After Minor League Hockey, Major League Soccer?

This report by and bizjournals is two years old, but I’m guessing the numbers, if accurate,  are fairly sticky.  The question:

“What North American cities are primed economically to host a major-league sports franchise and which ones are already overextended?”

The usual suspects emerge in most cases.  This interactive map displays them nicely.   It’s also how I learned that the numbers crunchers at Portfolio believe Allentown (the Lehigh Valley metro region, really) could support a Major League Soccer team.  Researchers looked at total personal income  (the total sum of all income in a given market) and concluded that while an MLB franchise requires a TPI of $83 billion, an MLS franchise needs a comparatively scant $13.9 billion.

Allentown metro’s TPI is $30.62 billion.  That’s $4 billion more than NHL city Winnipeg and 2 bills shy of Tucson for perspective. I know that Philadelphia (well, Chester) has a shiny new MLS team in the Union, but that’s not a TPI issue.  Given a local MLS team to go crazy for, Lehigh Valley soccer fans would buy in in droves, and so would a good many casual sports fans.  The Union would be our natural rival, with yearly Turnpike Grudge Matches and the like.  A-town would get a piece of the national broadcast action, with ESPN beaming live from our lovely new stadium on the Allentown waterfront a few times a year.  It’s too bad PPL, headquartered here, bought the naming rights to the Union’s home field. But those things can change.

Let’s put this on the fast track.  I’m willing to green light this ahead of my hoped-for Butz Tower (a hypothetical soul-mate for the Art Deco bachelor on 9th street).

Come on, Allentown metro.  You know you want to.

Allentown at 250 and 251: New Years Reflections On Our Work Together This Year and Beyond

New Years Eve marks the beginning of Allentown’s 250th birthday celebration, a year-long observance for which I’m very excited.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been thinking about the progress we’re all hoping to make in 2012 and the work being put in motion now that will make the Allentown of 2013 a healthier, more generative community.

At First Presbyterian Church of Allentown, we’ll spend much time, talent, and treasure in 2012 working with the Sixth Street Shelter to expand occupancy in that facility by 25% by 2013. Alan Jennings put it to me this way: “if an unwed mother, her infant child, and her scruffy male companion came to the shelter on Christmas Eve this year, they’d be turned away. There’s no room at the inn.”  Our Local Care team is taking the lead role in organizing the entire congregation for this important work.

At St. Paul’s Lutheran church, Pastor Richard Baumann helps lead the Safe Haven homeless shelter, an overflow facility that’s quickly exposing how very dire the occupancy issues are at other local shelters. In 2012, First Pres will partner with St. Paul’s in new, exciting ways around these and other issues.  St. Paul’s also provides free Sunday morning breakfast before services each week and has established on the southeast corner of 8th and Walnut a unique community where the homeless have been invited into leadership roles in the larger life of the church.  St. Paul’s also hosts the Lehigh County Conference of Churches Soup Kitchen and is providentially positioned in the vicinity of the new, multi-million dollar office and retail complex planned for 2013, One City Center.

Led by Pastor Bob Stevens, Zion’s Reformed UCC (The Liberty Bell Church) celebrates its own 250th Anniversary in 2012, as does St. Paul’s. These historic Allentown communities of faith began in the same log cabin as two of six local congregations in 1762.  Both continue to serve and lead the community in 2012, and both are poised to make huge impacts in 2013 and beyond.  Zion’s graciously hosted the Lehigh County Conference of Churches’ fall gathering concerning the  growing economic divide in the context of the global financial crisis. This event, sponsored in part by FPCA’s Peace, Justice, and Missionary Team, was a huge success despite the unexpected Halloween storm. With a 400-seat sanctuary and a place on the National Register of Historic Sites for its role during the American Revolution, Zion’s and its famous Liberty Bell Museum (which celebrates its 50th birthday this year) are the logical terminus of the Allentown Arts Walk and are natural partners for anyone considering the expansion of the arts initiatives already bustling on Sixth Street.  One of Pastor Bob’s visions for 2012 is to open this beautiful venue to the budding community of Christian artists and musicians as a platform for support, encouragement, and spiritual engagement.  “Shalom in the city” takes many forms at Zion’s and blossoms in many ways.

