional stigma, which alway sounds to me like 'blaming the victim,' when I dare to use the "E" word when asked where I live.

The generations who were negatively affected, their children, and possibly their grandchildren, must pass away before fresh eyes could begin to see the best potential for the Silk Mill property as the enormous treasure that it is - without squandering the site in a hurry to satisfy the latest fad.

So, simply landbank the site. Sometimes the best plan is to not just "do something," but to "just sit there!"

A good roof and exterior pointing/painting can keep the water out to prevent deterioration, so that future generations could decide what's best to happen at this valuable community resource.

noel jones said...

Tim~this is a very interesting take on it. This is what I love about this blog--the opportunity for many different ideas to come out and be discussed openly and accessibly by anyone with internet access.

All of these options should be on the table and weighed carefully before moving forward with development of such a large property...

Dennis R. Lieb said...

Everyone commenting so far has had great points. I would add the following...

1) Easton's artist community and West Ward neighborhood needs to be invited into this process in a more direct and focused way. I was also invited to the very first visioning sessions but my input (as far as I can tell) was regarded as negative and I have not been invited back into that inner circle for two years. I have taken advantage of some previous meeting opportunites through the backdoor, so to speak, and will now be involved in the more public versions of these events going forward as well. There is no one in this town who wants that site reclaimed more than I do but reasonable questions about how we are going to deal with the serious obstacles and messy details to its success cannot be taken as obstructionist thinking. We either solve the issues and/or come up with alternatives that are practical or we risk another failed project.

2) I understand why there is generally not enough critical debate about things like this...Eastonians have been waiting for the next big thing for so long that we really want every proposal to take off. But we can't become pom-pom wavers everytime a development scheme is unleashed. The heart of the problem here is what I call the "Home Run or Strike Out" theory. We have gotten so used to proposals being couched in the rhetoric of "the next big thing that saves the city" that we have forgotten how this town was built. It was succesful because dozens of small visions were undertaken (at reasonable expense) by people who had vested interest in Easton. That can never happen with outside developers at the large scale unless a miracle happens. We need a return to the kind of thinking that built Easton...dozens of small projects, all happening at once, that build synergy and redundancy into the economy so that everyone feeds off each other's success and no single failure does in the town. This type of "singles hitter" mentality is appropriate for mill site too.

3) I whole heartedly agree that this project must be done with multiple developers over a long period of time and that every form of activity - from recreation to arts to light industry to eco-businesses - participate fully. The perception of this as a gated, single purpose, elitist destination will not fly.

Thanks to everyone for thinking seriously about the Mill's future. Force your opinions upon the people in charge and make them listen to you.


Joanne said...

I would agree that such a large project should be carefully planned and have community input. I thought artist studios (Banana Factory, Goggle Works) would be great but it seems there are many possibilities for that area. Also, seems we don't make much in this country any more. Maybe some green tech? Bicycle factory? Dress mill?

Easton Heights Blogger said...

there is a reason not much is made in the USA anymore- it's too expensive; or coversely, Americans don't want to pay for the cost of American labor. that is why there are so many empty facotries. I understand the Simon Silk Mill was once the largest silk mill. can you imagine how much you would have to pay people to work there if it existed today?
likewise, bicycle manufacturing is also cost prohibitive; the chinese have that market cornered (like most other markets). there is exactly TWO bicycle companies making at least some of their product in the US and that is dwindling all the time.
no, there is no hope for domestic manufacturing or for the thousands of empty factories. the only thing to do w/ them is residential, shops, or artists studios. this is not being negative; this is acknowleging the cold hard reality of old buildings that many other communities besides Easton are also dealing with. our situation is hardly unique.

noel jones said...

EHB, while that is true of most industries, there are a few where the manufacturing still takes places in the U.S., and it would be worthwhile for Easton to research what those industries are, and invite them to consider the site. One of those industries is commercial lighting fixture manufacturing. I used to work in a lighting design department, and the U.S. still dominates the market by a long shot, plus, even though Europe has some good lighting manufacturers, U.S. jobs will usually not order them over American companies because a) they are more expensive and b) even if they tried to give competitive discounts, shipping costs would negate any possible savings. Chinese lighting manufacturers are simply not trusted because they are not built to American standards, and could expose designers and engineers to liability. So a lighting manufacturing company might be a possibility.

