City Hall’s Idea of Investing in the Future: Newspapers!

Why are Philadelphia taxpayers loaning $3 million to the Inquirer?

For those of us struggling to reinvent our businesses in this lousy economic climate, I have great news for you: The City of Brotherly Love has your back. As reported in the Philadelphia Business Journal, the Philadelphia Inquirer will receive $3 million in “special loans” from the city to help finance its move to the old Strawbridge’s building. This is just weeks after the Inky sold its building for $21 million to Bart Blatstein.

“It’s not a matter of needing it, but if there are incentives available we would be irresponsible not to take advantage of it,” said publisher Greg Osberg. In other words, if the city is stupid enough to offer us the money, why wouldn’t we take it? Who should know better how stupid the city is than the “Newspaper of Record” that has covered everything from DROP to the Arlene Ackerman debacle?

A spokesman for the city claimed that “the city had a real concern that this company could leave the city.” Um, where would they go? If you haven’t checked, office rents are higher in the suburbs than in the city. And do you really think the city’s newspaper would leave the city? What’s worse, the owners of the paper have one mission: to shore up the balance sheet of the paper and sell the thing. That’s right, one of the owners of Philadelphia Media Network is New York-based Angelo Gordon—a private equity firm that specializes in buying distressed properties and unloading them for a profit. Tell that to the Occupy Wall Street crowd roaming the streets of Philadelphia looking for a place to pitch their tents.

Look, I realize that there are many tax disincentives to locating a business in Philadelphia. I have nothing against the city doing everything it can to attract jobs here. But can somebody at least have some vision and attract businesses that have a prayer of success in the future? Boston had the right idea when that city helped attract the pharmaceutical firm Vertex to the city’s burgeoning waterfront. Boston Mayor Thomas Menino branded the waterfront the “Innovation District” and secured $12 million in tax relief and $50 million in infrastructure financing backed by the city and state. Vertex’s $900 million headquarters is purported to be the country’s most expensive private development project right now. Now that is a city that’s thinking big.

The Business Journal reports that the special Inquirer loan is on top of $10.5 million that was earmarked by the state for the Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust for their development of the Strawbridge building and the Gallery at Market East. That area is a mess, and I’m glad the city wants to clean it up. Still, using our tax dollars to make a newspaper business with an uncertain future a catalyst for breathing new life into a neighborhood hardly seems like the beginning of anything innovative for our town.