Target 11 investigates public money for private projects



PITTSBURGH - An indoor sports facility, a sound stage, and a natural gas drilling company all have one thing in common -- they're all private companies that received your public tax dollars through a controversial program called the Redevelopment Capital Assistance Program, or RCAP.

An estimated $3.5 billion has been paid out during the program's existence. A lot of that money has gone to non-profit programs, but we discovered some of the cash is going to private companies. Some say it's worth it, but other say it's a waste of taxpayer money.

Ken Schultz lives in the Highfield community of Butler Township. He fought against an indoor sports training facility that was supposed to be built in a field next to his home. He successfully stopped the project for now, but what was just as troubling to Schultz was that the owners of the proposed facility were awarded a half million tax dollar grant to help pay for construction.

"Why (are) our tax dollars going to something like this? It's unbelievable, especially in today's economy, the way there's cutbacks everywhere," Schultz told Target 11.

"This facility will produce jobs. It will produce tax revenue for the school, the county and the township," said Attorney Tom King, who represents the owners of the proposed Matt Clemente Baseball Academy and training facility.

King contends it's a worthwhile use of public tax dollars and he says this is what the program is all about.

"To have a world-class athlete like Matt Clemente come back to Butler and invest his money, and put a facility like this in the community in my opinion and in the opinion of many others is a tremendous thing," said King.

King told Earle that the owners withdrew the application for construction of the project on the site in Highfield, but he said they are now considering all options and looking at other sites as well as possible returning to the original site.

Even though the grant application indicates the project would only create around four jobs, the township manager told Target 11 he signed off on the grant because the facility would benefit the area.

And Target 11 discovered that this isn't the only private project funded by RCAP, the same state initiative.

"Corporate welfare through the RCAP and these other programs is a perfect example of how government has been perverted to create a system that only benefits those with connections," said the Commonwealth Foundation's Elizabethe Stelle.

Target 11 obtained the list of RCAP projects awarded since the program began in 1986. And while there's plenty of money for nonprofits such as hospitals, zoos and universities across the state, there's also millions of dollars for private projects.

Here's a sampling of what we discovered.

$200,000 to a sound stage company in Mckees Rocks. The company was awarded an RCAP grant but a spokesman tells Target 11 so far they haven't received any of the money.

$500,000 for the expansion of a medical research firm in Pittsburgh.

$2,000,000 for a drilling company to help with construction cost while moving the company headquarters from Morgantown, W.Va., to Waynesburg, Pa.

$6,000,000 to a contractor to turn the old Goodwill Building on Carson Street into condos and shops.

Target 11 Investigator Rick Earle asked Allegheny County Economic Development Director Dennis Davin about RCAP money.

"Is this money critical for these projects?" asked Earle.

"Absolutely critical. These projects wouldn't happen but for this money," said Davin.

Davin told Earle that a lot of these projects help to energize the economy and he contends they are directly linked to 17,000 jobs in Allegheny County.

Davin pointed to the $20 million that went to develop sites near the airport. He said that money was used to for environmental cleanup and to build infrastructure. Davin said Dick's Sporting Goods headquarters is now located on one of those sites.

"If we develop it it gives us an advantage over a number of other areas in the U.S. to attract businesses in the Pittsburgh region and grow here and not somewhere else," said Davin.

"I think you have to ask yourself if these are such valuable projects they're going to create jobs and stimulate an area why can't they get funding themselves," said Stelle.

Gov. Tom Corbett has made a number of changes to the RCAP, including awarding projects based on merit. He said he's taking politics out of the process and giving priorities to projects that will create the most jobs.

Projects already in the pipeline like the indoor training facility will still get the RCAP money.