Dec 30, 2011

Allentown Arena Pain

Sometimes it's apparent from the start that something isn't a good plan, and the Arena is one of them. The lease terms, coaxed from the City by a Morning Call right to know order*, indicate that the Arena was oversold, to both the City Council and the taxpayers. This past fall, Mayor Pawlowski told Council that the venue would attract 1.5 million people and be open almost every night of the year. The cost was estimated to be $80-$100 million. The new figures, printed in The Morning Call, disclose a much different reality. The arena will cost $158 million, almost double the first projection. It will attract 400,000 people, less than a third promised. It will be open only 120 nights a year, almost guaranteeing failure. Considering that there are 40 home hockey games, that means the facility hopes to hold 80 other events a year, attracting about 200,000 people. The lease terms reveal that although the cream off the top will go the tenant, The Brooks Company, the taxpayers will finance this white elephant. Already the merchants on the south side of Hamilton Street have learned that when there's no people across the street, their business plummeted. Their predicament will only worsen. Arena supporters call this blog negativity. They place their bets on the NIZ producing spinoff enterprise. They suffer from institutional amnesia. Fifteen years ago Allentown had two new buildings at 7th and Hamilton, neither of which attracted tenants. One fell into a sinkhole, the other is now County owned. Since Allentown real estate taxes can be used to support any shortcoming in this public/private project, it's truly a yoke around the taxpayer's shoulders.
* court order and new figures by Scott Kraus
diagnosis of taxpayer pain by Dr. molovinsky

Dec 29, 2011

South Allentown's Sorrow

When I was a little boy, and before the 15th Street Bridge was built, Schreibers Bridge was already over 100 years old. It was one of the few ways that South Allentown connected with the remainder of the city. Through neglect by the City, the burden once again falls on the old bridge. Ironically, Schreibers itself is scheduled for repairs and under weight restriction. Now, because of the north bound closure of the 15th St. Bridge, there is almost a constant line of cars waiting to drive over this historical structure, built in 1828. When the 15th St. Bridge is completely closed and being replaced, the burden on Schreibers will double. The metal 15th Street Bridge deteriorated for lack of simple painting. As residents noticed the top railings turn from green to pure rust, the same erosion was occurring on the structural beams below. Although the City finally painted the top railings and placed City Without Limits banners on the light-posts, the bridge was lost. As this and previous Administrations pursued a ribbon cutting Arena, our infrastructure and public safety was sacrificed. Soon, even our history will be gone.

Dec 28, 2011

Allentown 1950

Sixty years ago downtown Allentown hummed. It was fueled by the vision of people who developed empires, not cookie cutter ideas from the National Magazines for Bureaucrats, like the arena. Shown here is the Transit Office and depot at the side of 8th and Hamilton. General Trexler had been a principle in the Trolley Company, which also built the 8th Street Bridge, to connect Allentown with points south, all the way to Philadelphia. In addition to being the terminal for the Philadelphia bound Liberty Bell, it also fed the merchants of Allentown with thousands of shoppers from its many Allentown routes. The shoppers now sit on the cold steel benches at the Lanta Detention Center on 7th Street, as the non-visionaries prepare to demolish the center of town, to build a monstrosity.

The light and shadows reveal that this is an early morning photo. In a few hours 8th and Hamilton (behind the trolley) would be clogged with shoppers

Dec 27, 2011

The Allentown Arena and Crime

The recent spate of violence in Allentown begs the question, how will crime effect the success of the Arena project? The damaging factor is the perception of crime, which has it's own lingering consequences. The hockey games will succeed, but the spinoff business will never materialize. The fans will scurry back to their inconvenient parking places, and clog N. 8th street as they flee the city for the safety of Catasauqua. Although the BrewPub may pick up a few customers, Sangria and other high end places will wither. Anybody foolish enough to open an upscale shop will be hard pressed to honor their lease. Speaking of crime, when The Morning Call steals this topic, they will expand it into a 3,000 word article. Despite the photographs, charts and graphs they will add, plus a quote or two from college professors, the answer will remain the same. Although this post is meant as an opportunity for readers to address the crime question, I will host no comments on any specific crime. They are tragedies, which leave grieving families.

