$600 million allocated for Pa. economic projects

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HARRISBURG -- An $830 million vaccine-producing "biodefense center," to be built somewhere in Allegheny County, is getting a $30 million boost from a statewide capital construction bill that Gov. Ed Rendell plans to sign today in Pittsburgh.

Legislation for an additional $600 million in borrowing for economic development projects, known as the Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program, was enacted last week as part of the new state budget for fiscal 2010-11. The bill contains $30 million to help the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center compete with other states to create a vaccine-producing center, which the bill calls a "state-of-the-art biologics manufacturing facility."

The bill to be signed today also includes:

• $8 million to convert the old Connelley Technical School near Mellon Arena into a center to train workers in emerging "green" industries.

• $10 million to build the John P. Murtha Center for Public Policy on the University of Pittsburgh campus in Johnstown, to honor the longtime congressman who brought much federal money to his home area.

• $10 million to create the U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter Library at Philadelphia University.

Mr. Rendell is coming to the Connelley School today to sign the economic development bill. All of the RACP projects are legitimate uses of state funds and will be matched with private money, he said Tuesday as he signed the new $28 billion state budget for 2010-11.

Rendell spokesman Gary Tuma said the federal biodefense contract involves "development of an on-demand flu vaccine."

"We will be competing with other states," he said. "It will mean quite a few jobs for the region if it comes" to Allegheny County. One possible site is the old Pittsburgh airport terminal.

"It was important for the state to show support for the project and put in some state money," he added.

The $30 million is just a small start for the proposed UPMC biodefense center, which would need $580 million in federal funds plus $250 million from UPMC itself. It would be overseen by the federal departments of Defense and Health and Human Services.

Last summer UPMC made a pitch to a congressional panel to create such a large-scale vaccine production center. Federal officials think the development of such vaccines is a necessary step in defending America against bioweapons attacks by terrorists. The proposed center would have eight vaccine-producing units, with staff and resources to develop vaccines to counter various threats from hazardous bioweapons.

Mr. Specter and U.S. Rep. Jason Altmire said UPMC would have a "unique advantage," since it's one of the nation's largest medical centers and is close to the University of Pittsburgh, which has a Center for Vaccine Research. The center would likely create 1,000 well-paid, high-tech jobs and another 6,000 spinoff jobs.

A number of Allegheny County Democratic legislators are listed as sponsors for the biologics facility, including state Sens. Jim Ferlo, Wayne Fontana and Jay Costa, plus Reps. Jake Wheatley, Dom Costa, Chelsa Wagner, Dan Frankel, Joe Preston, Paul Costa and Harry Readshaw.

"All the projects in the RACP bill that governor will sign today are important and some will create hundreds of high-paying jobs," said Jay Costa. "While the state's $30 million investment pales in comparison to the federal and private investment, these state capital dollars will leverage three to four times of the investment and create new jobs."

Mr. Murtha died Feb. 8. Since then, the John P. Murtha Foundation has been raising money for a facility to house Mr. Murtha's papers and other records from his congressional career. It will include classroom and meeting space, according to Matthew Mazonkey, Mr. Murtha's former spokesman and foundation board member.

"The Murtha Foundation is grateful for Gov. Rendell's strong commitment and support of this project," Mr. Mazonkey said. "We are also actively pursuing other funding sources for construction and endowment of the Murtha Center."

The next fundraising reception for the center is set for July 28 in the Washington, D.C., area, hosted by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and leaders of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee that Mr. Murtha used to run, as well as more than 25 other members of Congress.

According to a Philadelphia University spokeswoman, the Specter library also will be a place to house the archives of Mr. Specter's career, which included service as the Philadelphia district attorney and five terms in the U.S. Senate. His Senate career will end in January.

Giving public funds for the buildings to honor Democrats Murtha and Specter drew sharp criticism on Tuesday from Matthew Brouillette, president of a conservative group called the Commonwealth Foundation.

He maintained that private companies that have benefitted from government largesse secured by Mr. Murtha and Mr. Specter during their decades in Washington should provide the money for the buildings to honor the two longtime Democrats. Or, he said, money left over in their political campaign funds should be used.

"Arlen Specter raised hundreds of thousands of dollars (in contributions) in his lifetime," Mr. Brouillette said. "Why spend public money on his library? And John Murtha brought plenty of pork to his district. The people who benefitted from that could provide the money" for his building.

Other Western Pennsylvania projects on the list include $10 million to build a convocation center for Mount Aloysius College in Cambria County; $5 million to build a "mixed-use development" in downtown Ambridge; $10 million for expansion of the Sharon Regional Medical Center in Mercer County; $5 million for a hotel at California University of Pennsylvania in Washington County; and $10 million for infrastructure and rehab costs at the Sony plant in Westmoreland County.

About $100 million of the RACP money goes for projects in Philadelphia, where Mr. Rendell was mayor in the 1990s. It includes $20 million for an "American Revolution Center;" $15 million to redevelop the old Tasty Baking Co. plant; $7.5 million for work at the Philadelphia Navy Yard; and $5 million to renovate the Independence Visitor Center.

Daniel Malloy and Tracie Mauriello contributed. Bureau Chief Tom Barnes: tbarnes@post-gazette.com or 717-787-4254.


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