County Gambles on Show

An article over the weekend (in which the Institute was quoted) revealed that the County, through its Redevelopment Authority, awarded $225,000 to a non-profit spearheading the filming of a reality show. It is not the first time the County put some money into the filmmaking business: most recently it did so in 2006, and that foray was described in a newspaper account at the time as such: "The movies would provide up to 120 local jobs, pump money into the economy, return the county’s investment (to seed future projects) and build on the city’s reputation as film-friendly". Much of the same offshoots were touted in the 2013 article by those in favor of the venture.

Rather than having a seed fund at the County level for movie making, the $225,000 grant came from the Community Infrastructure and Tourism Fund, a fund that holds money from legalized gaming and was not available at the time of the first grant. The state statute that authorized the disbursement noted the money was "to fund construction, development, improvement, and maintenance of infrastructure projects". The "tourism" in the County fund name somehow materialized after the fact.

Even so, a quick read of the program’s guidelines leaves one befuddled as to how a film project could get approved by the Authority board for CITF money. The stated purpose of the Fund, noted under the bolded "purpose" states it "is intended to provide financial assistance to entities to facilitate economic development through infrastructure assistance, stabilize or correct existing infrastructure problems, or plan and prepare sites and buildings for future use". The "eligible activities" section of the guidelines mentions only infrastructure, site planning and preparation.

That the Authority chairman, while defending the grant, noted that the money is "…used to promote businesses that serve the purpose of promoting the region, creating jobs, promoting tourism – which this clearly does – or enhancing the lives of the residents of Allegheny County" ought to invite scrutiny. Perhaps it is acceptable if nine out of ten grants from the fund go for infrastructure: time will tell on that one since the money is not going to be disbursed indefinitely unless the General Assembly extends the agreement. Money spent on promoting the region means scarce dollars don’t go to projects seeking money under the clear guidelines of the program.