Officials marked the completion of the PPL Center in downtown Allentown on Wednesday with a ceremony and press conference that included a preview of the new arena. The center – which opens Friday for a concert – is the home of the Lehigh Valley Phantoms minor league ice hockey team.
Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, one of many musical acts that will perform at the center, provided a reference point for Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski, who mentioned the lyrics to one of the group’s popular songs, “The Waiting.”
“The waiting is the hardest part … that waiting today is over,” Pawlowski said in front of the arena. The Eagles open the arena Friday night with a concert.
Stakeholders in making the project happen used hockey sticks to knock pucks across the entrance and into the arena doors before remarking on the economic impact of the project.
The Neighborhood Improvement Zone tax incentive legislation spurred the development, and in two years it has sprouted $1 billion in investment, said Sara Hailstone, director of community and economic development for Allentown. The investments include the adjacent City Center Lehigh Valley projects for the office, hotel and other nearby mixed-use projects of offices, retail, restaurants and residences.
Officials touted state Sen. Pat Browne’s leadership in tackling urban challenges and helping create the NIZ legislation, which continues to encourage business investment in Allentown.
“We stand in the footsteps of those who came before,” said Browne, referring to the city’s economic past as a hub of commerce. He described the arena block intersection at Seventh and Hamilton streets as one of the most important intersections in Pennsylvania and the NIZ legislation as a state government solution to Allentown’s challenges.
Browne said the arena project will bring back thousands of visitors to the city for generations to come.
“We know today [that] with this ribbon cutting on Friday, those tens of thousands will be back again,” Browne said.
The NIZ creatively combined economic investment to bring an improved quality of life for the city, said C. Alan Walker, secretary of the state Department of Community and Economic Development.
“That’s economic development on steroids, as I like to call it,” Walker said. “And most importantly, thousands of people are going back to work. This is the best example that I know of a city of this size reinventing itself. You did it right.”
Pawlowski said the changes the arena and other projects are bringing to the city are necessary to create an economic rebirth for the city’s newest version, “Allentown 4.0.”
“That change is necessary if we are to survive in a global economy,” Pawlowski said. “Our city has to stay ahead of the curve.”
Officials said it took a large network of people to make the PPL Center project occur, including National Penn Bank, PPL Corp., Allentown City Council, the Allentown Neighborhood Improvement Zone Development Authority, Hammes Co., Alvin H. Butz Inc., Global Spectrum and Jim and Rob Brooks, co-owners of the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. The Phantoms are the top minor league affiliate of the Philadelphia Flyers.
“This project is unique in that the scale and magnitude of it to transform Allentown is really unprecedented,” said Rob Robinson, project executive for Hammes Co., the arena developer.
“We believe this project will serve as a model for others in the United States.”
The arena can seat more than 10,000 for concerts and more than 8,500 for Phantoms hockey games.