Beautifully framed by the newly-renovated and expanded Allentown Art Museum of the Lehigh Valley (which incorporates FPCA’s original building) on the east, the Baum School and Da Vinci Horse on the north and Symphony Hall on the west is the Arts Walk’s point of origin: the Allentown Arts Park.  By 2013, I hope to see the west side of the Sovereign Building, the last leg of the Walk connecting 6th Street to Zion’s, as a fully realized outdoor art space with murals, sculptures, improved landscape maintenance and a thriving sense of public commons.  Click here for a Google Photos gallery of pictures from this part of the City taken in July including Zion’s, Symphony Hall, the Arts Walk, the Baum School, The Musselman Arts Development Center and more.

2012 will see the construction of the new Allentown Arena, and, as we learned recently, the creation of One City Center, a stone’s throw from St. Paul’s. By the Fall of 2013, the Arena and One City Center projects will be completed.  Alvin H. Butz will be doubling down their physical presence on Hamilton Street with an expansion of their corporate headquarters in the old retail district once anchored by the world-famous Hess Bros. department store at 9th and Hamilton.  Ground will break this summer, with an expected completion of 2013.  Although they are not without controversy, the Arena project and the special tax zone created to foster it are also drawing the first serious waterfront development ideas in a decade.

Led by our Local Care team, FPCA continues to partner with Roosevelt Community School, the Allentown School District’s first COMPASS school, joining our friends at Zion’s EC Church on Susquehanna St and other community partners like Air Products, Good Shepherd, and Allentown Symphony Hall. The success of the COMPASS model is palpable at Roosevelt, and in the eight years since Roosevelt’s COMPASS designation, teachers report a “180 degree change” in the school’s academic culture.   At Roosevelt, supplemental education doesn’t stop with children.  Adult classes on parenting, financial basics, and English as a second language provide school parents with the kinds of resources and access that foster better environments for success at home, work, and school.  Since the Roosevelt pilot, Central Elementary, South Mountain Middle School, and McKinley Elementary school have become COMPASS community schools. Our call in 2012 is to continue our work with Roosevelt, even as we partner with community stakeholders to explore the ways we can lift up the COMPASS model across the district, and even as we consider establishing a low-cost or free pre-k school in the City for under-served populations.

FPCA’s partnerships with the Lehigh County Conference of Churches and its programs and committees (LCCC Daybreak, LCCC Soup Kitchen at St. Paul’s, and LCCC’s Peace and Advocacy Committee and Ecumenical Committee) remain strong thanks to the work of dedicated volunteers and mission team leaders. On January 29,  FPCA will host an ecumenical service organized by the Conference’s Ecumenical Committee to celebrate the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.  Members and friends of FPCA are also taking a lead role in the planning of the Third Annual Martin Luther King Dinner and Program at St. John’s UCC at 15th and Walnut on January 16.

In 2012, Tony Sundermeier and I will co-convene the regular Beerituality gatherings at the BrewWorks at 812 W. Hamilton Street. Musician, friend, and creator of the broken liturgy worship experience John Hardt will join us for an evening of song and conversation at 7 PM on January 19.  We’re blessed to have John as our first guest of the New Year.

Happy as I am to join with City residents and leaders in the celebration of Allentown’s 250th anniversary beginning tonight, I’m even more excited for the work we’ll all do together this year toward a better 2013 and beyond. I’m blessed to be charged with much of this work as part of my vocation at First Presbyterian, but the development of generative relationships and cultures in the City is something diverse groups of religious, civic, business, and community volunteers believe in and continue to work toward.  May this be the year that changes everything.  As we might say in church, may this be the year of the Lord’s favor!  Amen.

