Pro Sports Suits These Brooks Brothers

By LVEDC Staff on June 11, 2013

While the Pittsburgh Pirates were claiming three divisional flags during the early ‘90s they were also going broke. By 1996, the talent-rich Buccos were cash poor and didn’t have many buckos.

An attractive offer to head south of Tobacco Road to Charlotte, N.C. looked very appealing.

The image of the Steel City sans The Lumber Company – the “We Are Family” Pirates whose long and proud history included iconic images of Bill Mazeroski, Roberto Clemente and Willie Stargell – was not a pretty one.

“That would have been devastating to our town,” said James Brooks, co-owner of the soon-to-be Lehigh Valley Phantoms franchise, during an Allentown Rotary luncheon Friday at the Holiday Inn in Allentown.

His father, Robert Brooks Sr., was determined to make sure the city didn’t lose its storied baseball franchise. He was among Kevin McClatchy’s financial partners who pooled together enough money to buy the Pirates and keep them in Pittsburgh.

Hit the fast-forward button.

In 1999 it was the National Hockey League’s Pittsburgh Penguins who were skating on thin ice. The team was in bankruptcy and facing the proposition of either folding, or being bought out and relocated.

Again, not a scenario Robert Brooks Sr. was cool with.

Penguins legend Mario Lemieux wasn’t thrilled with that either and approached Brooks because of his role with the Pirates.  Today, the Penguins are still putting the biscuit in the basket in the Three Rivers City.

James and his brother Robert are ice chips off the old block when it comes to professional sports. The Brooks Group is overseeing the under-construction PPL Center and the daily operations of the Phantoms. Each brings a set of unique skills and experience to the Allentown franchise.

Jim has worked with the Pirates, Penguins and hockey’s minor league Wheeling Nailers (the Penguins affiliate) and Adirondack Phantoms. Robert has spent the last decade with the Nailers and Phantoms.

“Since the early ‘90s we’ve have the honor of being a part of these teams and being a part of their communities, “said Robert Brooks.

“By being involved with these sports teams we’ve been better able to appreciate and understand what these sports teams can do for their communities,” said James Brooks. “…It was through our ownership of the Penguins that Rob and I really found our calling (of owning sports teams).

The brothers brought a new team and a new arena to the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton market in the form of the American Hockey League’s Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. The team was embraced by the locals. The excitement has left an indelible impression upon them.

“What we saw there was just amazing,” said James Brooks. “Not only did we see what a new team could bring to a community, but even more so what a new arena could bring to the community.”

James Brook noted one of the things the arena brought to surrounding community was economic development.

“Everything you can think of there is there,” said James Brooks. “Retail, restaurants, hotels – it’s there… That was something Rob and I really wanted to continue to do.”

The Brooks Group and their consultants scoured the country to find the next “right” market. Their search brought them to the Lehigh Valley.

“We did a lot of feasibility and economic impact studies and they all came back and verified that this area not only could support a new arena but deserves a new arena,” James Brooks said.

“We knew through our research that the Lehigh Valley preferred the American Hockey League,” said Roberts Brooks.

Downtown Allentown will host the Phantoms and their fans. James Brooks explained why.

“Our hats off to Mayor Ed Pawlowski because he really helped put together a vision and his vision helped create in downtown Allentown,” James Brooks said. “And Senator Pat Browne created the financing mechanism to make it work.”

James Brooks also lauded the work of developer J.B. Reilly for “believing in downtown Allentown.”

The Phantoms are scheduled to take their first faceoff in the Lehigh Valley in the fall of 2014.

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