Does anyone else know of other industries in which product is still primarily manufactured in the U.S?

Anonymous said...

I could write for hours on this site and subject and about political choice for the city.

I'll keep it short.

Agree that all have good points.

Landbank- a great idea. That may be the direction of this project anyway because the current vision is probably not doable.

Multiple small projects - yes, that works. Perhaps that is what the Bushkill greenway or corridor was about. Lots of little projects-the trail, the creek, Third Street developments. Someone is trying to put a housing development on the north side of the drive. Run out the junkyard and it all takes a significant step. So the mill is big but a small part of the larger piece.
we only see successes and not failures in small accomplishments.good point.

Visions get people excited, turn on public funding and get people motivated toward the entire community. You're right. Not much effort was made to be inclusive on this project. Initial planning put this project as an appendage of downtown. I think merchants sensed a threat. Face it, if the silk mill became a retail center with shops, restaurants, etc, downtown would suffer.

The mill is a rallying point for the West Ward. It needs to be opened more for the west ward and the entire community.

I remember talking to someone about this project six to seven years ago and why it was conceived. It had a lot to do with the College. They were getting too many negatives from visitors about the condition of the town. That was evident from the condition of North 3rd and 13th. That was important to
the college and their marketing efforts. Students and employees badmouth the town. They detour visitors away from Easton. They talk the town down. It doesnt help considering that more people come to Lafayette to see Easton. Easton is the selling point for high school seniors, their parents and their future. People do not come to Crayola to see Easton, they stay in the building and immediately leave town. Lafayettte is an important player in this. They also have deep pockets.

Alan Raisman said...


Please keep in mind that the mindset of the Lafayette student has changed in the past decade. I have been engaged in the Easton community since the day I started at Lafayette College; I volunteered at the Easton Area Senior Center. In the past three years, Easton has seen the creation of Lafayette Day in the Square, the All Access Pass, First Weekend, and the banner that hangs across North Third Street welcoming students back to the city.

I cannot speak for the administration, but students have been welcomed into Easton with open arms, and we have tried our best to give back to the community. Students helped paint 500 parking meters in Downtown Easton. Students help clean College Hill during the Citywide Cleanups. Students helped clean the West Ward during the TALL Team cleanups. And students helped plant 150 bulbs in Dutchtown Park last Halloween.

I gave a tour three weeks ago, and the first question that was asked of me by a parent was about the town-gown relationship. The student mindset has changed, and we have embraced Easton like it was our home. We are here for 30 weeks out of the year, and we are moving from a student to Eastonian relationship to a neighbor to neighbor relationship.

Alan Raisman
Lafayette College Student

Anonymous said...


I would have to be fair and admit that my comments about the college were not about all students. Our point of debate will have to remain on whether it is "some" or "many".

Your student newspaper featured an editorial attacking a group of students as being disingenuous in their efforts for the city. I think those comments indicate that there is a divide. In fact the editorial described the campus as a "comfortable college bubble" and lamented on the "socio economic divide. . between downtown and college hill".

I recognize it and don't feel shame. It costs 57,000 annually to attend Lafayette, not a meager sum and actually a number that far exceeds most household incomes in the city. I would expect that a parent making such an investment would want to see blight removed from areas that surround the campus. In addition, they would want to see a safe environment. The student newspaper has attacked that latter issue complaining about burglaries and too easy access from the outside.

So, in my world, I hear students and parents and teachers and admin take shots at the city. Welcome to the club. I take mine as well as do many Easton residents. The town doesn't improve unless we see our faults and strive to correct them. My problem is that Easton has taken the college for granted for too long. It needs to make investments that fortify the college's competitive standing.

I fear that too much volunteer work by students sees the lowest of the community and brands the community in a negative way. Much like one of your fellow students who complained to me that his problem was that too many Eastonians believe that Lafayette students are personally very wealthy and have money to burn. His complaint was an unfair characterization.

I appreciate your interest in
our community and what appears to be a genuine desire to make it a better place to live. Please extend my gratitude to your fellow students who share your feelings about our city.

noel jones said...

