Reading Fightin Phils baseball at FirstEnergy Stadium in Baseballtown

READING., Pa. — The Reading City Council voted 5-1 Monday to allocate an additional $1.5 million to the Reading Fightin Phils to be used for construction and renovations of the team's city-owned ballpark.

The funds will come from the money the city received from the American Rescue Plan Act.

Last year, the council agreed to allocate $3 million from the ARPA funds, but team officials made the request for more funding because of inflation and higher-than-anticipated construction costs.

Major League Baseball is requiring that improvements to the stadium be completed by opening day in 2023 so that it will meet a set of standards established for minor league stadiums.

Rendering of R-Phils' renovation of FirstEnergy Stadium

If those improvements are not made, such as larger locker rooms and weight rooms, the Fightin Phils could lose their license as an affiliate of the Philadelphia Phillies — the longest in professional baseball — and the team could be forced to move to another stadium that already meets the current standards.

Councilwoman Donna Reed, whose district includes the 61-year-old ballpark, said she met with R-Phils officials and is convinced that they have done their due diligence and have even downsized the project as much as possible.

Rendering of R-Phils' renovation of FirstEnergy Stadium

Mayor Eddie Morán said he had gotten assurances from team officials that this extra allocation will put them in a position where they can start construction and be in compliance with the rules and regulations of Major League Baseball.

Reed also reminded the council that the city owns the stadium.

"We reap many benefits from the Fightin Phils, including Baseballtown Charities," Reed said. 

Councilwoman Melissa Ventura cast the dissenting vote, and Council President Johanny Cepeda-Freytiz was absent.

The council will hold a special committee-of-the-whole meeting on Wednesday at 5 p.m. to continue discussing more than $5 million in ARPA funds, which will be distributed to 26 nonprofit organizations that have applied for the grants.

At Monday's meeting, the council introduced 26 ordinances that identify the organizations and allocations, but council members said many of the proposed allocations will be changed after the council addresses each of the organizations on a case-by-case basis on Wednesday night.

Donna Reed

Donna Reed at her election night gathering at the Abraham Lincoln in downtown Reading in November 2019.

Also Monday, the council voted 4-2 to appoint Reed as council vice president. The position became vacant when Cepeda-Freytiz assumed the role of president following the death of Jeffrey Waltman.

Ventura attempted to table the motion to appoint the vice president in order to have herself considered for the position.

Only Councilman Wesley Butler joined her in a vote to table and then in the vote to oppose appointing Reed.

Cepeda-Freytiz sent emails to the council members requesting that the item be tabled, even though the council had unanimously agreed at a committee-of-the-whole a week ago to appoint Reed.

The council's solicitor, Michael Gombar, said in his opinion, the emails were a request to table and not a mandate to withdraw the motion.

The council president has the right to make changes to an agenda by withdrawing a motion.

Ventura said since last Monday, she learned that it was a council policy to appoint the newest member of the council as vice president. Members said while that has occurred several times over the past few years, there is no policy or rules on who should be appointed vice president.

Councilwoman Marcia Goodman-Hinnershitz said she supported Reed because she is a seasoned member of the council, and that the city is facing exceptional circumstances.

"We just lost our council president, and we may be making more transitions in January," Goodman-Hinnershitz said. "I'm looking for the stability of the body at this point moving forward, knowing that in January we can revisit and look at where we stand as far as council leadership."

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