Allentown plans public meetings on arena project

AllentownEd PawlowskiLehigh Valley PhantomsMergers, Acquisitions and Takeovers

More than eight months after announcing plans to build a downtown hockey arena, Allentown officials will hold a series of public meetings to explain the project to city residents.

The announcement came Wednesday night after a closed-door executive session that included City Council, Mayor Ed Pawlowski and members of his administration, and at least one representative of Madison, Wis.-based arena developer Hammes Company Sports Development.

"We are going to be making calls tomorrow to start scheduling meetings with the public in the month of November," Community and Economic Development Director Sara Hailstone told council during the public portion of the meeting. "We will be having meetings that are open houses throughout the city."

Dates and times will be announced when the meetings are scheduled.

City Council voted in May to authorize the city to use eminent domain if necessary to acquire 34 properties in the footprint of the arena, but the other major decisions have been made by the lesser-known Allentown Commercial and Industrial Development Authority.

The authority has borrowed $35 million to pay for start-up expenses and drawn up the boundaries of a 130-acre tax financing zone to cover construction costs on an 8,500-seat arena for the minor league Phantoms, the Philadelphia Flyers' top affiliate. The arena is expected to cost upward of $100 million.

After the meeting, council members said Hammes and Pawlowski had proposed a community relations plan that would have delayed public meetings on the arena in favor of rolling the plan out first to community and civic groups.

Council members demanded the public meetings be held first, said Councilman Ray O'Connell, who ripped the administration at council's Oct. 5 meeting for failing to keep the public involved.

"Had council not screamed and yelled, it would not have happened," said Councilwoman Jeanette Eichenwald.

Council members have complained for months that the city needed to do a better job of keeping the public informed.

Hailstone said the administration has always planned to hold public meetings on the arena plans, but wanted to make sure it had enough information to share. She said officials also want to give the public a chance to comment on the plans.

"Better late than never," Councilman Michael Schlossberg said after the meeting.

scott.kraus@mcall.com

610-820-6745

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