Winners that lobby successfully for Rendell's blessing still have to come up with matching funds, construction plans, and temporary financing. They usually do, Dreher says.
The program was started as a way to pay for the Convention Center in Philadelphia and improvements to the Pittsburgh airport. It grew in 1999, when Gov. Tom Ridge used it to raise more than $80 million each for the new Eagles and Phillies stadiums.
Other big payouts: $32 million for the National Constitution Center, 1998-2000; $30 million for the public plaza under Comcast's headquarters in 2004; and at least $40 million to Philadelphia Museum of Art projects.
Under Rendell, Pennsylvania has borrowed more money to fund more projects, increasing the program's borrowing limit by $1.4 billion since 2007. Payments on the bonds that fund the projects cost the state more than $200 million a year.
Last Sunday, I listed the local projects that recently passed the General Assembly and now await Rendell's thumbs-up. The list is shorter than usual; since the state has the borrowed cash to spend, people familiar with the program expect State Rep. Dwight Evans (D., Phila.), who drafts the legislation and heads the Appropriations Committee, will propose another list this fall. Evans' staff members were unavailable for comment Friday.
Programs passed by the assembly and awaiting Rendell include, for example, the busy Independence Visitors Center, which supports its $4 million operating budget with a National Park Service subsidy, tourist-destination ticket sales, and a cut of the fees from Ride The Ducks and Philadelphia Trolley Works tours that begin at the center. (Proceeds are down since the July 7 fatal accident that suspended the Ducks.)
The visitors' center is in line for $5 million in capital improvements, if Rendell agrees. "This building is 10 years old. It has aged," said director Jim Cuorato, a former Philadelphia city commerce director. "One of my goals is to make this a green building, if possible. It could include solar panels, lighting, HVAC systems."
Cuorato said Independence's board chairman, John Estey, would work with Rendell's office to win approval. Estey is Rendell's former chief of staff.
About 31 more Philadelphia projects approved in earlier bills have already been endorsed by Rendell's office this year.
These include $2.3 million for two shopping areas being developed by the Ogontz Avenue Revitalization Corp., which Evans founded; $3.5 million for two Fresh Grocer-brand supermarkets in North Philadelphia and Germantown; $2 million for the Barnes Foundation, on top of at least $25 million in previous payments approved by Rendell; $250,000 for the Union League club's museum; and $5 million for the Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation, among others.
How did Ed Snider, a devotee of minimal-government, pro-business libertarian Ayn Rand, end up asking Rendell for $5 million?
"This money is actually going into the refurbishment and restoration" of five run-down, city-owned rinks that Snider's foundation has kept open for throngs of hockey-playing kids since they were threatened with closure two years ago, says foundation president Scott Tharp.
Snider will match the state "with $5 million of his own," Tharp added. "Regardless of his Ayn Rand belief, the foundation believes that when you provide a viable public service, there should be public support."
Contact Joseph N. DiStefano at 215-854-5194 or JoeD@phillynews.com.