Friday, August 14, 2009

Closing Time At URA (Neverending Happy Hour)

If any doubt had survived until yesterday concerning the need to close the Urban Redevelopment Authority, it didn't survive a Happy Hour session in which the URA board ran up a $550,000 bar tab, setting taxpayers up for a triple-strength hangover.

The URA approved $300,000 for public funding of new ownership of Penn Brewery, despite dissenting board member's Jim Ferlo's apt observation that there is no deal yet. From the P-G report, it appears no one had the guts, while the board was considering this "investment," to say aloud: "Iron City."

It got worse. The URA is putting $200,000 in public funds into the latest restaurant proposal from Greensburg's Ernie Vallozzi. Mr. Vallozzi's two most recent restaurant ventures -- a fancy pizzeria in Squirrel Hill, a brewpub in Greensburg -- are no longer with us. The proposed restaurant is near the site of the recently opened (and promptly abandoned) Richard Chen restaurant in the East End. It has been reported that the public will put up half the money for the proposed restaurant. Sounds like a sure thing to me.

Apparently, the URA board figured it would be unfair to ignore the wholesale end of the beer business after throwing public money at a brewery and a bar. URA rules, however, prohibit lending to a beer distributorship (go figure). So the board suspended the rules and voted to give $50,000 to a beer distributor in Brookline. For inventory. You read that correctly: Taxpayers are buying $50,000 in beer for a local, drive-through beer distributor. Economic development, Pittsburgh-style. The only thing missing is a handful of fries on top.

URA Executive Director Rob Stephany (right) defended the Brookline beer binge, saying it was important to help an 'important business' while it 'refinanced debt.' In other words, this beer distributor gets taxpayer money because it is on shaky financial footing. And it's not like another beer distributor would fill the void in about 15 minutes if Brookline Beer closed.

It's time to put the URA out of its misery. We should wait until Rob Stephany sobers up, though -- the benefit of the doubt figures he was temporarily drunk, rather than permanently stupid, when he defended yesterday's allocations -- so we're sure he knows he can stop coming in to work.

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