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Phantoms

The future home of your Allentown Phantoms.

The Daily Cocca is proud to welcome Eric Sylvester back to our guest-blogger chair.  Because all signs point to a proposed minor league hockey arena in downtown Allentown becoming the new home of the former Philadelphia Phantoms, I asked for Eric’s take on the team.  Eric’s my go-to hockey guy, and with good reason.

Eric asked if he could write a piece about the 2004-2005 season, a time when big league hockey was locked out and a talented, neglected AHL team took the professional sport, and its near-professional fans across the country, on a wild, redemptive ride.  Why is any of this important to me or to Allentown hockey in 2013?  On a personal level, Eric’s a peach and I wanted him to a little bit about his beloved fandom.  (He really did meet his girlfriend on WordPress, by the way, so you are beholding the power of blogging on two levels, here).  But I’m also interested in the way sports narratives can galvanize communities.  We’ve heard so much in the past few weeks about the kind of identify formation that happens at places like Penn State, but Eric was isolated hockey fan in Iowa who connected to a minor league team in South Philly.  I don’t mean to overplay the sports-as-life narrative, because we’ve seen how devastating that can be.  But in the right times and right conditions, fandom can bring communities together in positive ways, even across state lines and team loyalties.

Eric, thanks for the piece.


How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Phantoms
by Eric Sylvester, Special (Like a Pretenders song) to The Daily Cocca

One of the best things about blogging is getting to hear the stories of a multitude of different types of people.  I’ve made friends in the hockey community, the political ring, and some genuinely hilarious people through blogging.  I even met my girlfriend, Emily, via this blog (that’s two shameless plugs for your blog already, babe).  Editor’s Note: she smiled and DIDN’T hit me.  I’m surprised, too.  Editor’s Note #2: Upon reading this, she called me a “jerk” and hit me.  THAT’S the Emily I know.

Chris Cocca is one of these great people I’ve had the pleasure of befriending since I started the blog.  It’s always awesome when we get a chance to randomly talk, primarily because we share many of the same weird interests.  From our mutual love for comics to our shared affinity for vintage baseball facial hair, we tend to have some interesting conversations.

I guest-posted last year during the NHL Playoffs for Cocca and have an undying love for hockey.  So, naturally, when he started talking about the possibility of the Philadelphia Adirondack Phanotms AHL hockey team moving to Allentown (Chris’ hometown), I had a story to tell.

You see, the (then) Philadelphia Phantoms were the story of the 2005 hockey world.  Why?  Because the 2004-2005 NHL season was lost to a lockout.  As the only hockey fan in my small hometown in Iowa, I was mercilessly teased by my friends.  They knew how much hockey meant to me and reveled in the fact that they got to watch their beloved NBA while I was deprived of my favorite thing in the world.  I look forward to hockey season more than Christmas, and that year Christmas wasn’t going to come.

But there was hockey in 2004-2005, just not the hockey I was used to following.  The American Hockey League, America’s highest level of minor league hockey, would still play their season.  With minor league hockey as my only option, I thought  I was going to be subjected to a subpar league for a full season.  Still, I said, bad puck is better than no puck at all.   Mediocre players playing mediocre  hockey in empty arenas is still hockey.  I soldiered on and said my prayers to the hockey gods every night, begging for the return of the NHL.

I kept tabs on the affiliate of my Colorado Avalanche, the Hershey Bears, who never seemed destined for a playoff berth (they missed a postseason spot by ten points).  My Colorado Avalanche didn’t exist and their affiliate franchise was done for the season .  The most depressing year of my fifteen-year life lingered on.  Even though there would be no proxy-Avalanche to lift my spirits in the playoffs, something else happened; something I wasn’t expecting.

