READING, Pa. — The Berks County commissioners are making a clear statement that they want to see the Reading Fightin Phils remain in Baseballtown.
It was announced last month that Major League Baseball is requiring renovations at FirstEnergy Stadium in order for the Fightin Phils to be permitted to continue playing at the stadium, which is owned by the city.
The projected cost of the upgrades at the 70-year-old ballpark is $15 million.
Without the renovations, the team could be forced to move to another location where a stadium already meets the current standards.
At their meeting Thursday morning, the commissioners added a motion to their voting agenda that will accomplish three things:
- The county will support a request to Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf on behalf of the Fightin Phils for funding from the state's redevelopment assistance capital program (RCAP). RCAP is a state grant program for regional economic, cultural, civic, recreational and historical improvement projects.
- The needed improvements to FirstEnergy Stadium will become the county's priority project.
- Ask the Berks County legislative delegation to make this issue its priority as well, and attempt to take action with the governor.
Both Commissioners Christian Y. Leinbach and Kevin S. Barnhardt supported the motion; Commissioner Michael S. Rivera was absent, as he was attending a state academy in excellence and leadership.
Leinbach said he and Pamela Shupp Menet, the county's deputy chief administrative officer, have met with Scott Hunsicker, the R-Phils' general manager, to be updated on the stadium situation.
Leinbach reported that Hunsicker said the Fightin Phils have been running on waivers with Major League Baseball for many years over the size of their clubhouses and a number of other aspects.
"They have a solution to build what they need adjacent to the stadium, which is a much more cost-effective solution than building a new stadium," Leinbach said. "They are not trying to do something unreasonable. They are doing what they need to do to keep their affiliation."
"As far as long-term impacts," Leinbach added, "the loss of the Fightin Phils would be quite significant and problematic for the local economy."
Barnhardt agreed, saying the situation is directly tied to the quality of life for the communities in Berks County.
Barnhardt said the request of RCAP would be $7.5 million, which would have to be matched with local funds.
"Fifteen million dollars looks like a lot of money," Barnhardt said, "but if we can keep the Fightin Phils here and keep this quality of life that goes with it, it's a worthy investment by the state to preserve this critical part of Reading and Berks County."
Leinbach said Craig Stein, the team's owner, has committed $2.5 million toward the match for state funds.
The commissioners did not discuss whether the additional needed matching funds would come from the county coffers.
Leinbach announced he is advocating that the commissioners change the county policy on public comments at meetings.
Leinbach said he wants to limit comments to either specific agenda items or issues that directly involve the county.
"I understand the wide variety of issues that people want to get out in the public," Leinbach said. "I am not being critical of the national and state issues, but I want to focus the attention on the role and responsibilities of county government. I want to be open and transparent, that I am the person pushing this."
Leinbach said he does appreciate the many citizens who make public comments related to the county.
Over the last year, the commissioners have been hearing an increasingly number of comments from constituents who raise issues related to national matters.
At Thursday's meeting, of the five comments heard, only two were directly related to county business.
The other issues dealt with critical race theory being taught in public schools, how Donald Trump would have benefitted the county for a second term as president, and social media propaganda.
Leinbach said he will be asking the county's legal team to look at the public comment policy.