Thursday, January 11, 2007
At a meeting Wednesday before county commissioners, officials reviewed a plan to cover the 41 percent increase in expenses and the amended lease agreement with team owners.
The price tag of the east Allentown stadium, originally $34.3 million, rose precipitously because of several factors, including an outdated estimate based on a ballpark of smaller scope and escalating construction costs.
The county will receive higher annual lease payments from Craig Stein and Joseph Finley , entrepreneurs who own the IronPigs, the Philadelphia Phillies-affiliated team that will play there. They will pay $1.29 million for about 30 years, which adds up to $38.6 million— $18.3 million more than set forth in the previous agreement, according to Administration Director Tom Muller.
In addition, County Executive Don Cunningham is optimistic that in a couple of weeks the county may receive grants totaling about $1.5 million from the state Department of Community and Economic Development, on top of the $17 million the state has already committed to the project.
''We are working on identifying a pool of resources for this project,'' said Kevin Ortiz, a spokesman for the DCED, but he couldn't comment on a time frame or dollar amount.
Hotel tax revenues constitute another major source of funding. In state legislation approved in June 2005, the county's hotel tax rate went from 3.5 percent to 4 percent, with the funds from the increase slated for the stadium's construction. Officials are planning to use $452,000 in hotel tax revenue this year, plus $1.3 million already collected.
''If we don't pay attention to the little things, then those little things become big problems,'' Callahan said. ''This is all about trying to make a high quality of life in the downtowns and create a general impression that Bethlehem is a great place to go.''
In a time with the city's downtown is competing with other shopping destinations like the Promenade Shops at Saucon Valley, Callahan said, attention to detail is crucial.
While the city may not be able to attract — yet — the national chains that the suburban malls do, Callahan wants to focus on the old-town charm and character that he says can't be replicated on a cornfield.
The tree wells are just one of a several maintenance items that the city has addressed over the years. A couple years ago, the city accepted the donation of a sidewalk sweeper to pick up cigarette butts, gum wrappers and other debris on the sidewalks. Last year, the city repainted the bollards and Victorian lights.
The streets targeted for the street well initiative are: Main, Broad, New, Guetter, North, Walnut, Vine, Adams, Webster, Packer, Fourth, Third, Broadway, Brodhead and Morton. In a test run of the project Friday, it took a three-man crew a half-hour to clean and level three wells.
While the city is fixing the wells, Public Works Director Michael Alkhal said it is the property owners' responsibility to take care of the street trees, just as it is their duty to maintain sidewalks. The city hasn't cracked down on broken tree wells except when residents complained. In addition to aesthetics, he said, the grates serve as a safety mechanism — it ensures a level walking area so people won't turn their ankles.
Now that the task will be done, he suggested that more owners take care of the grates, and in some case, decorate it with flowers or some other pleasing way.
While not all of the merchants share the mayor's displeasure with the tree wells, some say that they appreciate the city's attention.
Lucy Lennon, chairwoman of the Downtown Bethlehem Association, thanked the city for its attention to detail.
''I'm glad that the city is taking this on before it becomes a major problem,'' said Lennon, owner of the Dancing Fish restaurant. ''It's preventative maintenance.''
The results of a $40,000 feasibility study on the Panther Valley Heritage Trail were released Tuesday by Robert H. Hosking Jr., environmental services manager for McTish, Kunkel and Associates.
The money for the trail would be in the form of grants from the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and/or the federal Transportation Enhancement Program.
The study was paid for by a group that included the borough of Lansford, the Carbon-Schuylkill Industrial Development Corp., the Tamaqua Area Community Partnership, and funds secured by state Rep. Keith McCall, D-Carbon, and state Sen. Ray Musto, D-Luzerne, with a matching grant from the state Heritage Park Program.
The first choice of alignment of the trail, which would take travelers on a trek through anthracite culture and history, would include 5.9 miles in Schuylkill County and 9 miles in Carbon. The trail would extend through Walker, Tamaqua, Coaldale, Lansford, Summit Hill and Nesquehoning.
The trail would pass historical sites, including coal mine tunnels, mine breakers, a site of a mine cave-in and the Moser Log Home in Tamaqua — the first house in the community.