I fell in love with the Philadelphia Phantoms.  This wasn’t some throw-away hockey team playing in the minors.  They had some SERIOUS firepower, and featured a bevy of future NHL superstars.  Led by goaltender Antero Niittymaki (now with the San Jose Sharks), the Phantoms featured future NHL All-Star Jeff Carter, eventual Flyers’ captain Mike Richards, and future Stanley Cup winners Patrick Sharp and Ben Eager.  The Phantoms grinded their way to the Calder Cup Finals with a style of play reminiscent of their big-brother Philadelphia Flyers of the mid 70’s: tight checking, strong defense, phenomenal goaltending, and (most of all) local fan support.  When the Phantoms completed the surprising four game sweep of the Chicago Wolves to win the Calder Cup, 20,103 fans filled the Wachovia Center to witness the glory.

Yes, the Wachovia Center.  The home of the Philadelphia Flyers.  While my friends were busy mocking me for watching a league that “nobody” cared about, the Philadelphia Phantoms sold out an NHL arena.

Before the AHL playoffs, my frustration with a league that was shut down by greed (and at hockey-ignorant friends for taking so much pleasure in my misery) was hard.  But I realized I wasn’t alone.  The Phantoms became my retreat from a rural Iowa community that will never understand the connection hockey fans feel with each other, that hockey is as much of a culture as it is a sport.  There’s a communal imperative, a bond among hockey fans that’s unique in sports.  No matter who our teams are, we actively seek out each other’s company.  As die-hard acolytes of a sport less mainstream, these days, than NASCAR or golf, we’re a rare breed in fandom.  As much as we love the game, and we LOVE it, it’s simply one aspect of being a fan.

The Phantoms celebrating their Calder Cup championship in front of a sold out crowd.

Deprived of an NHL to relate to, the lockout season started as especially difficult time in my life.  While I was the only hockey fan in my school, I still could talk a little hockey with some of my sports-loving friends.  One might catch the occasional game on ESPN (or at least see a highlight), and might seek me out with questions or for my brand of expert analysis. Hockey was, and is, so much a part of who I am that my classmates would rush to talk to me on a Monday simply because they had attended their first hockey game over the weekend.  When the NHL season was lost I thought I’d  lost my identity.  I was no longer “the hockey guy”; I was the “guy who lost hockey.”  As an angst-y fifteen-year-old, this was incredibly hard. And but for the Philadephia Adironack Allentown Phantoms, it would have stayed so.

In a year filled with pain and suffering for hockey fans across the world, I joined Philadelphia in embracing the Phantoms.  I identified with them.  The Philadelphia Phantoms were the minor league team in a city with an NHL team.  The little brother.  Mostly forgotten.  They were the angst-y kid overlooked by the cute girls.  Then, with the lockout, everyone knew me as the person most directly effected by the loss of a season and of a sport no one else cared much about  in the small radius of our high school and town.  In a strange way, the lockout didn’t take my identity at all; it bolstered my connection with something I thought I alone understood, and my reputation as someone with something at stake.  That’s powerful esoteric sauce for kids figuring out who they are.  (See: Cocca, Christopher; his love of Oasis).  At the same time my identity formation was rising, the Phantoms went from Philadelphia’s forgotten team to the biggest story in hockey; among my friends and peers, I was the biggest story in hockey.   The Phantoms were the greatest hockey team in the world, and I was the world’s biggest fan.




The Daily Cocca is happy to report that Eric is a well-adjusted college student preparing to lead our children into the 21st century as a teacher and weekly screener of Happy Gilmore.   When the Phantoms come the Allentown, the local support Eric talked about will be crucial.  So many of us have been rooting (and working) for downtown revitalization for so long, rooting for the Phantoms will require no adjustment.  To the doubters or people less connected with the history of the city, we’ll need your help, too.  Great things are already happening downtown.  This could be a rallying and tipping point that helps foster a new stage of smart growth.