Anon & Alan~ I hear you on all counts. I had heard a lot of negative testimony from residents about Lafayette's attitude toward Easton when I moved here almost three years ago, and in that three years have been very encouraged to see the college extend itself into our West Ward community, and the Easton community at large, in positive ways.

The main issue with residents in the past seems to always have been that Lafayette is one of the biggest land owners in Easton, and doesn't pay taxes on any of that land into our tax base, money we could use to improve the condition of the city. I had also heard that students in the past called residents of Easton "townies" and would come into the city to go drinking at night and actually vandalize resident property.

But with newer programming from Lafayette administrators like Shirley Ramirez and Bonnie Winfield, the involvement of Lafayette students in the community has changed, and students have been going door-to-door conducting studies on crime reduction and quality of life issues, and have really rolled up their sleeves for these projects. They also brought the Majora Carter group to town and held a free event for the community on the topic of eco-justice, and invited West Ward residents to an environmental literacy workshop as stakeholders in revitalizing (and greening up) Easton.

When I hear people criticizing the behavior of police officers, followed by residents and officers saying, "that was years ago--that's not fair!" or criticizing Lafayette and hearing residents and students say, "that was years ago--that's not fair!"--it's actually very encouraging to me, because it shows that although changing perceptions might be a slow process, there is clear progress being made, which means some things really have been improving in the last few years for this neighborhood, and for Easton.

Forums like this blog are important so these discussions can happen, so that people have the opportunity to shift their perceptions, rather than hunkering down and holding on to them.

Great discussion, everyone.

Anonymous said...

Wow, without the college Easton would be nothing more than a hick town. the college does a lot in addition to having students volunteering in our neighborhood. They contirbute to the Ambassadors, they are still the largest tax payer in the city paying on all non-educational buildings, provide excellent cultural programs, etc. i also think the college students get blamed for vandalism that is actually caused by high school students.

I also remember reading that the college put up more than $15 million in matching funds for the city to get the $6 million for the silk mill and the new trail along the Bushkill which I am anxiously awaiting. I say, Thank You Lafayette.

Easton Heights Blogger said...

$57K/yr for Lafayette? yeah, I think that 'might' be an issue for Easton residents (roll eyes).
household median income in the city is $33,162, and family median is $38,704.
there is a point of reference issue here (and, we might go so far as to say, between College Hill and the West Ward).
WW residents and LC students have nothing in common; residents can't afford to attend LC (I'm sure there are exceptions). the recent LC 'outreach' programs (tree planting, etc) looks too much like charity work for the Gods to come down off of Mt. Olympus to assist the lowly residents of this mundane city (please notice the sarcasm).
I used to live in Harrisonburg, VA, home to James Madison University. H'burg was a 'real' college town. students lived in the neighborhoods, many laid down roots there after graduation. I don't see that in Easton; LC is truly a 'bubble'.
I do appreciate LC buying dilapidated properties and taking care of them, but the benefit to the city is in a 'by the way' sort of way. they do it for themselves and the city just happens to get some sort of 'benefit'.
just a last point (sincethis is so far off topic: manufacturing is not doable at the silk mill. seriously, if someone could make a go of it, they would have. and anyone would have way more favorable options/tax incentives to move to any of the many new industrial parks which are way more attractive to new business. businesses are moving OUT of the cities because it's so difficult/expensive, i.e., permits, taxes, building retrofit, utilities, EPA regs, noise abatement, etc etc etc.
the only hope for the silk mill is condos, shops or art studios.

Dennis R. Lieb said...

This has become too complex a subject to handle within the comments section. I will write in detail on my perceptions of the mill in a seperate blog as soon as I can. I have knowledge going back to the beginning with Lafayette, etc.

Just a quick point...We need a major attitude adjustment about the outsourcing of jobs overseas. Regardless of what the local situation may be now or what the current "global economy" status appears to be (or what we perceive it to be) there is no economy that can survive - as the saying goes - by everyone selling each other hamburgers or taking in each other's laundry.