The trail, with a packed stone surface, would be for hikers and bikers.
McTish, Kunkel and Associates said in the study that the trail would be a popular recreation area for residents and also draw tourists.
The trail would begin in Walker Township, just west of Tamaqua along Route 209. It would go through the six municipalities to the western end of the Nesquehoning Trestle.
The trestle is south of the confluence of the Lehigh River and the Nesquehoning Creek, the study says, and extends northeast across the Lehigh to the state park.
When completed, the trail would link two larger trails — the 165-mile-long Delaware and Lehigh that runs through Jim Thorpe with the Schuylkill River Heritage Trail that runs through Tamaqua toward Philadelphia.
Wednesday, January 10, 2007
President Bush has said it.
A lot of government scientists have said it.
But until yesterday, it appeared that no news release on annual climate trends out of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration under the Bush White House had said unequivocally that a buildup of greenhouse gases was helping warm the climate.
The statement came in a release that said 2006 was the warmest year for the 48 contiguous states since regular temperature records began in 1895. It surpassed the previous champion, 1998, a year heated up by a powerful episode of the periodic warming of the tropical Pacific Ocean by El Niño. Last year, another El Niño developed, but this time a long-term warming trend from human activities was said to be involved as well.
“A contributing factor to the unusually warm temperatures throughout 2006 also is the long-term warming trend, which has been linked to increases in greenhouse gases,” the release said, emphasizing that the relative contributions of El Niño and the human influence were not known.
A link between greenhouse gases and climate change was also made in a December news conference by Dirk Kempthorne, the secretary of the interior, as that agency proposed listing polar bears as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.
Still, the climate agency’s shift in language came as a surprise to several public affairs officials there. They said they had become accustomed in recent years to having any mention of a link between climate trends and human activities played down or trimmed when drafts of documents went to the Commerce Department and the White House for approval.
James L. Connaughton, chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, said the release reflected longstanding views within the administration.
“It’s helpful for them to describe what is a question in many people’s minds — what is the human factor, what is the El Niño factor,” Mr. Connaughton said of the NOAA release. “From our perspective, what was in the press release was a direct reflection of what the president and folks in his administration have been saying for some time.”
Mr. Bush has made two speeches on climate. He first expressly accepted that humans were contributing to global warming in a news conference in Denmark in July 2005 on the way to an economic summit in Scotland, saying, “Listen, I recognize that the surface of the Earth is warmer and that an increase in greenhouse gases caused by humans is contributing to the problem.”
But the government’s scientific bureaucracy, where public affairs officials and scientists as recently as last year complained that findings pointing to climate dangers were being suppressed, has taken time to catch up.
“There’s been some sensitivity to the fact that some people have complained that NOAA and other parts of the government haven’t been as open as they would like them to have been on this,” said Jay Lawrimore, a climatologist at the National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, N.C., where the temperature trends are compiled. “Now NOAA is making an effort to be clearer on some of the influences.”
“Year after year as we continue to see warmer temperatures,” he said, “there are more and more converts convinced that it’s not just natural variability and not just something that’s going to return back to temperatures we saw 40 or 50 years ago — that in fact we are doing something to the climate.”
It's the first time the local health care provider made the list, and the first time since 2001 that a company headquartered in the Lehigh Valley received the business magazine's recognition for being worker-friendly.
But it would compete with those same arenas for some hockey fans, special events and concerts, according to the study.
"The demographic conditions indicate a very attractive foundation for a minor league arena development, offering not only minor league sporting events, but concerts, family shows and other events,'' the consultants wrote in their report.
The only thing today's arena advocates, led by developer Abraham Atiyeh, have to do now is come up with $60 million to build their stadium.
The Wisconsin-based Leib Group looked at five potential locations that included Bethlehem's South Side and two sites along Route 33 and in downtown Allentown, but did not specifically look at the former Agere site in east Allentown, where Aztar Corp. had hoped to build a slots casino resort.
The $60,000 study, funded by state grants facilitated by local lawmakers, located a 400-acre site ''across the street from Lehigh Valley International Airport'' as the best of the five.
