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Corbett wants out of hockey arena lawsuit

By John Craven, Reporter, JCraven@wfmz.com
Published On: May 29 2012 10:12:46 AM CDT
Updated On: May 29 2012 04:25:18 PM CDT

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett wants out of the Allentown hockey arena lawsuit, but in new court filings, he dodged the real question: does he even think the arena project is legal?

HARRISBURG, Pa. -

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett wants out of the Allentown hockey arena lawsuit, but in new court filings, he dodged the real question: does he even think the arena project is legal?

By now, you should see a building going up in center city Allentown, a gleaming new hockey arena said to be the answer to the downtown's prayers.

Instead, there's a hole, as lawsuits continue looming over the $220 million project. Nearly 20 of Allentown's suburban municipalities are suing because some of their tax money is being used to build it. Just how much money is not yet clear, but the city of Allentown has said it will release those figures soon.

Now, the state is finally weighing in. Sort of.

In a legal response, Corbett asked the Commonwealth Court to drop him and the Department of Revenue from the suit. The filing claims both parties have nothing to do with collecting local taxes -- only state taxes.

The filing also claims the commonwealth of Pennsylvania should be dropped because of sovereign immunity. It does, however, say the state treasurer should remain part of the lawsuit.

Instead, the governor said opponents should be going after ANIZDA, the new city authority in charge of the project.

"The Allentown NIZ Development Authority is the most important governmental entity involved in the statute," said Corbett spokesman Eric Shirk. "The authority must be a party for the case to proceed."

What the governor isn't saying is what everybody's really wondering: Does he even think the arena project -- and the Neighborhood Improvement Zone paying for it -- is even legal?

"Because of the litigation, I can't comment further," said Shirk.

Developer Abe Atiyeh, who is also suing, said he thinks the governor is "dancing around the issue." Atiyeh referred further questions to his attorney, who did not return a call for comment.

In a separate filing, the governor's office claims Atiyeh lacks legal standing to sue.

69 News left messages for every attorney involved in the case Tuesday; none returned calls for comment.

A spokesman for Mayor Ed Pawlowski, D-Allentown, also had no comment Tuesday.

Hanover Twp., Northampton Co., is the lead plaintiff in the arena lawsuit.

"Hanover Twp. will be responding to the preliminary objections in the prescribed time frame," said Jay Finnigan, township manager. "This is one of the usual steps these types of cases take in its normal course."

Late Tuesday, the city of Allentown filed paperwork asking to join the arena lawsuit as a defendant. It also wants the two city authorities related to the arena added.

In its filing, the city also asked the court to dismiss the arena lawsuit altogether because opponents never sued the city in the first place.

None of the attorneys involved in this case returned calls for comment Tuesday.

Pa. Sen. Pat Browne, R-Lehigh Co., said the state's response is a "standard objection," and he also believes that ANIZDA should be added to the lawsuit.