Dec 26, 2011

A Jewish Christmas Card

Most Jews experience some conflict during the Christmas Season. This is essentially a Christian nation, and to totally ignore that reality could be perceived as rude. Although Abe Simon proudly wore the Star of David on his boxing trunks in NYC, he also sent out Christmas cards to his non-Jewish associates. Simon, in 1942, was the last Jew to fight for the Heavyweight Championship of the World.

reprinted from December, 2009

Dec 25, 2011

Santa and Lanta

In 1962, you could visit Santa at the Fairview Bus Yard, off Lehigh Street in Allentown. During the holiday season he could also be seen riding on the various bus routes. molovinsky on allentown wishes you a joyous holiday.

Dec 24, 2011

Capernaum By The Sea

Matthew 4:13: And leaving Nazareth, he came and dwelt in Capernaum,...

Capernaum, the city of Jesus, is on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee. The foundation of the Synagogue of Jesus, is beneath the ornate 4th century synagogue, partially restored by the Franciscans in the early 1900's.
Mark 1:21: he entered into the synagogue and taught
Nearby, the modern Church of St. Peter's House was built by the Franciscans in 1990. It's glass floor reveals the lower walls of the 5th century octagon church, which was built around the walls of St. Peter's House. Also there, shown in the photograph, is the Greek Orthodox Church of the Twelve Apostles. It was built in 1931, during the British Mandate period (1917-1948).

reprinted from November, 2010

Dec 23, 2011

Christmas Lights, Musikfest Food and Traitors

Congratulations to Bill White and The Morning Call for Bill having written on something different. The paper celebrated Bill's new topic, the first in fifteen years, by placing his column on the front page with a different color background. White said it was exhausting, and is looking forward to a prolonged vocation, during which time repeats of rehashed columns will appear. His new theme, Traitors, deals with local representatives who voted for the redistricting. Never mind the vote was 136 to 61, and their votes didn't matter anyway. Bill promises us that he will revisit this topic every election, and for us captured readers, that's a good thing; It will force him to know at least who is running for office.

Dec 22, 2011

The Morning Call Tag Team

If Allentown City Hall was interested in saving the taxpayers money, they could lay off the City Spokesman. He can do no better job promoting the Arena and it's financing scheme, the NIZ, than The Morning Call reporters, Matt Assad and Scott Kraus. Assad and Kraus, separately and as a team, have been promoting the project since the first article. Today's edition, by Assad, working the ring alone, once again reads like a public relations release. Between the lines, we learn that J.B. Reilly will be asking the Arena Authority to increase his $20million dollar loan, so that he can build his office center sooner. As recently as yesterday, Pawlowski had said that it would be built along with the arena and open by 2013. Another reporter might wonder why he's back to the well already. Another reporter might mention that the fence has taken up half the existing parking spaces in the area. Instead, for balance, they once again use the line, Like chairs on the Titanic, referring to businesses just moving here from somewhere else in the valley. The tag team has used that line no less than six times already. Although even mild skepticism would question whether thousands of jobs will really materialize, center city is being torn down with no scrutiny from the press.

Dec 20, 2011

Hanukkah At 7th & Hamilton

As the Allentown Fire Truck lifted Mayor Pawlowski and Rabbi Halperin up to light the oversized Hanukkah Menorah, the ritual was being repeated in 1,000 cities. Although Jews have always lit a small menorah in the privacy of their homes, community menorahs are the handiwork of a relatively small Jewish group. The Chabad Lubavitch Hasidic Dynasty started 250 years ago, in Russia and eastern Europe. Their last Rebbe*, Menachen M. Schneerson, transformed the sect into an outreach mission to Jews everywhere. The Rebbe, their 7th leader, passed away in 1994. Rabbi Halperin is one of 4,000 emissaries he sent throughout the world.
* A Rebbe is a rabbi and leader held in exalted esteem