Atiyeh identified the site as land owned by Lehigh Valley International Airport but said he was far from deciding on a location. All of the sites, including the Aztar property, and a variety of other locations in the city will be considered.
''We didn't get into the trenches yet and really analyze the cost of land and the purchase,'' Atiyeh said. ''That is the next step. At least it came back that the Lehigh Valley can support it.''
George Doughty, executive director of the airport, said the airport owns about 300 acres mostly in Hanover Township, Northampton County, between Airport and Schoenersville roads behind Gregory's Steakhouse. It is seeking to have the property rezoned to nonresidential uses, but no decisions have been made about what to do with the land or how much would be sold.
There could be some height restrictions on development and definitely a prohibition on residential housing.
''If we do release this land, we will release it at the maximum value we can,'' Doughty said. ''If a hockey arena generates the maximum value, then we will look it at.''
The detailed, 100-page study, which includes a phone survey of about 1,000 area residents, recommends stadium supporters seek out a top-flight minor league hockey team in the American Hockey League—the equivalent of Triple-A minor league baseball—but it also suggests an East Coast Hockey League team — akin to Double-A — could fit.
Commissioners of both leagues said Monday that they would be very interested in establishing teams in the Lehigh Valley if the right arena deal came together, due to its geographic location and population growth.
''It would be a great fit for us with Wilkes-Barre Scranton, Hershey and Philadelphia,'' AHL Commissioner David Andrews said. ''They are three of our most successful teams.''
ECHL Commissioner Brian McKenna said the owners of that league's Reading Royals and Trenton Titans would have to waive territorial rights if the arena ends up being within 50 miles of their arena. But he said he thinks both would be open to doing that.
''It is all a moot point until there is actually a building approved,'' McKenna said. ''At that point, the key would be, is there local ownership.''
Financing for the arena remains a huge question mark.
Atiyeh stressed that it is very early in the process and that he hopes to build a $60 million, multipurpose arena that would receive $30 million from the state and a matching contribution from public and private sources.
Lehigh County Executive Don Cunningham said he is scheduled to meet with stadium principals in about two weeks to go over the feasibility study and talk about the potential for an arena at the Aztar site.
But he said Atiyeh may have to scale his project back a little to have a realistic shot at putting together the necessary financing. Cunningham said getting $30 million from the state, let alone local government, is probably a ''difficult ask.''
About the only thing Lehigh County could contribute to an arena project would be some accommodation on the cost of the land, he said.
''I would say that hockey is still at its early stages,'' Cunningham said, ''and there probably has to be a level of practical reality brought to the surface.''
Tuesday, January 09, 2007
Jazz up the traditional All-American hot dog and pair it with a nice cold beer.
On the menu
- Surfer Dog
- Coney Island
- The Windy City Dog
- South of the Border Dog
- Cowboy Dawg
When: 6:30 p.m., Jan. 23
Where: Sagra Cooking, 305 Village at Stones Crossing, Easton, Pa 18045
Affordable housing has been difficult to find in the Lehigh Valley in recent years, with escalating housing costs.
However, all is not lost. The Lehigh Valley does posses character-authentic, human-scale traditional neighborhoods of a kind they aren’t making anymore. In these areas, like Allentown's West End Theater District (WETD), lie an abundance of closely built historic neighborhoods prized by the nation’s best-educated young workers according to economic expert and author, Richard Florida.
WETD is not only a great place to have dinner or see a show, it is also a great place to live. Within the theatre district's boundaries there are a number of homes available at any given point in time that offer the perfect balance between, character, convenience and affordability.
Many young professionals and families have recently discovered these positive characteristics of this section of the West End making it the perfect place for more to follow suit.
Damien Brown lists several homes on his blog that are currently available in the West End Theatre District, the neighborhood bounded by 17th, 22nd, Washington, and Liberty. Most shown are priced well under $200,000 but the price range is limitless in the neighborhoods to the north and east if you have higher tastes.
The Allentown Arts Park near 5th & Linden Streets has finally taken its form and is nearly complete. The long awaited center piece of the Allentown Arts District has all of it's major components in place with little more to than cross the Ts and dot the Is.
