Allentown and PPL Center disagree on who should foot the traffic control bill at popular events at the downtown arena.
City Council approved a series of budget adjustments last week, including $8,500 in overtime for city public works staff who help direct traffic for special events, including those being held at the PPL Center.
The 8,500-seat arena has recently attracted artists such as Imagine Dragons, Lamb of God, Megadeth and Morgan Wallen. But the popularity of its events creates traffic problems for those coming and going from downtown, especially on Seventh Street.
The problem is exacerbated by the arena’s parking lot, which has only one entrance and one exit point.
Public Works employees help set up traffic cones and direct traffic at PPL Center events. Overtime payments are a drop in the bucket of Allentown’s $125 million annual budget, but city officials want the PPL center to handle traffic control itself.
“It wasn’t budgeted, we didn’t plan for this, but we had to step in and do it because only we can,” said Leonard Lightner, the city’s chief operating officer. “We can’t keep doing this, but these are our streets.”
Lightner said the PPL Center should consider hiring a traffic contractor to handle the situation.
Council member Ed Zucal questioned overtime at Wednesday’s meeting.
“Unfortunately, taxpayers are being forced to pay for all that extra security,” Zucal said in an interview.
Lightner said the city is negotiating with PPL Center management.
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PPL center operations manager Gunnar Fox said the center was fulfilling its obligation to manage traffic. BDH Development is the anchor tenant of the PPL Center and pays the Allentown Neighborhood Improvement Zone Authority, owner of the center, approximately $10,000 per month for general services; which includes traffic control.
“At this time, we would not seek to hire an outside contractor to manage [traffic]“Since the building opened, it has always been a collaboration between the entities, and we all work together to provide the best possible experience for guests,” Fox said.
City officials said the traffic situation became more difficult to manage late last year when the Allentown Parking Authority refused to renew a contract with the PPL Center to manage the center’s parking lot. .
Allentown Parking Authority Chairman Ted Zeller said the authority could not agree on a rate with PPL Center, so PPL Center is now managing the bridge.
“We extended [the contract] in good faith, and then we got to the point where we no longer — it had expired, we couldn’t negotiate a new rate,” Zeller said. “Thus, our services there have come to an end.”
The PPL Center was completed in 2014. The $177 million arena was partially funded by taxes generated in the Allentown neighborhood improvement area. The center is home to the Lehigh Valley Phantoms hockey team and hosts a range of concerts and events throughout the year.
Morning Call reporter Lindsay Weber can be reached at 610-820-6681 and [email protected].