ANOTHER VIEW: ALLENTOWN STATE HOSPITAL
Let’s say you wanted to buy 200 acres from someone. You’re willing to pay $2.57 million. Let’s say the Seller is willing but tells you it must first spend $15 million to knock down all the buildings located there. What’s more, the Seller is going to give you three years to get a few investors to join you. During that time, it is spending $2.2 million a year to maintain the buildings it wants to knock down. You’d say that Seller is nuts and belongs in a state hospital. That Seller, unfortunately, is the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The property in question is the Allentown State Hospital, which is where our glorious legislators belong. Without question, its deal to sell the 200-acre campus for $2.2 million to a private party is fiscally irresponsible. It’s actually borderline lunacy until you learn who’s involved. Then it really begins to smell.
In their infinite wisdom, state officials decided some years ago to close down the state hospitals. The argument was that residents there would do better in community mental health programs. But guess what? Funding for community mental health has been cut. The result is that some severely mentally ill people are on the streets. They’ve been flooding our jails, too. In Northampton County, 72 percent of the jail population is mentally ill, according to county medical personnel. Twenty-three percent of these inmates suffer from serious mental illness, with acute symptoms.
After deciding to shut down the state hospital straddled between Bethlehem and Allentown, state officials had to decide what to do with it. Former Allentown Mayor Edwin Pawlowski, currently a resident of a federal prison, wanted it. He promised state officials he would seek proposals from developers, entrepreneurs and nonprofits. But by that time, it was known that Pawlowski was under federal investigation for illegal contributions from those developers and entrepreneurs.
So the state began negotiations for a direct conveyance. No requests for proposals. No advertising the property. Nope, someone from Doylestown mysteriously appeared and is negotiating to buy the property. A direct conveyance to an outfit called TCA Properties was unanimously approved in the land of midnight payraises in 2017. The deal must close in three years.
Like fish, any deal that lasts that long begins to stink.
How did the state line up TCA Properties, who State Representative Mike Schlossberg referred to as a “serious developer”? What makes him a “serious developer” is the fact that he is represented by former State Rep. Jennifer Mann, now a lobbyist and a wheeler-dealer with a real estate license.
Though Mann is a registered lobbyist, she has failed to list her work on behalf of TCA. How did TCA get lined up with the state? Mann is currently lobbying to get a special tax break for TCA from the county, Allentown and the school board.
State law fails to require lobbyists to register for dealings with local government.
We all know how that worked out for Mike Fleck, who acted as a political consultant and then lobbied local governments for deals with his business clients.
Now let’s take a closer look at this “serious developer.” The principal of TCA Properties is David Ali, who operates both TCA Properties and another one-man outfit called Impala Builders. He runs both businesses out of his house in Doylestown.
Bucks County records show the following liens:
2018-73860. Pa Dept of Revenue v. David J Ali and Maria L, filed 8/8/18 for $10,107.77
2011-74202. Pa Dept of Revenue v. David J Ali and Maria L, filed 11/30/11, for $5,710.83
2008-72320. Pa Dept of Revenue v. David Ali, filed 7/29/08, for $6,721.37
2007-70914. Pa Dept of Revenue v. David J Ali and Maria L, filed 4/9/07, for $$6,049.49
2010-21825. IRS v. David J Ali & Maria L, filed 10/4/10, for $4,789.88
2004-04444. EARTHSTAR BANK v. David J Ali & Maria L, foreclosure complaint filed 7/8/2004. Terminated 10/12/06.
2005-20094. IRS v. David J Ali, filed 2/8/05 for $ $87,270.01.
2011-07439. AMERICAN FAST FREIGHT INC v. IMPALA BUILDERS LLC, filed 8/18/11, for $8820.14.
When State Senator Pat Browne campaigned against opponent Mark Pinsley, he did so on the basis of supposed liens against Pinseley. But he made a mistake. These TCA liens are very real. No government, state or local, should do business with someone who collects tax liens like candy.
In case you’re wondering whether anyone aside from me has noticed that TCA is far from the “serious developer” that State Rep. Mike Schlossberg pretends it is, let’s look at what The Morning Call itself said about TCA and David Ali back in 2017:
Ali’s companies, TCA and Impala, also are named in a March 10, 2015, report by the Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General. The report raises questions about how Ali’s companies handled the purchase and sale of property in Fayetteville, N.C. The property was owned by the family of a Veterans Affairs employee, leading to the finding that she had “an appearance of conflict of interest” by participating in the evaluation and sale of land used as a VA health care facility, according to the report.
This is a “serious developer”? Sign me up. I can make deals from my estate atop the Nazareth Army Navy store, sitting in my underwear.
Allentown developer Nat Hyman recently contacted the very state legislators who want to sell this property to a tax deadbeat. His interest was reported in a Morning Call story that originally was very positive. Then the story was updated with vitriol from State Rep. Mike Schlossberg directed at Hyman. This seems to be a hobby for local Allentown officials, but that’s another story. His remarks were so personal that the newspaper decided to tone it down and remove some of them.
Why are Schlossberg and even Browne so willing to trash Hyman? Simple. Jenn Mann represents TCA, not Hyman. Jenn Mann used to employ Schlossberg.
Just a few days ago, Schlossberg sent a missive to The Parkland Press, saying “In a perfect world, the Allentown State Hospital buildings would be preserved and re-purposed to create jobs and grow our economy, but we have to face the facts.”
Now he has a “responsible developer.” Hyman wants to preserve the buildings and create jobs. He is seeking no TIF or any of the usual government handouts. But he lacks a connection to Jenn Mann.
Nat Hyman is no Ghandi. He’s in this to make money. I do not mean to suggest that he should get the sweetheart deal intended for the tax cheat from Doylestown. It is clear that TCA lacks the resources to do the demolition. Instead of wasting more money, the state should seek proposals from interested developers and do what is right for the Lehigh Valley.