Coca-Cola Park upgrades get $0 from Allentown City Council
ALLENTOWN, Pa. – Allentown City Council threw the Lehigh Valley IronPigs a curveball Wednesday night when, after months of discussion, the board voted to contribute not one penny to the upgrades needed for the minor league baseball team’s Coca-Cola Park.
Those in support of the effort went down swinging.
“I know it seems like an alien concept,” Councilmember Josh Siegel said before the vote. “I know it seems like we are asking ourselves to put economic development before children and before families.
- Allentown's City Council denied a $1.5 million request to provide American Rescue Plan Act funds to the Lehigh Valley IronPigs
- The IronPigs need to make $9.5 million in improvements to Coca-Cola Park by next season or it will risk losing MLB affiliation
- This move means the IronPigs could potentially leave the region
“But that’s actually the complete opposite," Siegel continued. "By shutting the door on an asset like this, we are making it harder for the City of Allentown to be competitive economically."
“Ultimately, at the end of the day, we are going to be looking back, in a year and a half from now, and the IronPigs may be closing up shop -- as the Phillies win a World Series -- and, we are going to be a council and an administration that lost the IronPigs,” the Councilmember added.
But the prevailing opinion in the room, both from the majority of the council and from several in the audience who took a moment to speak, was that the funds from which the IronPigs contribution would be pulled -- Allentown’s $57 million in coronavirus American Rescue Plan Act funds -- was not an appropriate use of the money.
Councilmember Ce-Ce Gerlach led the push to change the minor league team’s requested $1.5 million to $0.
“The question at hand is not whether or not we are baseball fans or believe that the IronPigs is an asset,” Gerlach said. “The question at hand is ‘Who owns the stadium?’ The county owns the stadium.”
Gerlach noted the county recently granted the minor league team up to $3 million for a number of upgrades to Coca-Cola Park. The team has to make $9.5 million in stadium upgrades by the start of next season or it will risk losing its MLB affiliation.
Yet Gerlach pointed to other societal ills -- such as gun violence and homelessness -- as more critical uses of the ARPA funds.
“It’s a county-owned stadium and that’s it. Thank you,” she said, explaining her stance.
“Is the legacy of this city, this committee, going to be the loss of the triple-A Phillies?”IronPigs Co-Owner Joe Finley
Allentown Mayor Matt Tuerk and IronPigs Co-owner Joe Finley both spoke before the council voted on the topic, each hoping to sway council members but to no avail.
Tuerk argued that the city shouldn’t be at odds with the county when it comes to the IronPigs.
“That park is, in fact, in the City of Allentown,” the mayor said. “There are $125,000, approximately, annually of taxes generated from activities at Coca-Cola Park and there has been for the 14 years that the team has occupied the park.
He continued, “which, simple math, 14 by 125,000 is about $1.75 million of revenue that has come to the City of Allentown at no cost to us. The city has yet to invest in the facility.”
Finley, who was also a co-owner of the now-shuttered Trenton Thunder minor league baseball team, said that what had happened to his former team could happen again.
“Is the legacy of this city, this committee, going to be the loss of the triple-A Phillies?” Finley said.
But for Councilmember Candida Affa, the decision to cut the funds from the baseball team would leave ARPA funds for other needs. And she said the team should also ask other municipalities for money.
“When it comes to our community, we need to take care of ourselves,” Affa said. “We need infrastructure. We need homeless [support]. We need police officers. I think this ARPA money should be spent on us, the taxpayers.”
In the end, the council voted 4-3 to not provide the team any money.
Also at Wednesday’s meeting, the council cut down a bill that would have provided $1.5 million in ARPA funding to the Da Vinci Science Center to help fund a science museum that is currently under construction along Hamilton Street.
Instead, Allentown will contribute $1 million to that project.