Development, trails addressed at State of Region luncheon
Green space, development and a football player were the main topics of conversation at the State of the Region luncheon, held Valentine’s Day and hosted by Whitehall Area Chamber of Commerce.
The luncheon at Fellowship Community featured a panel, made up of Michael Harakal Jr., mayor of Whitehall Township; Bill Molchany, mayor of North Catasauqua Borough; Steve Travers, manager of Catasauqua Borough; and Steve Burker, council member of Coplay Borough, talking about the accomplishments of each community over the past year, as well as plans for the upcoming year.
Burker called 2018 a steppingstone for Coplay in part because of the national attention brought to the borough by Saquon Barkley, a longtime Coplay resident and 2015 Whitehall High School graduate, who is now an NFL running back for the New York Giants.
“Every media outlet came to Coplay and saw what a great town it is and enjoyed our hospitality,” Burker said. “We want to build off that.”
Burker said this coming year will include the renovation of Saylor Park, a 2.6-acre span that is home to the historic cement kilns. He said the cost was steep — estimated at $1.4 million — but with the help of grant money and volunteer work from the local carpenters union, the borough plans to break ground on the project in the spring.
“This is going to be a big plan for us,” Burker said. “We are the ‘little town that could.’”
He also said Coplay is celebrating its 150th anniversary, which will kick off with a gala April 6. He said a parade will be held May 18 and “a whole summer of events” is planned.
Travers reported that, after opening the new Catasauqua municipal complex at 90 Bridge St. on the Iron Works property, the borough is ready for phase two of development on the 11-acre site that would include retail, commercial and residential projects, infrastructure improvements and efforts to redevelop historical buildings.
“It’s a very beautiful area,” he said. “It will really change the face of Catasauqua.”
He said the borough also plans to work to complete the Delaware and Lehigh National Corridor trail (D&L trail) through Catasauqua, known as THE LINK Trail Network.
Travers reported another improvement is that all borough police officers will soon have body cameras.
“They are very effective,” he said. “They will protect us from potential lawsuits.”
Molchany said North Catasauqua is excited about a new housing development on the Willowbrook golf course site, which he said will lock the tiny borough in as a residential community.
He said the borough also has been able to hold the line on raising taxes.
Molchany said another exciting initiative is working with Northampton Borough and Wildlands Conservancy, of Emmaus, to complete a section of the D&L trail connecting Northampton and North Catasauqua along the Lehigh River as part of THE LINK. He said part of the plan will include building a fishing pier on the trail by 2020.
A major accomplishment in Whitehall Township is the approval of the $17.5 million renovation and construction of an emergency services complex, Harakal said.
He noted the proposed 29,000-square-foot police station and complex, at the site of the current municipal headquarters on 3219 MacArthur Road, will be able to house 50 police officers.
“We are planning for the future,” Harakal said. “There is talk of a regional police force, and with this, we will have one of the facilities that could hold those police officers.”
Harakal also said this is the eighth year the township has not raised real estate taxes.
“The vibrancy and pride in the community is noteworthy,” Harakal said. “Whitehall is much more than traffic and retail.”
He said some of the recent improvements include new homes in Egypt, upgrades on eight township playgrounds, a new senior center and an expansion of Camp Whitehall to include a nature camp for middle and high school students.
Harakal said the township also has the goal of completing the D&L trail, which he said would connect North Whitehall, Whitehall and Coplay and also would tie into the Ironton Rail Trail. The goal of THE LINK is to connect trails all throughout the Lehigh Valley.
“The trail isn’t quite there yet, but we’re getting there,” he said.
He said the township is actively trying to “solve the problem” of the Lehigh Valley Dairy site sitting dormant. He said he hopes to see that site filled soon.
Harakal praised the township’s strong retail center that continues to grow despite competition from online retailers like Amazon.
“Retail is a vibrant part of our community,” he said. “Lehigh Valley Mall is the keystone of our retail center, and there is new development constantly.”
Harakal said Dave & Buster’s, a popular family-friendly chain that features a sports bar-style setting and arcade games, will be breaking ground within the next few months. He said the new eatery will be on the site of the Friendly’s and Wendy’s restaurants, both of which will be torn down. Friendly’s closed in December, and Wendy’s has moved to a new site at 2741 MacArthur Road.
He also touted plans for a Harley-Davidson dealership to open at the intersection of MacArthur and Eberhardt roads.