So Governor Rendell has promised $30 million in state funds for development in downtown Pittsburgh. It seems pretty clear that the folks directly involved in this sort of development will view this as a huge success. And if you judge success by how much money you can draw to a project--regardless of its source--then I suppose it is a success. But perhaps it makes sense to think things over a bit.
1. So the state is giving $30 million. And the city has promised $18. By my math, that's $48 million. To support PNC's $170 project.
2. Pittsburgh's current "rebranding" initiative--a multi-million extravaganza centered on the city's 250th birthday in 2008--focuses on the notion that Pittsburgh is a vibrant place that draws interest from cutting edge industry's like tech and finance. Doesn't the fact that a third of the funding for such projects has to come from state coffers argue against that point? Maybe some truth in advertising is in order. Something like a slogan: "Don't like us? How about if we pay you to?"
3. Alternatively, if these industries really are interested in Pittsburgh, and would come here just because they like the location and the people, shouldn't the good folks of Pennsylvania spend their $48 million on something else?
4. People argued that the famous "Renaissance" project in the middle of the 20th Century would revitalize Pittsburgh. It didn't, so the same people tried Renaissance II. People kept leaving, but fear not. Every few years someone asks for a few million more to complete the Renaissance and save the day. (The Post-Gazette offered a pretty grim history of these projects that AntiRust linked to and discussed here.) At least in this case the purveyors of prosperity are being a bit more transparent: The $48 million for the PNC project, you see, does not appear to be enough. According to today's Post-Gazette article, the Pittsburgh Task Force is already angling for subsidies for lofts+retail in the "old G.C. Murphy store and other city-owned buildings on Fifth and Forbes avenues."
"We certainly would welcome the governor's assistance in the Lazarus project and financially assisting in its sale and development," task force Chairman Herb Burger said.
Well, if the PNC project will effectively revitalize downtown Pittsburgh and draw more private investment, why in the world would we need to consider giving more for the Lazarus project? It's right down the street. Surely the redevelopment we gain from the $48 million will spread that far. Right?
Wrong. This is never going to end. In Pittsburgh or anywhere else. I have mentioned Baltimore a million times, but it's worth considering again because it parallels Pittsburgh's history so closely. It started there with the Inner Harbor. And a convention center. And stadiums. And hotels. Every time they promise salvation. Every time they are wrong. And every time they come back for more.