Urban Safari

Exclusive to molovinsky on allentown; this blogger has learned that along with the golf course concession, the Allentown BrewWorks has received the first franchise to conduct urban safari's in Allentown. The evening excursions will begin and end from the safety of the municipal golf course parking lot, in the deep west end. Although still in the planning stages, sites on the tour will include 9th and Chew, gunfire epicenter of the new Allentown, and a drive-by of Trinkles Cafe. Within the safety of the armored Hummer, guests will visit an actual forensic site, and watch police officers search for shell casings. The guides will tastefully point out probable ladies of the night and merchants of recreational pharmaceuticals. The tour will include stopping in front of the home of an urban pioneer, where actual members of OAPA will wave from behind their windows. With special permission from Lanta, the excursion will drive through the bus yard, showing real passengers waiting on cold steel benches, eating stale donuts. For a VIP tour, actually driven by Mayor Pawlowski himself, contact the special events coordinator at Allentown City Hall or the Allentown BrewWorks. Scott Kraus and Matt Assad of The Morning Call did not contribute to this story.

reprinted from December 28, 2008, updated with the names of the current MC reporters.

Dec 19, 2011

Iannelli's Chamber of Compromise

Say whatever you want about the Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce, but it has nothing to do with businesses in the Three Cities. It is simply a cult of personality; Tony Iannelli, and an occasional social organization for suburban corporations. Perhaps nothing illustrates my point as much as the Vision Meetings held on Hamilton Mall a couple years ago. At the time this blog scoffed, and wrote that Pawlowski could care less about any vision the merchants had. Years ago, when the former director of the Parking Authority misled City Council that the merchants wanted the meter rates to double, Iannelli sent someone to verify the deception. Several years ago when the Hamilton merchants lamented the loss of bus stops, Iannelli couldn't be concerned. Now, as 34 businesses are discarded for the Transformation, Iannelli, sitting in his office in the Butz Building, cannot hear their screams. Pawlowski has just appointed Tony Co-Chair for Allentown's 250th Birthday Celebration; Complicity has it's reward.

Dec 18, 2011

The Historical Hypocrisy of Jennings

From The Archives
Tomorrow as the merchants in the 700 block of Hamilton Street struggle for another day under the new handicap inflicted upon them, the movers and shakers of the Lehigh Valley will gather at the Brewpub to honor Alan Jennings and The Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley. Air Products and Chemicals is sponsoring the luncheon, which will include testimonials on the wide spectrum of CACLV, including The Community Action Development Corp. of Allentown, 443 N 7th St., which endeavors to assist start-up business from low-income and minority populations. I invite Mr. Jennings and the Air Product executives to attend a meeting at 7:00pm thursday evening at Faith Baptist Church, 219 N. 12th St., to honor small business owners, from mostly an minority population, who want or need nothing more than a bus stop.
reproduced from Oct. 16, 2007

UPDATE Dec. 18, 2011. Mr. Jennings never attended the meetings I conducted at Faith Baptist on the Lanta issue, nor did The Morning Call cover the meetings. The bus stop removal has become a moot point, because recently, the merchants themselves were removed. Although Mr. Jennings has since received $millions in grants to aid small business owners, he never did defend the small merchants of Hamilton Street against Lanta or the Arena.

Dec 16, 2011

The Dinosaurs of Sumner Avenue

Up to the early 1950's, Allentown was heated by coal, and much of it came from Sumner Avenue. Sumner was a unique street, because it was served by the West End Branch of the Lehigh Valley Railroad. The spur route ran along Sumner, until it crossed Tilghman at 17th Street, and then looped back East along Liberty Street, ending at 12th. Coal trucks would elevate up, and the coal would be pushed down chutes into the basement coal bins, usually under the front porches of the row houses. Several times a day coal would need to be shoveled into the boiler or furnace. By the early 1970's, although most of the coal yards were closed for over a decade, the machines of that industry still stood on Sumner Avenue. Eventually, they took a short trip to one of the scrap yards which are still on the avenue, but not before I photographed them.