The Allentown Arts District targeted revitalization area in the Downtown's eastern end currently receiving several infrastructure improvements intended to help leverage the value of several unique arts and cultural institutions within the area bounded by 4th, 7th, Linden, and Walnut Streets. Among these improvements are the Arts Park, the Arts Walk, and parking improvements in the area.
The Arts Park sits directly behind Symphony Hall, directly north of the Baum School of Art, and right across the street from the Allentown Art Museum. The park will serve as a green oasis linking these institutions while functioning as a gathering point for small concerts, art exhibitions, and lunch gatherings for downtown workers. Among the parks many features is a summer fountain, a large lawn, bright decorative lighting, and a new mural located on the rear wall of Symphony Hall.
Within the next few years the Allentown Art Museum and the Lehigh County Courthouse will be expanding, consuming much of the existing open space in the neighborhood. Also, directly to the south along Hamilton St, a four-story office building is planned that will be designed to link into the park. This park will prove to be of further importance to the eastern section of Downtown Allentown when these other projects come to fruition.
In anticipation of these other downtown improvements, two large parking garages are under construction. The first to open will be the new five-story garage at 6th & Linden. This garage will have a limited amount of retail space on the ground floor and will serve as a transfer point for all Lanta buses. This will remove all of the transfer points along Hamilton St, ridding Hamilton of that "waitin' for the bus" look. This garage may also serve regional and national bus lines in the future that currently operate out of 3rd & Hamilton. The upper floors will serve downtown workers and visitors to institutions and events in the Arts District. The second, and larger, garage at 4th & Hamilton will serve city and county employees with extra capacity intended to serve new Downtown development.
Monday, January 08, 2007
Ebert Furniture Gallery - Additional 10% off any item including sale merchandise, mattresses and accessories.
Medical Therapeutic Massage - 10% discount on one hour massage
Allentown Art Museum is offering NET members $5 off the price of admission (normally $15) to the Art After Hours event series when the card is presented at the door. Art After Hours is held every other month on the second Thursday of the month from 6 p.m. - 8 p.m.
If you are a locally owned business interested in being a part of the discount program please contact Erin Gruver, Partnership Coordinator at email@example.com or 610-821-8054.
1) Pay on time.
Your track record in making timely payments accounts for 35% of your FICO score. All that is required is that you pay the minimum balance due on time. That shows that you are responsible.
Write the check and put it in the mail at least five days before your due date. Or if you use online bill pay, make sure you get to it at least two days before the due date.
2) Manage your debt-to-credit-limit ratio.
Your debt is the combined balances on all your various credit cards and installment loans – the sum that you owe. Your credit limit is the combined total of the maximum amount each credit card company is willing to let you charge. Included along with that calculation is whether you carry balances on other accounts, and how much debt you have left on loans such as mortgage or car loan, compared to the original amount borrowed. This determines 30% of your score.
Obviously, the lower the ratio, the better. There is no magic cutoff on what counts as a good ratio, but every little increment matters.
One way to get this ratio down is simply to pay down what you owe, but this is often difficult for us young professionals. If you are sure you have the resolve to behave responsibly, ask the card company to boost your credit limit. Boosting your credit limit, without adding to your debt will improve your debt-to-credit-limit ration.
3) Protect your credit history.
About 15% of your score is based on how long a credit history you have. The longer your history the better. The biggest mistake many people make is when they automatically cancel a card. By doing so you wipe out some financial history, plus you also will reduce your available credit, and change your debt-to-credit-limit ratio.
4) Create the right credit mix.
The final 20% of your score is split between your new credit activity and your general mix of cards. Don’t apply for a lot of new credit cards or loans all at once. At the same time, lenders always want to see a good mix of credit cards, retail cards, and installment loans such as car loans or home mortgages.
Candidates need to be 39 years old or younger and actively engaged in business within Berks, Carbon, Lehigh, Monroe, Northampton and Schuylkill counties as well as Upper Bucks and Upper Montgomery and Warren County, NJ.
