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Allentown City Council denies IronPigs reimbursement for renovation costs

The Allentown City Council narrowly voted Wednesday night to deny American Rescue Plan funding for Lehigh Valley Ironpigs to renovate Coca-Cola Park.

In a 4-3 vote, Candida Affa, Ed Zucal, Natalie Santos and Ce-Ce Gerlach voted not to fund IronPigs.

Council members who voted against the allocation said it was the county’s responsibility to ensure that the team remained affiliated with MLB and stayed in Allentown.Lehigh County owns Coca-Cola Park. there is

They also lamented MLB’s failure to provide financial support to minor league teams despite requiring $10 million for renovations.

“Major League Baseball is holding us hostage,” Affa said.

Allentown Mayor Matt Turk said the council may be making a “grave mistake” by refusing funding. IronPigs general manager Kurt Landes and co-owner Joe Finley said the team could be kicked out of Allentown if refused.

“We’re not threatening to leave,” Landes said. “They’re going to take the IronPigs,” he added, referring to MLB.

Finley, who also co-owns the Trenton Thunder baseball team, which lost its MLB affiliation in 2020, warned that the Iron Pigs could face a similar fate.

“The legacy of this city and this Commission is the loss of the Triple-A Phillies,” Finley said.

Finley and Landes declined to comment on the council’s vote after the meeting.

In another vote, the council unanimously voted to provide the Da Vinci Science Center with $1 million in rescue plan funding.

The vote came after nearly a year of controversy over the award, with some on the council and in Allentown believing it was doing the two prominent institutions an unfair favor.

IronPigs requested $1.5 million from the city’s ARPA fund to improve Coca-Cola Park’s COVID-19 safety. The IronPigs must pay approximately $10 million in park improvements by April 2023 to continue the team’s affiliation with Major League Baseball and the Philadelphia Phillies.

Landes has repeatedly warned that IronPigs could be forced to leave Allentown if it cannot raise enough money for its renovations. Pennsylvania gave him $2 million, Lehigh County gave him $1.5 million, and Northampton County gave him $200,000 to improve stadiums. IronPigs also has him committing $1.5 million.

The Da Vinci Science Center requested $1.5 million to install heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems, exhibits, and programming for its new facility in downtown Allentown, scheduled to open in 2024. The Da Vinci Center has raised $64 million for the facility and needs $8 million more to fully develop the space.

Members are torn between awarding funds to the organization after late 2021. Former mayor Rayo Connell proposed donating her $1 million to IronPigs and her $2 million to the science center, but after opposition from some Allentown residents and city council members, the plan was abandoned. It has changed. The award showed an unfair preference for two prominent institutions.

Affa cast the deciding votes for two awards. In June she took part in a vote to postpone spending indefinitely, but in September and October she voted to proceed with spending, saying, “For aldermen who have seen Coca-Cola Park. I didn’t want to be,” and Iron Pig left Allentown.

At the conference, she admitted to being publicly baffled by the decision and said she had “lost sleep” over the choice.

“We’ve talked about this many times and I’ve flipped and flopped,” says Affa. “But…if you can save $2 million by giving da Vinci $1 million and giving nothing to the Pigs, you’re saving $2 million. Something for the community and the homeless.” donations, more police officers, and so many other things.”

Affa and others who opposed IronPigs funding but supported Da Vinci said they believed the science center would do more to benefit Allentown’s children.

Landes countered, citing several community initiatives IronPigs supports, such as hosting education days and high school games, saying IronPigs are “proud to be in Allentown.” .

“For all that we do and aim to do for the whole community and Allentown as we work tremendously hard each day to represent our community, , it’s hard to imagine having zero support,” he said.

Tuerk and other council members warned the council not to shut down IronPigs funding when the city has no concrete plans to use some of it.

Allentown has set aside $18 million in funding for the American Rescue Plan dedicated to community initiatives, but the allocation to the Da Vinci Science Center is the first and only one the city has made in that category.

“We have to stop creating zero-sum game analysis. We have to stop thinking that this is one versus the other,” said council member Josh Siegel. “Organizations like IronPigs are not just business partners, they are not just economic development assets, they are community partners.

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Wake-up call reporter Lindsay Webber can be reached at 610-820-6681. liweber@mcall.com.

https://www.mcall.com/news/local/allentown/mc-nws-allentown-city-council-arpa-ironpigs-da-vinci-center-final-award-20221026-lemqd3tec5cjhng5kcbxesh6wy-story.html#ed=rss_www.mcall.com/arcio/rss/category/news/local/ Allentown City Council denies IronPigs reimbursement for renovation costs

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