photocredit: molovinsky

Dec 15, 2011

The Capitulation of Alan Jennings

Believe it or not, I haven't always been the statesman I am today. Years ago, this post would have probably been titled The Hypocrisy of a Poverty Pimp. Anyway, putting aside my growing diplomacy, Rite Aid had a surprising ally at the zoning hearing Monday evening. According to The Morning Call's Devon Lash, Alan Jennings, executive director of The community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley, spoke on behalf of Rite Aid's plan; "... (it) will transform a blighted building...bringing jobs downtown, especially with the clock ticking down to demolition for the arena.. There's too much at stake downtown."
Bear in mind this is the same Alan Jennings who turns people into small business owners. He doesn't teach them to fish, he buys them a fish market. He brags that those gifted by his start up business division have a 97% success rate. He even has a division office at 7th and Liberty. Although Jenning's supported Rite Aid (and the Arena) moving forward, this supposed advocate for small business was nowhere to be seen when the former Hamilton Street merchants pleaded to City Council. Where was Alan? Alan was placing his bets. He knows from where the butter on his bread cometh. It doesn't come from the small displaced merchants of Hamilton Street, but from grants distributed by Pawlowski and gifts from large corporations which back his vision for Allentown. So while 34 merchants, who never received a grant or startup from the likes of Jennings, were displaced, their and our tax dollars will be dispensed by Jennings, to make startup Successes, from those who don't have the gumption to do it on their own. How's my diplomacy coming?

Dec 14, 2011

The Morning Call Peeps

Encouraged by the local page editor, Mike Miorelli, The Morning Call reporters continue to lift articles from the blogosphere, and not credit the blogger. The paper's website is featuring the video of the Dieruff High taser incident, as originally reported by Bernie O'Hare on Ramblings. Manny Gomiz says that the paper obtained the video. Actually, they got the story and video from O'Hare, who had obtained it through proper police surveillance channels. Bernie is not upset about the use of his intellectual property, but I'm offended. When material was lifted from my blog last year without proper attribution, Bill White defended the paper's practice. Last fall I inadvertently received an inter-office Morning Call email which described me as "disdainful", I suppose this post will not alter that perception.
UPDATE: NBC Philadelphia has picked up the story. Although they (erroneously) cite The Morning Call with the story, they credit the video to Lehigh Valley Ramblings (Bernie O'Hare)

Dec 13, 2011

Allentown's Transformation Myth

Like the midget on Fantasy Island saying De Plane, De Plane, Pawlowski keeps saying The Plan, The Plan. He even calls The Plan transformational. It's time to inject some reality into this myth. Although a local developer has been buying buildings, he is doing so with a $20million loan from ACIDA, which he can repay using taxes from those buildings. So far, despite projections of thousands of jobs and hundreds of new apartments, one company with one hundred jobs will occupy a slightly remodeled building. As one knowledgeable about the apartment business, let us hope those new apartments never come to be. The City of
Reading, with the same shift in demographics in the last decade, has just been declared the Poorest City in America. This designation occurred despite the Sovereign Event Center, which failed to halt that city's deterioration. Here in Allentown, a local auctioneer is offering one of the new 3 bedroom, 3.5 bathroom townhouses at 8th and Walnut Street starting at $65,000. Just a few years ago those new townhouses, built with subsidies and KOZ, were hyped by Pawlowski to be transformational.

The plane arrives

Dec 12, 2011

No Ageism in Allentown

If Allentown's new freshman City Councilman looks long in the tooth in this Morning Call file photo, you should know that the picture is from his previous campaign, in 1995. Frank Concannon will turn 89 this February. Although he didn't campaign for his victory last month, he has been chewing his food and moving his bowels mostly on his own. Either Allentown is completely free of ageism, or we no longer have a two party system. At least one new member will be appointed by Pawlowski in early 2012, as D'Amore assumes his Magistrate position. The taxpayers will save election costs and time by Pawlowski appointing his Council members.

Dec 11, 2011

Morning Call Filler Article

The Morning Call has written some pretty good articles on the Arena, but not today. In today's article, by Matt Assad and Scott Kraus, they are like baby birds who ate regurgitated worms from mother Pawlowski. The article is the straight Transformation presentation put together by a professional public relations company, and repacked today as a news article. It includes the whole show; New offices, stores and apartments, changing Allentown into a successful Pleasantville. Back in 2005, Pawlowski was selling, what was a baby step compared to this, the Weed and Seed Program. I asked him if he really believed that Weed and Seed would change Allentown. He avoided the straight question, but said "At least it's a strategy." Pawlowski has graduated in the use of public funds. He is enabled by baby birds; In City Council and The Morning Call.

