Developer proposes 150 apartments, commercial space for Easton Iron & Metal property

It’s a project with no name but big ambition.

Easton’s VM Development Group LLC was announced Tuesday at the Easton City Council committee meeting as the preferred developer for the Easton Iron & Metal site in the 1100 block of Bushkill Drive.

What VM Development is proposing for the site, partner Gretchen Rice told council, is 25,800 square feet of commercial space along with at least 150 new residential units, expected to bring in 175 to 200 new residents. Also key to the plan is the connection to the 2.5-mile Karl Stirner Arts Trail and to the nearby Simon Silk Mill, which VM Development redeveloped to offer 170 apartments and 30-plus commercial businesses.

Rice did not disclose an estimated cost for the project, which doesn’t yet have a name. The city still has some environmental remediation at the site to do, but Rice said VM Development hopes it could break ground on the project within two years.

Easton issued a request for proposal for the site in April and received “two inspired proposals,” said Jim Toia, a Lafayette College instructor and executive director and curator of the Karl Stirner Arts Trail who led the committee that reviewed and ranked the proposals for the Iron & Metal site.

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The committee’s recommendation of VM Development will now be reviewed by City Council, which chooses the final developer. That could happen as soon as council’s Sept. 22 meeting.

“This is the start of the process, not the end of the process,” Easton Mayor Sal Panto Jr. said.

Also at Tuesday’s meeting, a separate committee that reviewed proposals to redevelop the Pine Street parking garage announced its recommendation of City Center Investment Corp. City Center, which is downtown Allentown’s largest developer, is planning to demolish the Pine Street garage to make way for a $70 million mixed-use development with 274 apartments, 6,192 square feet of first-floor retail storefronts along Third Street and a 302-space parking deck to serve residents and the public.

The Iron & Metal site includes 1100, 1111 and 1164 Bushkill Drive, totaling about 15 acres, of which about 6 acres is appropriate for development, according to the RFP the city issued. The document said the city was looking for a “dense, mixed-use development” and one that also promoted “an expansion of arts and environmental education, desirable economic development and increased private investment in the Bushkill Corridor, and an integration of the project into the regional trail system.”

The city’s Redevelopment Authority purchased the property in late 2019 for $700,000, according to property records. The property has been vacant since 2016 when the former owner, Jacob Stein of Forks Township, died.

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VM Development’s presentation Tuesday showed the site broken into a north property and a south property.

The north property would include about 100 residential units with commercial space and parking on the first floor. The south property would have about 50 residential units.

When asked about rent pricing, Rice mentioned the Simon Silk Mill, where there are no vacancies and rents range from $1,250 to $2,000 a month.

“The rental market is extremely strong here in Easton,” she said.

Rice also said VM is expecting the project to create 35 permanent jobs and generate $500,000 in real estate tax revenue annually.

As for a project name?

Rice said the developer is working on it, hoping to think of something that plays on the history of the site.

Morning Call reporter Jon Harris can be reached at 484-280-2866 or at jon.harris@mcall.com.

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