The Mouse That Snored Was City Sleepy On Disneyquest?

Posted: January 24, 2000

Ed Rendell was a hell of a deal maker, but no demon for details.

As an example we offer the troubled - and troubling - DisneyQuest development.

This multi-million-dollar project promised to bring suburbanites and their kids back to Center City with an entertainment center that screamed Disney. It seemed like an enticing project in 1998 and worth the city's financial support.

But so far all that developers, headed by Ken Goldenberg, have delivered is a giant hole at 8th and Market. And a demand for more financial help from Philadelphia.

Mayor Street, apparently nervous about losing a high-profile deal involving the Walt Disney Company, wants the city to give developers an additional $35 million. That's on top of the $25 million the city has already advanced developers in the form of tax incremental financing, otherwise known as a TIF.

But how do developers plan on finding the rest of the money to complete the $165 million project? That's apparently a secret.

City Controller Jonathan Saidel, troubled by the lack of details in this deal, has demanded a report in writing on how developers plan to finance the project. As of last Friday, he was still waiting.

"I'm concerned that the investment of the city becomes so substantial that we're in the entertainment business," Saidel said.

There may be some feeling that Philadelphia's investment is too high to pull out of the project now.

Street visited a DisneyQuest entertainment center in Chicago last week and was impressed, aides said.

He would have been better off, however, if he had spent more time looking at how Chicago has successfully used TIFs. According to Windy City officials, each city dollar spent on a TIF development generates $6 of private investment money.

Will Philadelphia do as well with DisneyQuest? We and Saidel can't tell.

All we know at this point is that this is one goofy deal. And one the city should strongly reconsider.

State ambivalent on subsidizing child care Wrong thing, right thing The Ridge administration has stopped doing the wrong thing on subsidized child care - and will soon do the right thing.

The wrong thing was to double co-payment for child care for low-income families last year - from $10 a week to $20. At the same time, the state redrew the rules, making fewer families eligible.

It was the wrong thing because it forced many families out of the program, forced mothers out of their jobs or forced them to cut back on other family necessities.

Although the policy may have reduced waiting lists (partly by making some people on them ineligible), the state was hoarding money it could have used for welfare. Nearly $80 million appropriated for child-care subsidies had not been spent, according to Auditor General Robert P. Casey Jr., whose criticism seems to have helped force the turnaround.

The right thing, in the governor's budget for next year, is his reversal of prior policy. Eligibility for the subsidized child care program will be extended and co-payments for many will be reduced.

Last week, working mothers demonstrated because the slowness of reimbursements for child care threatened their abilities to stay in their jobs.

Fixing this problem also is the right thing to do.

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