For Sale: American Citizenship

Posted on Tue, Nov. 18, 2008

Rendell pushing to use Chinese loans for Convention Center

By Marcia Gelbart  / Inquirer Staff Writer

After being rebuffed during the summer, Gov. Rendell is again pushing the Convention Center Authority to consider using a loan program backed with Chinese funds to generate millions of dollars for the center.

Rendell raised the subject during phone calls last week with some of the authority’s board members, according to several people familiar with the proposal.

While no details have been finalized – including the interest rate, amount to be lent, and how the center would use the money – Rendell is hoping to persuade the board to embrace the loan program in a resolution to be introduced as early as tomorrow, the sources said.

Sponsored by the federal government and known locally as the “Welcome Fund,” the loan program offers green cards to wealthy immigrants who want permanent residency in this country.

In exchange, those immigrant investors – who are also vetted by the U.S. customs and immigration services – help finance regional economic development projects by issuing low-interest loans.

But the program may not be available for much longer. It was set to expire last September, and Congress has extended the Welcome Fund – and similar loan programs also launched as pilot projects elsewhere in the country – only until March.

“At a time when investment capital is very difficult to obtain due to the financial crisis, the Welcome Fund can provide some of the private capital that is critical to the success of economic development initiatives throughout the commonwealth,” Rendell spokesman Chuck Ardo said in an e-mail yesterday.

“We strongly support such job-creating investment in our economy, both with respect to the Pennsylvania Convention Center as well as many other transactions around the state.”

In the case of the Convention Center, 150 Chinese investors have already spent about $500,000 each, with the total of $73.5 million placed in an escrow account in a U.S. bank.

But despite overtures from Rendell, the center’s board has yet to approve participation in the loan program.

Convention Center board chairman Buck Riley did not return a call yesterday.




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