Allentown Arena Skips Public Bids

The developer of a planned arena in Allentown, Pa., is raising eyebrows over a decision to forgo a public bidding process.

Hammes Company recently said it plans to invite several qualified general contractors to bid on the $100 million project, but the contract will not be publicly advertised, according to the local Morning Call.

“Hammes Company is initiating a competitive process with multiple qualified general contractors who are able to successfully deliver this unique project type,” Hammes’ Rob Robinson told the paper. “Arena construction is a specialized field that requires a high level of qualifications and expertise.”

The arena will be operated by Allentown Commercial Industrial Development Association and state law usually requires such agencies to allow public bidding on large projects, but it seems there’s an exception in this case.

Because the association’s lease with the owners of the Adirondack Phantoms minor-league hockey team is expected to include an option to purchase the arena after 29 years, the agency doesn’t have to solicit public bids, the Call reported.

City and state officials are apparently OK with a closed bidding process, as the project is “specialized” and it is in Hammes’ best interest to hire qualified firms that will complete the job under budget and on schedule.

But government watchdog groups have called foul on the process, questioning whether taxpayers will get taken to the cleaners.

“We are talking about a $100 million project for an arena owned by a governmental entity, but the original bidding for the general contractor was closed?” Common Cause’s Barry Kauffman told the Call. “It seems to me, at a minimum, it is in the public interest to put these things out for public bidding so the taxpayer can be assured they are getting the highest value for the money.”

The arena is scheduled to be completed by fall 2013.