By the start of 2012, a nine-member board is expected to replace the Allentown Commercial and Industrial Development Authority as the group in charge of building Allentown's hockey arena and driving development in the surrounding Neighborhood Improvement Zone.
The move would create a dedicated public oversight panel for a rapidly growing endeavor likely to involve hundreds of millions of dollars in new construction that will be financed by tapping state and local non-property tax revenues collected within the 130-acre downtown zone.
Members of the new authority will be formally nominated by Mayor Ed Pawlowski — with input from Democratic state Rep. Jennifer Mann and Republican state Sen. Pat Browne, whose legislative districts include the arena —council Vice President Michael Schlossberg said. City Council would confirm the appointees.
Each of the three elected officials would get three nominees, said Councilwoman Jeanette Eichenwald, although council President Pete Schweyer said Browne and Mann's role in the nomination process might not be that cut and dried.
"Maybe it will bring a little bit more transparency when you have the power diffused and no longer under the auspices of ACIDA," Eichenwald said.
City spokesman Mike Moore said the administration supports creation of the new authority but that "nuts and bolts of the eventual legislation [creating the authority] have not been finalized for introduction to City Council." A vote is expected next month, council members said.
The $100 million-plus, 8,500-seat arena project is being managed by the five-member Allentown Commercial and Industrial Development Authority. It was selected to handle the project last year by city officials and members of Allentown's arena development team because it met criteria laid out in the state legislation creating the zone.
ACIDA, whose five members were either appointed or reappointed by Pawlowski, took out a $35 million credit line this summer to cover startup costs such as design, land acquisition and demolition.
The authority last month selected three firms — Janney Montgomery Scott, Citi Global Markets and Ramirez Co. — to float bonds that will be used to pay off the credit line and build the arena, which will be home to the Philadelphia Flyers' minor league affiliate, the Phantoms.
The new authority would oversee the expenditure of that money, Schlossberg said.
"I think we do have to get [the new authority] up and running by the end of this year because this is where the bond money will start flowing through," Schlossberg said.
Critics have complained the city has not done enough to publicize ACIDA's role in the project or provide information about its decisions. "I hope the people who join this authority will understand that part of their mandate will be to be more transparent," Eichenwald said.
The new arena board should include individuals with expertise in construction, development and entertainment, and who reflect the ethnic and racial makeup of the surrounding neighborhood, one of the city's poorest, Schlossberg said.
"I think there should be someone representing not only the neighborhood but of Hispanic heritage on the board," City Councilman Julio Guridy said.
Guridy said the board will need members who can go into the surrounding community, which is heavily Latino, and do a credible job of explaining the plans and listening to neighbors.
Schweyer said he plans to introduce companion legislation that will require the new arena authority to abide by certain public disclosure rules and to provide council with an annual report on its activities.
In what could be one of its final decisions involving the arena, ACIDA voted 5-0 Tuesday to approve the final version of a 100-plus page, 29-year lease with the hockey team owners: BDH Development Corp. LLC. The lease was not available for board review, but solicitor Jerome Frank told members it was substantially the same as the agreement they had been discussing for months in closed executive sessions.
"It is a bit unusual to not have a document to hand to you, but we candidly don't because it still needs some revisions," Frank told the board. "Time is of the essence and that is why we are asking you to basically make the approval based on the conversations we have had."
The lease — which guarantees rent payments plus improvement zone tax revenues will cover arena construction loan payments — will become a public document once it is signed by both parties, he said.
Mann and Browne did not return phone calls seeking comment Tuesday.
It was not clear Tuesday whether the authority would have paid staff.
ACIDA Executive Director Scott Unger said he expects the authority to hand over all of its arena and Neighborhood Improvement Zone-related duties to the new authority and to go back to fostering redevelopment projects that bring new jobs to vacant or underutilized city properties. He could not say who would serve as the new authority's executive director.
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