Whatever the level of success enjoyed by
's future hockey arena, the new authority that will oversee the project is likely to create at least one job — executive director.
State Sen. Pat Browne, the architect of legislation that created the 130-acre Neighborhood Improvement Zone to help finance arena construction, said the nine-member authority would benefit from paid staff to market the zone's benefits and attract new business.
"An argument can be made given the timeline for this, the amount of cash flow going through it, that having someone charged for this purpose has some merit," Browne said.
The authority could tap personnel in the city's Department of Community and Economic Development, Browne said, but ideally a staff of one or two people could be financed by a contribution from developers undertaking projects in the zone. No city tax dollars would be involved.
"If someone is going to put their capital investment in this, I believe they would want someone who is out there selling it, so the value of their investment will naturally go up," Browne said.
It will likely be a decision left up to the authority, which is expected to be created next month by City Council in time to issue bonds to finance construction in the first quarter of 2012, he said.
Allentown Community and Economic Development Director Sara Hailstone said her staff stands ready and willing if needed. "If the authority has work that needs staff assistance, the city staff is prepared to do the work," she said.
City officials are racing to have the $100-million-plus, 8,500-seat arena completed in time for the start of the 2013
season. The Philadelphia Flyers' top minor league affiliate, the
, will play there.
Officials are also hoping to build a convention center and entice hundreds of millions of dollars in private development to the zone in the next 15 years. One company, City Center Investments, led by developer J.B. Reilly, already has begun buying up land in the zone for construction of a $60 million office/retail complex.
The Neighborhood Improvement Zone offers developers a powerful incentive: the ability to capture all state and local taxes, excluding property taxes, generated by their tenants and to use those tax dollars to cover construction loan payments.
If a developer secured a tenant with a $1 million payroll to occupy a proposed office building, for example, it would get $43,000 a year to put toward loan payments solely from the state and local income taxes levied on the company's employees.
Browne said paid authority staff would be instrumental in attracting development to the Lehigh riverfront, which makes up about two-thirds of the zone.
The new authority, which Browne said will be known as the Neighborhood Improvement Zone Development Authority, is expected to be created at the same time a mutually approved list of nominees would be submitted by Browne, state Rep. Jennifer Mann and Mayor
All must be either residents of the city or people with significant business interests there, Browne said.
It will serve as the gatekeeper, determining which developers' proposals merit Neighborhood Improvement Zone financing.
The authority is expected to take over in January for the Allentown Commercial and Industrial Development Authority, which got the project off the ground by securing preliminary financing, acquiring property and signing deals with an arena developer and the Phantoms' ownership.
Pawlowski did not return calls seeking comment.