First Priority: Jump-Start the Economy

LOOK out Jersey!

For the last couple of years, the Garden State has wooed business with all kinds of incentives. Now, Philadelphia is putting together a war chest of its own.

Mayor Edward Rendell plans to make economic stimulus his major priority starting this January. He plans to put together money the city has saved from the sale of assets, bond refinancings to take advantage of lower interest rates, and funds given to the city from the Delaware River Port Authority.

In 1995, the city will add funds from the upfront franchise fees from riverboat gambling. Although it is too early to know the total amount of money available, it will be substantial.

``We are going to try to jump-start our economy,'' Mr. Rendell says.

As most Philadelphians know, the local economy needs lots of help. The city's job base is shrinking about 4 percent per year as local businesses retrench.

In addition, the government is closing the Philadelphia Navy Yard and plans to shut a large Internal Revenue Service processing center. ``They have significant losses ahead,'' says Anita Summers, a professor at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania's business school.

Rendell says his economic jolt will be two prong: to encourage hospitality-type enterprises and to try to make the city a more ``fun place.''

For example, the city - with Mrs. Rendell's help - is now in the process of trying to raise the final $100 million for a $300 million project called ``Avenue of the Arts.'' About half of the venues, such as galleries and theaters, will open by this spring.

If the new projects draw people onto the streets at night, it might be helpful, Professor Summers says. The streets of Philadelphia ``are not only dead at night, but uneasy,'' she says. The city needs ``a central artery where people can walk, and it is safe.''

OVER the long term, Rendell wants to try to encourage trucking and transportation companies to locate warehouses around Philadelphia. With the empty Navy yard, there is plenty of room.

The area has excellent highways connecting it to all parts of the Northeast Corridor. And three railroads have lines into the city.

``Every firm that wants to open up an East Coast distribution center should look at Philadelphia,'' says the mayor, wearing his salesman's hat.

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