The Penn Treaty Special Services District has awarded a $20,000 grant to the Spirit community newspaper. It is the first time the district has awarded funds to a private business.
Joe Rafter, chairman of the PTSSD board, said the board decided that delivering funds to the Spirit would benefit the community by providing new computers to the newspaper.
A big part of the board’s decision, he said, was the fact that the paper provides internship opportunities to students of Drexel and Temple universities and Messiah College.
Formed after years of negotiations between community groups and representatives of Sugarhouse casino, the Penn Treaty Special Services District was created in January of 2010 as part of a community agreement with Sugarhouse.
The district is intended to ensure that the areas closest to the gambling house will not be negatively impacted by its proximity to the neighborhoods.
To that end, the casino promised yearly funding – which could grow to over $1 million per year when the final stage of the casino’s planned construction is complete – to be disbursed by a board of representatives, which is made up of residents who reside within the district the PTSSD serves.
The district includes Fishtown, Northern Liberties and parts of Kensington and currently receives an annual stipend of about $500,000. So far, the board has received three payments from the casino, totaling over $1 million.
A seven-member board reviews any application for funding – essentially, anyone who works or lives within the district’s boundaries can apply – and funds are doled out to applicants at public meetings.
Until recently, the district’s funds have gone to nonprofit groups located within the targeted service district – or nonprofits that work with groups within the district – and to projects for area community groups, to friends groups at area parks, to educational and sports programs for local youth and seniors, and to local church programs.
In an email to the Star, Kerry Auge, administrator for the PTSSD, said that this is the first time the board provided funds to a privately owned, for-profit business because it “felt strongly that the Spirit would be able to enhance the quality of life in the community with the addition of graphic design and journalism interns…”
Also, when asked to discuss the decision, Auge shared a list of additional reasons for providing funding to the paper, which included that the Spirit provides: “…free press/ads for many local non-profit organizations; …a hub for seniors and/or others without technology at home to use computers, fax machines, copiers; …a venue for local organization to sell tickets/shirts, etc.”
The Spirit’s office also serves as a pick-up and drop-off point for the application forms for that need to be filled out by anyone who would like to request funds from the PTSSD.
Contacted last week, Spirit publisher Maryanne Milligan said the community paper provides significant services to the riverwards, noting that many of the paper’s stories focus on local nonprofits and new businesses throughout the riverwards. These stories, she said, could be considered “free advertising.”
“That’s all free advertising for them,” said Milligan. “It’s free publicity absolutely…It’s more than just the community calendar.”
Local seniors, she said, can also visit the paper’s office to use computers to, for example, pay a bill online – she said it’s not likely that they would visit the office to simply check their e-mail.
The paper usually provides two spots for college interns each school semester, Milligan said.
The paper’s office also provides local groups – Milligan pointed to the Fishtown Athletic Club and the athletic club’s alumni association –a place to sell items for fundraisers.
Yet, so far, the newspaper is the only strictly for-profit business to receive a share of this community funding – though Rafter joked that these days, “How many papers can say they are making a profit?”
In other parts of the city where SSDs exist, funding doesn’t appear to have been used in this way.
Instead, the Old City Special Services District – funded through a 5-percent tax on businesses within the district – uses funds to afford marketing programs to promote all businesses in the district and focuses on cleaning and greening the area.
The Sports Complex Special Services District – funded by the local sports teams - sponsors community events, affords area clean-up efforts and puts funding toward programs to help ease traffic flow problems in the heavily-trafficked area.
Shawn Jalosinski, executive director of the SCSSD, said the group has never provided funds to any newspaper – instead, the SCSSD has its own community newsletter.
Rafter said the board has turned down several requests for business grants in the past.
Asked if she is worried the new funding could slant the paper’s coverage of the casino or the PTSSD in the future,
Milligan said she was confident that the money would not create any editorial bias.
“We are going to report on the things that need to be reported on,” she said.
The PTSSD holds monthly meetings at 6:30 p.m. on the third Wednesday of each month, upstairs at Liberties - bar and restaurant located at the corner of 2nd Street and Fairmount Ave. All meetings are open to the public.
Grant request forms are available on the PTSSD’s website at www.penntreatyssd.com and can be emailed to the board’s secretary, Dolores Griffith at email@example.com or can be dropped off at the offices of the Spirit, at 1428 E. Susquehanna Ave.
Star Staff Reporter Hayden Mitman can be contacted at 215-354-3124 or firstname.lastname@example.org.