The clouds have lifted, and it's a new opportunity for more growth.
That’s the reaction of some businesspeople following Thursday’s conviction of Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski on 47 charges in a federal corruption trial that centered on a pay-to-play scheme.
“I think if anything it will have a positive impact,” said Kevin Serfass, vice president and an owner of Serfass Construction Co. in North Whitehall Township. His firm is building three commercial projects in downtown Allentown – Tower 6, Vault 634 and 520 Hamilton.
“It sort of clears the black clouds so people can operate with some clarity. Now that it’s over, our planning, zoning and city council can operate without that unknown of what’s to come.”
Serfass speculated the FBI investigation of Pawlowski and others might have made potential tenants nervous about moving into the downtown and developers anxious about doing business in the city with the uncertainty of the ensuing trial’s outcome.
He said he hopes to see more development in the city and, potentially, new buildings could come sooner on the market.
If developers and tenants were waiting on the sidelines to see how the trial played out, now they can move forward, he added.
TIME TO MOVE ON
Published reports said Pawlowski and co-defendant Scott Allinson, an attorney with Allentown law firm Norris McLaughlin & Marcus, engaged in a pay-to-play scheme.
Reports show Pawlowski faced dozens of charges, all felonies, including bribery, extortion and wire fraud, and witnesses accused him of trading favors and city contracts in exchange for campaign donations. At one time, Pawlowski ran for the U.S. Senate.
Meanwhile, Allinson was charged with single counts of bribery and conspiracy, was accused of trying to send some of the campaign contributions to the mayor in exchange for city legal work for his law firm, Norris McLaughlin. The jury found him guilty on both counts.
“I just think there are a lot of emotions,” said Tony Iannelli, president and CEO of the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce. “Right now, despite all those emotions, it’s time to move on. The city deserves a future.”
The investigation had certainly clouded the day-to-day operations of the city, concerning staffing changes, Iannelli added.
CONTINUE THE DEVELOPMENT
Federal agents raided Allentown City Hall in 2015 seeking documents and information related to a potential pay-to-play scheme. Since that time, numerous city officials, both former and current employees as well as contractors, have pleaded guilty to bribery, conspiracy to commit extortion and other charges, resulting in vacancies at City Hall.
“I think now, people can take a deep breath,” Iannelli said. “It’s been a great run and it’s time to continue that.”
All of this occurred as the city was undergoing unprecedented redevelopment in its downtown, thanks in large part to the Neighborhood Improvement Zone, which offers tax incentives to developers.
ENDS THE UNCERTAINTY
With the level of uncertainty lifted, it could lead to more economic development in the city, according to Steve Bamford, executive director of the Allentown Neighborhood Improvement Zone Development Authority.
“I think business decision-makers don’t like uncertainty,” Bamford said.
“I suspect we will see even more interest going forward, allowing us to build on the successes we already experienced.”
From an economic development standpoint, there have not been any ramifications of the mayor’s legal problems influencing whether a company decides to move into or remain in the city, said Don Cunningham, president and CEO of Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corp.
Who the mayor is does not play a significant role in a company’s location decision, he added.
“I haven’t seen anything over the last two years during this that I can say, ‘this didn’t happen because of the mayor’s legal problems,’ ” Cunningham said.
‘TOO MANY GOOD THINGS HAPPENING’
One thing that economic development officials worry about is negative outside publicity affecting the general view of the city, but Cunningham said this has not been the case with Allentown.
“Generally, people can draw a distinction between one particular politician and the assets of a city and the region,” Cunningham said. “That the issue has been resolved, that’s a positive.
“There’s too many good things happening in Allentown. Throughout the city, there’s a lot of good incentives.”
RE-ELECTED LAST FALL
The U.S. Department of Justice issued an indictment for Pawlowski in July 2017.
Shortly thereafter, Pawlowski told Lehigh Valley Business that the indictment’s release does not pose any threat to Allentown’s economic future.
Pawlowski maintained his innocence during an August 2017 interview, saying he had done nothing wrong. He won re-election last fall and started his fourth term on Jan. 1.
According to published reports, Pennsylvania case law usually allows politicians convicted of crime to remain in office until a sentence is given. A sentencing date has not been set.