It was like Christmas morning for Allentown.
Five million dollars’ worth of tantalizing goodies were placed before City Council Wednesday night -- skateboard parks, dog parks, an ice skating rink, another spray park, land to expand city parks and much more.
The proposed capital projects were on a list presented by members of the city’s administration to council, which was meeting as committee-of-the-whole.
The $5 million is part of the revenue from the controversial 50-year-lease of the city’s water and sanitary sewer systems, which began last year.
“This $5 million is an important facet of the water and sewer lease proceeds,” said Francis Dougherty, the city’s managing director.
Dougherty told council the money gives Allentown a rare opportunity to get some capital projects done, “something we’ve been unable to do for quite some time.”
Council vice president Ray O’Connell agreed that it’s been a long time since the city had money to spend on capital projects. He said the proposed projects will improve the quality of life for city residents.
“We have said time and time again that a number of things the city has been lacking have been an ice skating rink, a dog park and a skate park,” said Dougherty. “You’ll find money earmarked for each of them.”
Officials explained not everything on the list – including the dog and skateboard parks -- will be completed this year.
Council member Peter Schweyer explained the funding allocations alone will not be enough to complete all the projects. He explained the city has or will seek matching funds for some of them.
Acting as a committee-of-the-whole, council voted 6-1 to recommend final approval of the $5 million in capital funding allocations. It is expected to take the vote during its meeting on Wednesday.
Council member Jeanette Eichenwald cast the only no vote.
O’Connell complimented the administration for being proactive and asked that it keep council informed as each of the projects comes to fruition.
“Council has to play a very active role in many of these going forward,” agreed Dougherty.
Schweyer said the list of projects was the result of many months of conversations about much-needed infrastructure improvements and other “interesting projects.”
He explained the city has been planning to use $5 million of “unallocated” revenue from the water and sewer lease for capital improvements ever since it realized it would get more than the $180 million it needed.
Most of the $211.3 million from the lease is being used to avert a financial crisis that threatened the city because of skyrocketing pension costs.
Park land and traffic flow
The administration proposes spending the biggest chunk of the money--$2.8 million ---on park land acquisition and downtown traffic improvements.
Each project would get $1.4 million.
The city plans to purchase a total of 16.26 acres for park land, said John Mikowychok, Allentown’s parks and recreation director.
Dougherty said a total of six parcels are involved, but in only two locations.
The largest property –nearly nine acres -- is the large vacant field with an electronic billboard at the southwest corner of Union and Basin streets.
The other property – more than seven acres -- is the site of the former Lebanon fertilizer plant along Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, at the northern end of Lehigh Parkway.
Dougherty said the purchase of that “strategic” park land will allow the city to fully connect its parks “under our master plan.”