Import replacement, local feedback loops, innovation and real local production of goods are what is required to survive. It doesn't matter what anyone tells you about service economies, competitive advantages of overseas labor or anything else. The cold hard facts are that we HAVE to produce locally and MUST produce is not a theory; it is a law of economic survival and I can show you a thousand examples of of places that failed by choosing to ignore it. the places that are supposedly thriving today will suffer the same fate in time if they think they can continue along the path chosen for us by "global economy" apologists.


Alan Raisman said...

I just wanted to point out that Lafayette students are making a contribution. I agree that there is a divide, but that can be found anywhere. It is the discussion that follows after the divide is known that makes a difference. And yes we contribute more than volunteer hours. A lot of the contributions made by Lafayette students are monetary; students eat at Ashley's, La Lupita, and Josephinas each week.

In regards to the Silk Mill, my hope is that whatever is placed in the Mill brings people. Those people will work there and ideally live there. But I would also like to see something that attracts a more fluid group of people. In addition to people living in the West Ward, I want people to visit the West Ward daily, and I feel the arts complex would bring those visitors as well as those residents. I agree that other options are out there, and hopefully there will be more public hearings to get your voices heard.

Sandra Walters Weiss said...

One of the most important ideas in successful community building, in my own experience, is community input. Collaboration is key to the success of projects big or small. When people have a vested interest, and feel like their ideas are valuable the chance of success of the project being successful is much greater.I for one enjoy giving my opinion, and have learned through trial and error that the old adage "two heads are better than one" definitely applies. I agree Rubin,brainstorming is key.This methodology,if people can agree to disagree and leave egos at the door can be the most effective way to accomplish an idea that can be transformed into an action item. I for one would love to have a forum to give my input and thoughts on these subjects. Case in point, the Weed& Seed program, ADOPT A CLASS well way back when they thought we were all crazy but as we have witnessed, a group of folks had an idea, a position was created and KUDOS to Laura Accetta and all of the other folks behind the scenes that made a project work... To steal from the 12 steppers. "I can't, we can!" Same principles apply.

noel jones said...

Anon 10:55, I agree, Lafayette is doing good things for Easton and I am encouraged that they are reaching out more and more. I also know that Shirley Ramirez and Amina DeBurst at Lafayette are interested in developing ways to break through the bubble and connect with Easton's residents in ways that will encourage high school students to consider applying for college there. While it is a very expensive school--too expensive for the average Easton resident--there are always scholarships and grants available to help make it affordable, for students who have excellent grades and test scores.

I had not heard that Lafayette pays property taxes on noneducational buildings. If that is true, then the college and City together have some PR to do, as it is the widely-held notion among residents that Lafayette does not pay taxes because of an agreement they've had in writing since the 1800s. I have been hearing this for almost three years of being here, and I think it would greatly improve residents' impression of Lafayette to know that they are our biggest tax payer. Can anyone out there verify that please? If anyone knows the annual amount, please post the amount and where you got the information here--thanks!

EHB, I totally hear you on the desire to see Easton develop as a real college town. As it stands, the college town vibe is mostly on College Hill. That's why I'm encouraged to see student programming reaching into the West Ward and even bringing a little business to our local restaurants. But there could be much more presence here, and I think the more we succeed in revitalizing the neighborhood and promoting entrepreneurship, the more that will happen (hopefully, with Lafayette's help). As it stands, we do not even have a cafe in the West Ward, so where exactly would students hang out, talk and study? When I think of a college town, I think of a place that has a lot of cafes and cheap places to eat, where students can be found hanging out. Those businesses have to exist before students can become more integrated into our community.

One thing our neighborhood desperately needs is deconversion incentives for investors who will return corner apartment buildings back into their original storefronts. Without our storefronts, there is nowhere for entrepreneurs to start a cafe or other business that would encourage more interaction in the West Ward between Easton residents from all neighborhoods, including Lafayette College.

Alan Raisman said...

Lafayette College is the largest taxpayer in the City. Lafayette pays taxes on all noneducational buildings, including Lafayette College owned housing on College Hill. Lafayette College is also the largest contributor to the Easton Recycling Center.

It is hard to get students into storefronts on Cattell Street on College Hill or into storefronts in Downtown Easton. The Easton All Access Pass, sponsored by the Easton Business Association, has helped in this regard. It might be a good idea to get businesses in both the West Ward and South Side involved in the Easton All Access Pass. Also, I purchase the Entertainment Book Lehigh Valley edition. I know that Ashley's and Porter's Pub is included in there.