Dec 9, 2011

Lowdown on Butzville

The Morning Call has a story on the Butz building expansion, and the financing to be used. Blogger Bernie O'Hare published an excellent commentary on the behind the scenes. Being an early morning edition, with an office under the streets of Allentown, I can fill in the missing pieces. Bernie muses on the financial cocktail of Butz using both a RACP grant and a NIZ loan. Funny he should say that, because the Sangria Restaurant, in Butz's building, has a cocktail called Your Money; I'll provide the ingredients later. Bernie also wonders how private developers will be able to compete with Butz and his subsidizes? Actually, Butz can't even compete with himself. All his existing tenants are taxpayer subsidized. The large space now occupied by Sangria stood vacate for years. Although the Building was subsidized by KOZ, Butz received a grant of nearly half a $million to outfit the space for Sangria, so that they could move in with no set up cost. The first contrived tenant was the Lehigh Valley Tourist Bureau. Come to 9th and Hamilton and see what? Park where? The second tenant was professional glad hand Tony Iannelli, and his Chamber of Horrors. In fairness to Butz, he did want to originally build from 9th Street to the alley, but the Alliance would not sell at that time.
UPDATE: IN FURTHER FAIRNESS TO BUTZ his existing office building replaced two boarded up buildings, that had little to no prospect for reuse. The existing building was a huge plus for Allentown, and one of the better results of the KOZ legislation. It appears to this blogger that the new Butz addition project is more NIZ loan worthy than the blanket loan given to Reilly.

Dec 8, 2011

Ho, Ho, Ho, Unfit for Habitation

A well kept property with a few Christmas decorations doesn't fool Allentown Code Enforcement. Even the Santa flag couldn't keep the orange Unfit for Human Habitation Notice away. This property, although not on the Bill White Christmas Light Tour, caught the attention of our staff photographer.

all photographs on this blog will enlarge when clicked

Dec 7, 2011

USS Arizona

Built at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, Commissioned in 1916

Modernized in 1929-31 at the Norfolk Navy Yard

Bombed and Sunk on December 7, 1941 in Pearl Harbor, with the loss of over 1100 crewmen

The Greatest Generation

Armed Forces in WW2 were dependent upon the construction speed and skills of the Navy Seabees to move their efforts forward. In December of 1942, the 35th U.S. Naval Construction Battalion embarked for the South Pacific. They would divide into two teams and build airstrips on Espiritu in the New Hebrides and on Banika in the Russell Islands.

After a rehabilitation leave in New Zealand, the battalion returned to Banika before being reassigned to Manus in the Admiralty Islands. They would arrive on Manus shortly after it's capture from the Japanese, and build ammunition dumps, warehouses and The Naval Headquarters. After 24 months in the South Pacific war zone, they would return to San Francisco on Thanksgiving 1944 for leave.

reprinted from May, 2010

Dec 6, 2011


In the city of awe-inspiring sites, the most imposing is The Dome of the Rock. The Dome covers the Rock from which Muslims believe the Prophet Muhammad ascended to Heaven to receive a message from Allah. The Jews believe the rock is the Foundation Stone, from which the world was created. On it, Abraham was prepared to sacrifice Isaac and the Ark of the Covenant stood when the Temple occupied the Mount. The Mount and Temple was enlarged by Herod, during the lifetime of Jesus.

Jews pray at the retaining wall, The Western Wall, which survived the Temple's destruction by the Romans in 70 A.D. The bottom four rows of stones date from Herod, below current street level, there are 17 more layers.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is west of the Temple Mount. The first church was built on the site in the 4th century. Christians believe the church encompasses both the sites; where Jesus was crucified, and also buried and rose from the dead.
reprinted from April, 2010

Dec 5, 2011

The Misconception of Hamilton Street

There's not many mid size cities that can boast having two national chain stores within one center city block, Allentown could. Not too many cities could say that one of those stores was one of the biggest producers in a chain of over 7000 stores, Allentown could. There's not many cities that are ignorant enough to tear down their most successful block, a virtual tax machine, Allentown is. This horrible mistake took a combination of political arrogance and public misconception. The arrogance is well known, so let me concentrate on the misconception. The perception was a few undesirable people, buying cheap things. The reality is Family Dollar sells the same merchandize in their suburban and rural stores. Rite Aid fills the same prescriptions and sells their standard merchandize. The new upscale stores, visioned for the arena front, will never produce the sales tax produced by Family Dollar and Rite Aid. The arena will never have that amount of employees, nor produce that much earned income.* The traffic congestion and lack of parking for arena events will destroy the new restaurants. Welcome to the white elephant, welcome to the ghost town.
Shown above and below is the early morning delivery to Family Dollar, every week of the year.
*sales tax and earned income currently going to city and state will now go to debt service for arena

