A slew of large projects may not prevent people from leaving the city. With major construction projects springing up all over Philadelphia this year and in the near future, Mayor Ed Rendell and other officials are openly optimistic about the city's economic prospects. The list of enterprises likely to boost the city's visibility and tourism is long: a makeover of Independence Mall, a new regional performing arts center in Center City, an urban entertainment center at Penn's Landing and an ever-increasing number of hotels and restaurants. But whether this upsurge in economic development will actually encourage people to settle in Philadelphia remains unclear, according to many experts. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Philadelphia County had the highest rate of population decline in the state from 1990 to 1995, seeing its population fall from 1.59 million people to 1.50 million, a 5.5 percent drop. Penn Urban Studies Professor Ted Hershberg, director of the Center for Greater Philadelphia, said that while economic development projects are likely to increase tourism to Philadelphia and the number of entry-level jobs, they will not have a significant impact on migration to the city. Hershberg explained that taxes, schools and crime are the main factors which typically affect migration to a city. "In none of those areas does this city have the advantage," Hershberg said. "In this country, the cities are the losers." Still, he added that the projects can't help but improve the city's image. "Presenting Philadelphia as a desirable city is the right strategy," Hershberg said. "Cities have to become exciting places." And "exciting" is exactly what Philadelphia Mayor Ed Rendell and other city officials say they want Philadelphia to be. The city has landed a major project for Penn's Landing -- a $200 million Family Entertainment Center which will likely include a 24-screen movie theater, as well as several themed restaurants and retail outlets. Although there is no timetable for the center, officials expect to finalize plans for it by June. Another major venture is the $65.6 million renovation of Independence Mall, the 15-acre tourist attraction between Fifth and Sixth streets north of Chestnut Street that typically attracts more than 1.6 million visitors per year. At the heart of this plan is a proposed $30 million, 50,000-square-foot Gateway Visitor Center, which would serve as the region's orientation point for tourists. Rendell also wants to build a National Constitution Center to highlight the effect of that document on citizens' everyday lives. This center is estimated to cost $123 million and is not yet funded. Additionally, an increasing number of new hotels aim to lure the Democratic or Republican national political convention -- or both -- to the city in 2000. And officials are expected to unveil plans soon for a new regional performing arts center to be located downtown. But while Rendell has largely been praised for these urban expansion projects, "he will still not have the resources to deal with poverty," Hershberg said. He added that since "the poor have settled mainly in cities," the fiscal playing field is tilted in favor of the suburbs, as it is more rational for middle-class people to move to the Main Line or South Jersey -- where crime is lower and schools are better -- and still reap the benefits of a nearby city. And since the poor don't pay as much taxes as the middle class, Philadelphia loses out on a huge amount of revenue. One possible way to parlay economic development into a solid footing for the future is to "take extra income from the projects and dump it into the school system," according to George Thomas, a Penn Urban Studies professor and an expert on Philadelphia history. Ira Harkavy, director of the University's Center for Community Partnerships, said city renewal will require more than an influx of business and tourism dollars. "Revitalizing cities requires comprehensive, long, sustained efforts that take paramount advantage of existing sources," Harkavy said, citing higher education and medical facilities as potential focal points. "It isn't just about encouraging firms to build," he added. Harkavy said that successful cities are comprised of strong, close-knit communities, stressing the importance of maintaining initiatives aimed at improving West Philadelphia and other areas. The growth in economic development this year might indicate a need to build a downtown baseball stadium for the Philadelphia Phillies, a move which would further increase the visibility and attraction of Center City.Comments powered by Disqus
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