Once the Bushkill Trail is finished, I am hoping more Lafayette students will walk into the West Ward. I took the walk with Becky Bradley on April 25, 2009, and the trail looks like it is going to be pretty nice. The walk along the Bushkill to 13th Street is incredible!

noel jones said...

Good idea, Alan.

I would like to see the Express Times do an article on Lafayette and the taxes they pay, so that residents know that they are the biggest taxpayer in Easton--that might help to start changing the perception out there...

Anonymous said...

One factor missing in the college discussion is the long range plan for much of the real estate that the college owns. Ownership of residential property takes that opportunity away from tax paying residents. In fact the poorest area of the city is not the west wards, but rather the lower part of college hill where the percapita income is nothing. Lafayette and the city have to come to an agreement for long term. I know the college continues to purchase property and probably has a vision. The problem is the vision is one way.

Alan Raisman said...

The tuition at Lafayette College is only $37,520. Housing costs $7,105, but a student from Easton could commute and waive that fee. The meal plan costs an additional $4,694, but you are given 20 meals a week. With fifteen weeks in the semester, each meal is equal to $15.65, and each meal consists of a buffet. Other fees equal an additional $970. In total, billed expenses equal $50,289, but without rooming fees the total is $43,184. I understand that these fees are high, but they do not equal $57,000.

Anonymous said...

This topic of Lafayette and taxes seems off the original post but I would also like more information. First, what is the source for the statement Lafayette is the biggest tax payer. Second, for that to be a little more meaningful I would want to subtract the amount of the taxes on properties that they are not paying. Then what do we have? Is it a positive or negative number? Third, can someone tell me if Lafayette is a non profit institution? The website says it was founded by the citizens of Easton - what was its original mission then? Thanks in advance for any answers to these questons.

Anonymous said...

Alan is correct plus the college's foundation gives million each year to qualified students based on financial need. I know an individual who is getting $18,000 based on need. Yes her parents have to come up with the rest OR like many students, including my own, the student loan program is available.

As for the taxes......they do pay on property they own that is not used for educational purposes just like a church would have to pay for a piece of property that they rent out for a non-church related use.

But in addition to taxes they ar ethe largest employer in the city, they emply a lot of Easton residents who also pay taxes, and they conrtibute a lot of money to the city directly.

Lastly, what would Easton be without the college. They are good community members and provide a lot of services to us residents.

Anonymous said...

Again, please indicate sources for these statements. And, for example, how many Easton resident are employed. Thank you.

noel jones said...

Alan--you're good on stats--could you post the info that Anon 5:40/7:45 is asking for? If so, many thanks in advance!

Easton Heights Blogger said...

I don't think everyone needs to doubt Alan's comments; in my small circle of friends, I personally know at least five people who currenly work there or are retired. they are a good employer.
I think a lack of transparency and a lack of communication contributes to these ideas. although I made a comment about the cost of tuition (which is aomng the highest in the nation) I do appreciate the part they play in buying dilapidated properties (or does someone miss the Mohican biker bar?)
maybe we lay off Alan a bit?

Alan Raisman said...

I learn about Lafayette from talking to people in Easton, and the actions I take depend on what I hear from my neighbors. I have worked to get students involved in places where students were not involved before. In 2006, I was the only Lafayette student attending No Name Community meetings; we have had 26 students attend since then. I was also the only Lafayette student attending Dancing on the Thirds in 2007; we have now had 16 students attend since then.

Unfortunately, I do not have access to the information asked by Anonymous 5:40 or 7:45. I do not know how much money Lafayette College pays to the City of Easton in taxes, and I do not know how many Eastonians Lafayette College employs. I do not have any special access to information as a student. All of the information I know of has been expressed to me by neighbors and by my research on the Internet.

I have had difficulty balancing my life as a Lafayette student because it is hard to be accepted as an Eastonian when you are not from here, and it is hard to be taken seriously by anyone when you are arriving at a college at the age of eighteen. In the past three years, I have tried to do all that I could to reach out to Eastonians.

