The completion of the Williams Arts Campus and William C. Buck Hall at the base of College Hill is a crucial step in the Bushkill Corridor project, officials said. This project, established through a public/private partnership, spurred the creation of an arts trail along the Bushkill Creek, which links to the new live/work community at the Simon Silk Mill as well as the new arts campus and Buck Hall at 223 N. Third St.
Lafayette’s latest construction projects, including the 18,000-square-foot Buck Hall, the Ahart Family Arts Plaza and the 248 Building (for film and media studies) across the street represent a $20 million investment, according to college officials.
Buck Hall, which includes a 180-seat cinema, supports the college’s programs in film and media studies, said Alison Byerly, president of Lafayette College.
The project includes two interconnected buildings. One is a screening room and the other a black box theater with Lafayette’s name on the side, facing Route 22.
In addition to the theater and screening room, the project includes a light well in the glass-enclosed lobby that lets natural light flow to the arts walk below.
KSS Architects of Philadelphia designed the buildings, and Whiting-Turner of South Whitehall Township constructed Buck Hall.
Lafayette’s Williams Arts Campus began with the Williams Visual Arts Building, an art gallery and studio complex next to Buck Hall, which opened in 2001.
“Our revitalization is directly tied to Lafayette College,” said Easton Mayor Sal Panto. “I appreciate these efforts to move the college and the city forward.”
A stable, healthy and vibrant Easton is important to Lafayette to help it keep and attract students and staff, said state Rep. Bob Freeman.
Officials also touted the benefits the arts bring to economic growth, particularly for Easton.
“If the city declines, it can pull an entire region down,” Freeman said. “We realized with the entire revitalization in Easton, arts played a very critical role. It makes Easton a destination.
“America as a culture sometimes forgets the arts. It makes us have a series of amenities to make us a very desirable place to live and do business in.”
A FOCAL POINT IN EASTON
Robin Wiessmann, Pennsylvania Secretary of Banking and Securities and 1975 Lafayette graduate, said she has witnessed a lot of developments at her alma mater and said colleges are wonderful economic drivers for the city and the state.
“Cities are a confluence of many entities, including arts … entertainment,” Wiessmann said. “This will become a focal point for all of that. It’s really the confluence that brings everything together as a community, having the vibrancy of all the elements. We think of the arts as a luxury, but they are essential.”
She also spoke of the spillover effects a project such as Buck Hall will bring, including business, including those in the wedding and catering fields.
“The changes I’ve experienced over the years are incredible,” Wiessmann said. “It’s a microcosm of what’s going on in the larger cities.”
SILK MILL REDEVELOPMENT
In 2004, the city split a $9 million grant it received from then-Gov. Ed Rendell with the college and the Easton Redevelopment Authority, according to officials. This grant helped pay for the purchase of the Simon Silk Mill, which is undergoing a massive redevelopment.
“Many believed the Bushkill Corridor wouldn’t be a reality,” Panto said. “The western end, which is the Silk Mill, connects [to it]. The first commercial tenant moved in today. It represents a more than $70 million project.”
Jennifer Kelly, assistant professor of music and director of choral studies at Lafayette College, said this latest project shows the college has a strong commitment to the arts.
“The fact that we expanded the Williams Arts Campus shows Lafayette is dedicated to the arts,” Kelly said. “We are about helping our students grow. We want them to be really bold and passionate and take risks.”