To submit send the person's name, age, date of birth, address and telephone number along with a short summary (250 words or less) telling why the individual you are nominating deserves recognition. Write nominations in a compelling, persuasive style. Feel free to make multiple submissions.
Deadline to submit is Thursday, March 1 and can be sent via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org with "20 under 40" in the subject line.
No one knows young professionals better, than young professionals themselves so please submit. If you are selected NET member please notify NET's marketing chair, Vanessa Williams at email@example.com.
The doors of the proposed National Museum of Industrial History would swing wide open to an enthusiastic public by the end of 1999, they said. Yet today, the museum is much like the other buildings the bankrupt steel company left behind: an empty space with grass growing from the pavement outside.
This week, museum officials say their streak of broken promises and missed deadlines is about to end. With a new board of directors, the arrival of a world-class fundraiser and the start of a new $12 million capital campaign, the $26 million museum is scheduled to open in the summer of 2008.
The prospect of 5 million people a year coming to south Bethlehem to gamble, recreate and shop might have something to do with the newfound optimism for the project.
By the time millions of people are dropping their money into thousands of slot machines, history buffs will be viewing the 1876 Centennial Exposition exhibit, watching movies in the museum theater, or walking across a steel beam that gives people the illusion of being 40 stories up. At least that's the new plan.
''It gets a lot easier to raise money when [donors] know that 5 million people will be coming to the property where their company name hangs over an exhibit,'' said Bob Happy, senior vice president of CCS Fundraising, of New York. ''I'm very confident we'll raise the money we need to get construction under way this spring.''
As part of their new charge to have the museum open in 18 months, museum officials have added to the board local heavyweights that include Alvin H. Butz Inc. chief executive officer Lee Butz, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation chairman Colin Campbell, former RCA executive William C. Hittinger, former DeSales University President the Rev. Daniel G. Gambet, entrepreneur Charles Snelling and National Job Corp. Association chairman Richard F. Schubert.
Stephen Donches, museum president and chief executive officer, said the most recent designs call for a two-story, 40,000-square-foot museum that will have the Smithsonian Institution's 1876 Centennial exhibit of massive industrial equipment such as a locomotive and a steam hammer on the first floor.
The second floor will include exhibits for everything from iron and steel to transportation to telecommunications, a 60-seat theater and several electronic kiosks. People will punch in like steelworkers as they enter the floor, and they will exit across a steel beam that gives the optical illusion of being 40 stories up on a skyscraper still under construction, Donches said. The admission fee hasn't been determined, but it will be under $10, Donches said.
''We want to give people a hands-on experience of what it was like,'' Donches said. ''Our focus will be on the companies and innovations that helped build, transport and defend America.''
There is a long list of reasons why the museum — after years of stalled fundraising and virtually no construction — can open next year, Donches argues. The more-than $700 million development, anchored by a Las Vegas Sands casino and hotel complex, is certainly the linchpin. Before the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board awarded the casino license to Sands BethWorks Gaming on Dec. 20, there was no guarantee anything would be built on the 124 acres of former Steel property anytime soon.
The clear ownership of the land is another. Since Bethlehem Steel filed bankruptcy in 2001, the land has been through three owners, and several other investors have kicked the tires. The uncertainty hamstrung the museum's ability to raise money, Donches said. Its long-term ownership wasn't settled until the gambling license was awarded last month.
The arrival of CCS Fundraising only adds to what museum officials believe is a confluence of encouraging signs. The New York City-based company not only is one of the largest and most successful in the field, but it knows the Lehigh Valley. Among a portfolio that includes $3.5 billion a year in fundraising is the $50 million it has helped Lehigh Valley Hospital raise the past two years for programs and capital projects and the $55 million it helped raise for the Allentown Catholic Diocese from 2003 to 2005.
Its international portfolio includes raising $146 million for Lions Club International to combat preventable blindness, $593 million for Habitat for Humanity to build more than 100,000 homes over the past five years, $240 million for Rotary International to help stamp out polio, $126 million for the Nashville Symphony to build a new concert hall and $70 million to expand the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento, Calif.
