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Does a strong urban core help surrounding communities?

Published On: May 15 2012 07:00:00 PM CDT
Updated On: May 17 2012 10:16:14 AM CDT

Job-generating juggernaut or multi-million dollar money pit?

ALLENTOWN, Pa. -

Job-generating juggernaut or multi-million dollar money pit? Depending on who you ask, you'll get two very different takes on Allentown's downtown hockey arena. But who's right?

The arena has gotten plenty of attention over the past few months, but its roots partly lie in a report from eight years ago.

"The more the city of Allentown thrives, the more the Lehigh Valley thrives," said Chris Hager with the Urban Land Institute, the advocacy group whose 2004 study recommended a "multi-use" entertainment facility downtown.

Now, nearly a decade later, the arena is on hold -- embroiled in legal battles over whether the suburbs should help pay for it.

"Allentown is a city, and it's their responsibility if they want to do it," said former Northampton Co. Executive Bill Brackbill, who said he supports the arena but not the plan to use suburban income tax money to fund it.

Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski believes the arena will be a job-generating machine -- not just in the Queen City, but far beyond the city limits.

Hager thinks he's right.

He said, young, educated workers are demanding exciting downtowns, and the good-paying jobs are following them to regions that have them.

"They want arts, they want culture, they want amenities, they want to be able to walk," he said. "They want to be able to walk to work."

But not everyone is sold. In a recent opinion piece in the Express-Times newspaper, Brackbill noted: "In the last 10 years, the Lehigh Valley has seen economic growth in spite of Allentown’s decline."

69 News asked him, "Does the Lehigh Valley as a whole need Allentown to succeed?"

"I'm not sure if that's the case," he replied.

But Hager believes a fun, safe downtown will even attract new companies to the suburbs.

"New York -- that region thrives on a very successful urban core of New York," he said. "It's tough to argue that the New York metroplitan region would be better off if New York was a down-and-out city."

The question is, even if the arena does benefit everybody, how much are the suburbs willing to pay for it?

Pawlowski will be stopping by 69 News at Sunrise Thursday morning to discuss the ongoing feud over the Neighborhood Improvement Zone, the taxing district that's helping to fund the arena. The mayor will appear during the 7:00 hour.

If you have any questions for the mayor about the NIZ, you can e-mail us at news@wfmz.com, or post your question on our Facebook page.