The Growing Economic Divide: Occupy Allentown on October 29

The Justice and Advocacy Committee of the Lehigh Valley Conference of Churches began planning a creative learning event about the growing Economic Divide in America long before we’d heard of #OccupyWallStreet, Occupy Together, or Occupy Allentown.  The Occupy movement affirms the the urgency of these issues for people of faith, and for all people.  Please join us at Zion’s Liberty Bell Church (also known as Zion’s Reformed UCC) at 620 W. Hamilton Street in Allentown on Saturday, October 29th.  Everything you need to know about workshop options, presenters, schedules, and registration is here.


Lehigh Valley Families Earn Less, Drive More

The PPL Building (seen here in the distance) i...
Allentown, the heart of the metro region.

I hate when people say  “I told you so.”  I also hate when people say “I hate to say ‘I told you so.'”  Since lots of people have been saying a lot of what follows for a long time, let’s get right down to it.  Beyond anecdote and intuition, Matt Assad, Scott Kraus and Eugene Tauber give it to us straight in today’s Morning Call:

Lehigh Valley families earn less than they did 10 years ago and commute a heck of a lot more.  We know it. We’ve sensed it. We’ve sat on 22 and 78 far too long far too many times, always, in these last four years, for diminishing financial returns.  We know, don’t we, that these commutes are bad for our mental health, bad for our social life, bad for our family time, bad for our wallets and bad for the air?  But we drive more and more for less and less, because, really, what choice do most of us have?

I talk about this a lot in my work with the Air Quality Partneship of Lehigh Valley – Berks.  We can save money, time, and quality of life by abandoning outdated, unhealthy commuter practices.  We can carpool and we can carpool more.  We can take mass transit.  We can pressure our employers to incentive transit and commuter programs that have already been established.

Not even two weeks ago, we learned that the air quality in the Lehigh Valley metro region is even worse than the federal government is telling us, according to the latest scientific standards.  More single-car, single-rider commuting means more smog and, in long and short terms, greater health care costs.  Increased costs of living and decreased qualities of life. When are we, as consumers, commuters, voters, and employees going to get serious about this issue? When are we going to demand that our employers and elected officials do the same?

Assad, Kraus, and Tauber also report on the widening economic gap the 2010 Census confirms.  Kraus and Tauber offer more analysis here.  It just so happens that the Lehigh County Conference of Churches is presenting a one-day learning experience on October 29 called “The Growing Economic Divide: Which Side Are You On?”  Steve Schnapp, a nationally recognized educator with United for a Fair Economy, will be leading interactive educational experiences around these issues.  Please register for this event, which is sponsored by Lehigh Valley partners including Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley (CACLV); Penn Northeast Conference of the United Church of Christ; Peace & Justice Committee (Mennonite: EDC/FMC); Congregations United for Neighborhood Action (CUNA), and the Peace and Justice Committee of First Presbyterian Church of Allentown.

Kindle Fire an Aptly Named Product (Yes, This is About Amazon’s Deplorable Working Conditions in the Lehigh Valley)

Twitter is just ablaze (see what I did there?) with news about Amazon’s new Kindle Fire.  It’s touch. It’s cheap. It slices and dices and makes three different (pizza slice falls on Master Splinter’s head.  I never did have resolution about that).

The Kindle Fire by Amazon.  The must-have gift this Christmas.  The incredible price point of $199.  Made possible, of course, because Amazon runs facilities like those in Breinigsville, Lehigh Valley, PA, where conditions over the summer were so unsafe that Amazon used the local ambulance corps. as a concierge service.  “Well, you know, it was hot this summer,” says Amazon.  Then why weren’t the same dangerous conditions observed at any of the many other warehouses in within a stone’s throw of Amazon’s facilities? Curiouser and curiouser.

The Kindle Fire: Because Our Warehouses Are Hot as Hell!

The Kindle Fire: Because That’s What We Do To Temps and Employees Who Use Heat-Induced Sick Days!

The Kindle Fire: So Cheap, We’re Hoping You Ignore our Human Rights and Safety Violations!

The Kindle Fire: Give the Gift of Worker Abuse This Christmas!

Lehigh Valley Air Quality Facts a Little Hazy? I’m Here to Help.