Happy said CCS Fundraising exceeds its fundraising goal more than 90 percent of the time, but he also knows CCS Fundraising will have to overcome some obstacles with the industrial history museum. For one, it will have to regain the credibility lost from years of missing deadlines. The museum is seven years past its original opening date, it has raised barely enough money to pay Donches' $202,000 salary and benefit in some years, and cost escalations mean it is actually further away from having enough money to build than it was in 1999.
Elmer Gates, a prominent Lehigh Valley businessman who sat on the museum's original advisory committee, is not won over by the latest campaign.
''The market has spoken. The fact that no one has donated tells you that they don't want a museum,'' Gates said. ''Even if they build it, they will have to keep coming to the public to keep it running. Give it up and move on.''
Happy says the market has not spoken because it hasn't been properly tapped. Unlike past campaigns that focused on local fundraising, phase one of the CCS Fundraising plan — already under way — is a national search for companies willing to sponsor exhibits. From there, CCS will begin a regional campaign designed to get five- and six-figure donations, and phase three will include a membership campaign in which they will seek money from the public.
The goal is to raise $12 million to begin construction of the museum by March and build a $3 million endowment that would help maintain the museum after it opens.
But Donches knows from experience that setting the goal is the easy part.
''It takes a long time and a lot of effort to get a new museum off the ground,'' Donches said. ''We knew that if people were patient, we'd get this thing in the air.''
Whether the museum takes flight will be known in the next few months, but Donches is convinced the wheels actually left the tarmac on Dec. 20, the moment Bethlehem was awarded a gambling license.
State officials announced the plan to move the offices from Lehigh Street near Interstate 78 to 10th and Hamilton streets in late 2004 as part of a policy of trying to move administrative offices into downtown areas.
Young said workers will begin gradually moving to the building in early February, completing their relocation by Feb. 20.
Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski welcomed the long-awaited move, saying that combined with the recent move of the Alvin H. Butz Corp. downtown, it puts an additional 400 white-collar workers in the area of Hamilton Street during the day.
''PennDOT is key,'' Pawlowski said. ''It is another piece of the puzzle we need to revitalize the downtown.''
Pawlowski said the city will start promoting the thousands of white-collar employees who work downtown at legal offices, PennDOT, Butz, PPL, Lehigh County Government Center and Allentown City Hall in order to draw new businesses downtown.
The additional employees will help support downtown restaurants and also enhance the sense of safety on Hamilton Street, he said.
After initially budgeting basic renovations at about $1 million, the state spent $6.5 million in a complete overhaul of the former Van Sciver furniture store at 10th and Hamilton streets.
The newly renovated, 70,000-square-foot building features new heating and ventilation systems, a first-floor public meeting room and modern offices where Van Sciver once displayed sofas and dinette sets.
The state purchased the building from PPL in 2004 for $1.4 million. It will sell its old Lehigh Street location for development.
Swabia Creek contains brown trout and is a tributary of the Little Lehigh Creek, a main source of drinking water for Allentown.
In 2004, the state categorized the aquatic life in Swabia Creek as ''impaired.''
An assessment the following year concluded that water quality, aquatic habitat, stream channel stability, stream bank stability and flood plain function need to be improved.
The project will not only protect and enhance the portion of Swabia Creek at Brookside Country Club, but also downstream areas of the creek and the Little Lehigh.
A public meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Jan. 30 to discuss which codes are outdated and where to implement new zoning districts.
Freeman said parts of the zoning ordinance reflects a suburban style of living that doesn't fit Easton.
For example, businesses with some apartments above them on the east side of S. Third Street abut the sidewalk. Across the street, Perkins Restaurant and the former Marquis Theatre are further back from the sidewalk with almost an acre of parking spaces behind them.
The city hired Thomas Comitta Associates Inc. of West Chester, Chester County, for $50,000 to prepare the revisions. Thanks to state Rep. Robert Freeman, D-Northampton, a state grant will pay for the work.
''When you create one-story buildings with parking surrounding them, it looks like they are sitting on their own little island,'' said Freeman, who lives in the city's West Ward. ''Updating the current planning and zoning codes would put Easton in a better position to keep its urban integrity.''