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Another 'no' for the NIZ: So what now?

By John Craven, Reporter, JCraven@wfmz.com
Published On: May 22 2012 03:05:56 PM CDT
Updated On: May 22 2012 04:18:27 PM CDT

Is the arena on ice? Opposition to Allentown's controversial hockey arena shows no sign of thawing.

BETHLEHEM TWP., Pa. -

Is the arena on ice? Opposition to Allentown's controversial hockey arena shows no sign of thawing, and after a crucial vote Monday night, hopes are dimming fast to get the project back on track anytime soon.

So now what?

Mayor Ed Pawlowski, D-Allentown, has desperately tried to avoid it, but it now appears almost certain this issue will either be settled at the state Capitol or in a courtroom.

Tuesday night, Bethlehem Twp., Northampton Co., commissioners rejected a deal to end their lawsuit dogging Allentown's $220 million hockey arena. Roughly a dozen other suburban municipalities are also part of the suit. Two other communities, and a private developer, have filed their own legal challenges.

Because of the lawsuits, construction is already delayed more than a month.

Monday night's vote was a devastating blow to Pawlowski's hopes of finally getting the hole downtown filled in. It was also a blow to union workers ready to get to work.

"Every day I hear from people in my Local, you know, who have nothing," said Francis Loughney with the United Brotherhood of Carpenters. "The unemployment is gone. The extensions are gone."

Many of Allentown's neighbors don't want their suburban tax dollars paying for a city arena. Their lawsuit claims the state law that captures some of their income tax is unconstitutional.

Pawlowski has offered to give suburbs their tax money back, plus a share of developers' fees, but the Bethlehem Township commissioners said they will only drop the lawsuit if state lawmakers rewrite the arena law itself. Otherwise, they believe any settlement could be struck down in court.

"We think to go down a road which attempts to circumvent the state act is going to be -- is doomed," said township attorney Jim Broughal.

Pa. Sen. Pat Browne, R-Lehigh Co., wrote the arena law in 2009. So far, he's resisted calls to amend it. Browne did not return phone calls Tuesday asking if his position has now changed.

Pawlowski's spokesman had no comment Tuesday, but in a written statement, the mayor said the city remains at the bargaining table.

"We continue to be committed to doing whatever possible to resolve this litigation and welcome continued negotiation," he said. "This project is too important for Allentown and the entire Lehigh Valley region to allow protracted litigation in the court system to delay it."

Residents have mixed opinions about whether it's time to bury the hatchet and settle.

"This is a huge, huge deal for us as the Lehigh Valley -- especially for Allentown," said Bethlehem Township teacher Faye North. "It will devastate that city if they have to go under after all the money already spent."

Others applauded the commissioners' stance.

"Keep the lawsuit going, keep their feet to the fire," said resident Barry Roth. "Let them prove their point, because I think they're jerking [a] chain around everybody."

Tuesday night, another community spearheading the arena legal challenge will weigh in. Hanover Twp., Northampton Co., supervisors plan to publicly address the lawsuit for the first time at their 7 p.m. meeting. Watch 69 News at 10:00 for the latest.

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