In September 2007, I conducted research to gain an understanding of the people and the city. In 2008, I joined the Executive Committee of the College Hill Neighborhood Association and became a volunteer with the Main Street Initiative. In 2009, I served on the Heritage Day Committee and as the only student member of the Easton Environmental Advisory Council, and I just finished serving two years on the Outstanding Friend to Kids Awards Committee for the Weller Health Education Center.

I greatly appreciate everyone who has written me, asked questions of me, and listened to me. I am now a senior at Lafayette College and will be graduating in May. I will continue to do what I can to interact with and talk to my neighbors off campus, something that I have been trying to do since arriving in Easton in August 2006. Unfortunately, I cannot get access to the information requested, for I am only a student.

Anonymous said...

To clarify some of your questions:

The 57,000 expense figure comes from admissions and financial aid. It reflects costs through the next year and includes costs not in your figures. The issue was not the actual expense, but the relation of that figure to Easton's median household income which is significantly less.

Lafayette is not the largest taxpayer but probably is in the top. Largest assessment in Easton:

Conn Gen'L 2,439,000.


Gen'l Lafa apts 1,216,000
Lehigh Manor 937,500
Specialty Min 850,000

To date Lafayette has purchased properties in the Bushkill Corridor with a total assessed value of 956,400, all taxable. Add to that figure the hubcap store and other residential property owned on the hill, the college is one of the largest taxpayers. Source is Northampton County Assessments

For other figures you would have to pay the city for runs which would be expensive to determine the value of all the exempt property.

Lafayette does not use city services as do other non profits. They are very self sufficient. They have always provided their own garbage collection, they pay for improvements to water and sewer lines, they provide their own police protection. They pay for any police services related to special events that spill over into the Easton community. They do not have their own fire protection. The college has paid a fee to the city for economic development. The college will not consider this payment to be a payment in lieu of taxes.

A significant number of College Hill residents are employed by the college. To make a statement that the college is the largest employer lacks empirical credibility, but they are one of the largest employers in the community.

The college does not actively recruit students from the city. I think that is a big mistake. Legions of Eastonians attended the college, particularly 2nd generation children of immigrants. That effort to extend the college to the economically disenfranchised has been transferred to Washington DC and NYC. They have forgotten Easton and that is the ultimate betrayal. I cannot forgive them for that.

Lafayette's current tax return (2007)indicates that it is a 501c3 non profit corporation.

I am not an employee of Lafayette or a fan. This information is available on the internet.

Alan Raisman said...

The Bucks County Courier Times recently asked Joan Lichtenwalner, Lafayette College's senior assistant director of admissions about Lafayette's interviewing process. The one question I wanted to post on here is below.

Q: What do you look for in a student? What makes a student stand out?

A: At Lafayette College, we look for students who are doing well in challenging curriculums and who are well rounded who would be good contributors to our academic as well as extracurricular programs. I really like to interview students who seem to have a passion about something and can have a good conversation.

Is it true that Lafayette does not actively recruit residents of Easton to attend? Yes. However, Lafayette recruits others who come to Easton and help make this community a better place. While other areas are facing a Brain Drain, Easton and the Lehigh Valley are bringing students to the region who want to work in the area, who want to live in the area, and who become a taxpaying citizen.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for providing some sources for the statements. Part of the value of a college education is learning to evaluate statements critically. The request for sources modified some of the statements. That's a good thing because neither the college nor the community are served by those of us who hold opinions based on "facts" that are not founded.

Anonymous said...

As far as this Lafayette thing, feel like Tiger Woods when he first entered the pros, could not play in a lot of tournaments because the host country clubs barred him. We can go to the gate and look in, but we are not really wanted. Ashame, we have become a laboratory for human study. Rather than helping us improve, keep us poor, and help some kid get a degree in sociology

noel jones said...

I have to say, this is one of the most productive discussions I've seen on this blog. This is a strong example of how both facts and perception are extremely important.

