I thought a more reasoned, fact-based debate would have been much more helpful, but maybe that's not possible anymore.
There is an element of hysteria in some of the opposition.
Here is a portion of one of the emails I received in response to the column:
You, sir, are an idiot and a shill. Is that the best you could muster?
When local bloggers are demeaned for speaking truths by a professional journalist slinging mud, the public is in no way being served.
This type of "journalism" contributes mightily to the demise of the newspaper industry. I am now done with the trash rag called the MC.
Don't tell my boss, but this person is neither the first nor, I suspect, the last to claim he was dropping the newspaper because of something I've written. Beyond that, though, what continues to strike me, and not just in this response but about the debate in general, is the strong negative emotions it's stirring. I didn't "demean" the blogger on the program, project opponent Michael Molovinsky. I summarized his views and said I felt he is misguided. There's nothing demeaning about that.
I've been corresponding with another outspoken opponent, somewhat politely at first. Within a couple of emails, his tone had taken on the same kind of shrillness that emerged during the debate. I don't get it. Why can't people have legitimate disagreements on this project without figuratively or literally raising their voices in anger?
I found it completely understandable that the suburban communities, kept in the dark by the city's Loose Lips Sink Ships policy, went to court to get the assurances they needed. But once they're satisfied through a settlement agreement that they won't be deprived of Earned Income Tax money by the Neighborhood Improvement Zone funding formula, what serious negatives are we left with?
Some developers will be at a competitive disadvantage because their projects won't get the state financing available within the Neighborhood Improvement Zone? That's true, but considering all the other advantages that have driven economic development out of the cities and into the suburbs, and will continue to do so, I see it more as leveling the playing field than tilting it. The same advantages are available to them if they choose to embark on projects within the NIZ, including the riverfront area that has become a point of contention.
Don't like Mayor Ed Pawlowski's approach to getting this done? Get in line. But that hardly warrants deep-sixing this whole project.
When you boil it down, the real question is whether we, as a matter of public policy, think it makes sense to invest state tax dollars in attempting to rejuvenate this city's downtown area by building an arena and financing other economic development.
If you are philosophically opposed to that or don't think the results will justify the expenditure, fair enough, I guess. In light of our state's fiscal woes, I can understand the reluctance to divert this much state revenue to one city's projects, particularly if you live elsewhere in Pennsylvania.
But let's not pretend that this approach is unprecedented or nefarious — or exaggerate the impact with inflated numbers or wild predictions. Through various forms of funding, state tax dollars have helped finance stadiums, economic development projects and urban rejuvenation all over Pennsylvania, including Coca-Cola Park, which is working out pretty well. Philadelphia and Pittsburgh in particular got huge sums of state money toward their stadiums. Now the Lehigh Valley, offered its own state windfall to rebuild an important part of its urban core and provide another very promising entertainment venue, is going to say: Sorry, we're going to block that from happening. The state's being too generous. Wouldn't be fair to some developers.
Really? Are we thinking this through?
When I drove to work Monday, I passed an army of plows digging up a farm field that has been producing corn forever. In its place will be another housing development. This is the kind of progress we have come to expect. Wait and see what Lower Macungie Township looks like in 10 years.
The suburbs will survive just fine, if that's the kind of survival you're looking for. So I don't know why they would begrudge the city its best hope for reviving itself. Let's try looking at this with less heat and more light.
As one of the online commenters on that Business Matters column wrote:
"Who needs hockey fights? City planning fights are just as violent."
Bill White's commentary appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.