Dec 4, 2011

Silence of the Lanta

Hannibal Lecter has been offered parole on the condition he restrict his diet to Hamilton Street bus riders. Once a month he will be permitted an Asian merchant; on thanksgiving he may have a preselected blogger. Mr. Lector will be micro-chipped and given a new Hamilton Street loft apartment. He will be monitored by the new surveillance cameras. Mayor Pawlowski and Armand Greco will provide more details at a press conference early next week at the new Lanta Terminal.
reprinted from October 20, 2007
UPDATE: Hannibal wasn't eating those Asians fast enough, they were forced off Hamilton Street by eminent domain in 2011.

Dec 2, 2011

Stacking the Deck

When Donny Cunningham appointed Ed Pawlowski to the Lehigh Valley Airport Authority, he stacked the deck against Queen City Airport. Pawlowski has advocated selling Queen City for development since before he was mayor. The fact that this city needs no more commercial or residential space is lost on him. South Mall, once home to three large department stores, now has one. The property has underperformed for decades. Needless to say, the last thing the school district needs is more housing and students. The distance between Queen City and Lehigh Valley Airport provides a safety margin between commercial planes and small aircraft. The Airport Authority is a case-study in poor decision making. They took land for runway expansion they never used, now owing the original owners ten times the price in penalty and interest. (LVIA is under court order to pay $26million) They expanded their departure terminal to a size they never needed. They constantly remodel the under used facility. They fired their director with no succession plans in place. Cunningham appointing Pawlowski, with a predetermined agenda, is the last person that board needed.
UPDATE: In an article today in The Morning Call, it states that the sale and development of Queen City could create "thousands of jobs." That is ridiculous.

Dec 1, 2011

NIZ, A Study in Favoritism

Bernie O'Hare has an excellent post on the irony of Pennsylvania tightening it's belt and instituting a new give=away program at the same time. He writes;
According to State Senator Pat Browne, dwindling state revenues make these cuts necessary. "We have been in a trough, a serious trough," he laments to a reporter. What the good Senator fails to point out, however, is that he dug the hole about which he now so sadly complains. He helped draft legislation that gives major tax breaks to well-heeled entrepreneurs, so that those on the brink, can continue to suffer.
All in the name of hockey.
Back in 2009, Browne and State Rep. Jennifer Mann,..(wrote and had passed)- the "Neighborhood Improvement Zone." To be fair, that program is available for any local government with a population between 106,000 and 107,000 in the 2000 census. It's certainly nobody's fault that the only local government fitting this bill just happens to be Allentown.
Aside from the outright grant, what's really repulsive about this is that taxes that should go to the state, to pay for things like schoolbooks and Medical Assistance, will instead be funding a J.B. Reilly development, helping him get richer....
What is also repulsive about this program is the secretiveness and selectivity with which it was implemented. Although it was known that the Arena Authority would be able to use the taxing vehicle for it's debt service, it's availability to private parties was not publicly disclosed. I attended a private meeting with Allentown's Community Development Director, Sarah Hailstone, and the merchants. During the course of the meeting, and a subsequent one, it was never disclosed that private investors could utilize the tax advantages of the NIZ legislation. The merchants also had a meeting with Pat Browne, who also did not disclose the secret. In addition to the earned income tax, it also includes the 6% Pennsylvania sales tax. Had the merchants been aware of this tax incentive, it would have greatly enhanced their relocation options. The merchants and public only gained knowledge of this provision upon the announcement of J.B. Reilly's projects. At that point the Administration claimed that any application would have to be approved by them (AEDC) to see if it forwards the Vision for center-city. Whose vision? A new Authority is now being formed, and will be in charge of the Vision. All I see is favoritism.