As a new homeowner, purchasing my house three years ago, I almost immediately began hearing perceptions from my neighbors and other Eastonians that Lafayette pays no taxes. I have been hearing nothing but that perspective for three straight years--some residents have spoken of Lafayette favorably, but then added that they wished they paid taxes. I didn't bother to look into it because in addition to it being such a wide-spread notion, I was focusing on learning about City Council and revitalization efforts in the WW. Now, on this blog, I am being presented with facts that refute that perspective, and while it's a relief for me to know these facts, I cannot overemphasize the importance of a joint effort by Lafayette and the City to educate the public and correct this perspective, as it's a hinderance to the efforts within the neighborhood toward partnered efforts in the community.

There are two incorrect perceptions at play here, from what I can deduce so far: 1. residents believe that Lafayette gobbles up our land and doesn't pay into the tax base, and 2. residents are not aware that the college is self-sufficient and does not use our public services that our tax dollars pay for. Now, #2, does not necessarily mollify concerns over #1, because there is still the land and tax base issue. But when the reality is that Lafayette indeed pays property taxes on all buildings not used for educational purposes, that's important for residents to know. Residents might still feel that it would be easy to categorize buildings purchased as being for educational use, but if reality is that Lafayette is one of our biggest taxpayers, then it doesn't sound like that is being abused.

It is really important for residents to know that Lafayette is a good neighbor--I hope that either an article can be written in the papers, or that at least someone from Lafayette or the City can write a letter to the editor of the papers to get a discussion going. I'm proud that the conversation is happening here, but it needs to happen in print (and perhaps presentation) form as well, so that those without computer access, or who don't read the blog, are party to the conversation, and the accurate information.

As for recruiting students from Easton's high schools, while it hasn't been a practice for Lafayette historically, I have had conversations with both Shirley Ramirez and Amina DeBurst at Lafayette who are relatively new to the administration, and keen on connecting with the community and encouraging Easton's youth to consider applying at Lafayette. I know that Bonnie Winfield at Lafayette's Landis Community Outreach Center has been on outreach to younger children as well as teens. It's important for this to become common knowledge to Easton's residents, so that they will begin to view the college as the partner they are trying to be.

This conversation has been so rich, I may have to dedicate a new post to it, as many who are reading this blog that might be interested would not think to check out these comments as they are under the Silk Mill title of the original post...

Alan Raisman said...

Anon 10:24,

I thank you for looking through the " gate" of Lafayette College, but the residents of Easton are more than wanted. Lafayette College wants Easton residents to come to our college for academic purposes and for nonacademic purposes.

Lafayette's Skillman Library has three computers that are open to the public and can be used without signing into the Lafayette College system. Residents of Easton can also become Friends of Skillman Library. For $50, residents of Easton can become a Friend and take out books just like any Lafayette student. Membership ends on June 30 of each year.

Lafayette College's Williams Center for the Arts provides outstanding performances for anyone to see. The shows do have a fee, but they are not as expensive as the shows at the State Theatre.

Lafayette College provides lectures every week that are open to the public, and Lafayette student organizations offer programs that are open to the public as well. Last week, we brought the Guerrilla Girls on Tour to the Williams Center, and thirteen Easton residents attended the event. In the past, we have also had Easton residents attend lectures by David McCullough and Salman Rushdie.

You can find out about events at the Lafayette online calendar, and you can select which calendar you would like to view. Most events on Lafayette College's campus are free and open to the public.

I am sorry that you feel that Lafayette College is using Easton as a "laboratory for human study," but that is just not the case. We are learning about Easton, and we are helping bring about a better Easton. On December 8 and 15, the Lafayette College Technology Clinic will be presenting public workshops on storm water. These will take place at 7 PM on both days at the Easton Area Community Center in Easton's West Ward.

For numerous years, Lafayette College students have engaged in Easton and entered your neighborhoods. We want to welcome you into our neighborhood, and we want you to become our neighbor.

Anonymous said...

Accessibility is a real issue too for residents going up to Lafayette. Rare enough that a bus is offered it seems pretty unfortunate that on that night it "broke down." Oh well. There was probably some kind of follow up clarification and apology.

noel jones said...

Since this Lafayette discussion has digressed from the original Silk Mill topic and seems to have generated a lot of interest, I have posted a new blog article on the home page dedicate to Lafayette, and referring readers here for background--please post any follow up comments on the Lafayette topic on the new post--thanks!