The Lehigh Valley is the 13th-Smoggiest Medium-Sized Metro Region in the Country, according to a new report, Danger in the Air, produced by PennEnvironment.

There was a time when this would have been because of all of the industry booming here along our rivers.  These days, it’s mostly because of how much time most of us spend in our cars.  We’re a commuting metro region, and 1-78, the great East Coat conduit that cuts right through our valley, brings thousands of just-passing-through drivers who leave their emissions hanging in low elevation between our mountains. On hot summer days, those emissions interact with naturally-occurring volatile organic compounds, get baked by the sun, and make for unhealthy levels of smog in the region.

That the Lehigh Valley has air quality (and commuter) problems isn’t news.  What many folks don’t know, however, is that the air quality standards the EPA currently uses to warn the public about bad air quality days is, by most scientific accounts, sadly out of date.  Barack Obama has recently punted the issue to 2013, an awfully presumptive move at the moment.

Here in Pennsylvania, meteorologists at the Department of Environmental Protection produce air quality forecasts every day that specifically indicate the levels of fine particle pollution and ground-level ozone (o3) likely to be present in our air.   These levels are matched against the federal  Air Quality Index, a color-coded indicator meant to tell us when air conditions will be unsafe for various groups.  Green Days are supposed to be healthy for everyone.  Yellow Days are likely to be unhealthy for children, the elderly, and people with respiratory conditions.  Orange follows yellow, red follows orange, and Purple Days are unsafe for everyone. Maroon Days are extremely dangerous.

Working in accordance with these federal guide lines, which PennEnvironment and others have called out-of-date, the DEP announces Air Quality Action Days when levels for either pollutant (particle pollution, in this case, PM2.5, and ground-level ozone) are expected to exceed Code Yellow levels.  Once upon a time in the Lehigh Valley, residents could ride LANTA for free on Air Quality Action Days when orange levels were exceeded.  The “Ride Free On Red” program has been without vital state funding for some time, even though evidence compiled by LANTA and the Air Quality Partnership shows clear surges in LANTA use, especially among the elderly, on Code Red Days.

Why was this important?  Because ride-sharing, car-pooling, and mass-transit are essential to reducing ozone emissions (smog) generally and on Air Quality Action Days specifically.  There are other personal choices and behaviors that citizens can use to reduce their personal levels of smog production, and they can all be found at, the online home of the Air Quality Partnership of Lehigh Valley – Berks.

As I said on television and in the press release accompanying the release of the report, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania can and should play a lead role in demanding a much-needed change to federal guidelines, and should also make it easy for government agencies and state businesses to incentivize the kinds of commuter habits that would help us reduce ozone levels across the state.

All of this comes as some presidential contenders are pushing for the abolition of the EPA.  I saw one prospective voter question the validity of regulating “dust,” certainly not knowing the the regular of fine particle pollution (like the regulation of ground-level ozone emissions) saves lives.  Particle pollution doesn’t just dissipate to nothing.  It turns out that Kansas was wrong about that: dust in the wind ends up lungs, and so does ground-level ozone.  Both put our most vulnerable populations at risk, and reducing the occurrence of both here in the greater Lehigh Valley is the Air Quality Partnership’s main mission.

We’re at a critical economic, political, and environmental crossroads.   Our partnership needs increased participation from business, government, and health leaders.  We need new ways to fund projects like “Ride Free on Red,”  and we need public engagement in initiatives like our newest endeavor, the Share the Ride Challenge.  We continue to have great successes with regional educators and students, providing tremendous educational resources ate age-specific levels to primary and secondary public schools across three counties.

I’m an asthma sufferer, but as I said last week, our calls for continued education, advocacy, and support are not a case of special pleading.  We all breathe the same air, and most of us are just as culpable as the next person in the production of smog.  Our partnership exists to educate, to advocate, and encourage practical changes at corporate and private levels so that we all might breathe a little easier.  Please help us.