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PHILADELPHIA-A bill that would expand the Pennsylvania Convention Center Authority’s board of directors from nine to 13 and pack it with representatives from the state and suburbs, wresting control from the city, sits on outgoing Governor Mark Schweiker’s desk. By Dec. 31, he must either veto it and allow the city to keep control of the board, or do nothing, and pave the way for a state takeover.

The state legislature that passed the bill will determine whether or not the center receives $242 million in state funds to seed a $464-million expansion of the center. Mayor John Street, however, has made it known the city will not kick in its $242-million share for expansion of a center it does not control.

Schweiker will exchange his gubernatorial post as head of the Republican-held legislature at year-end for a new position as president of the Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce. Democrats control the city.

Meanwhile, Philadelphia First, a city booster organization, headed by Sam Katz, a Republican who ran against Street in the last election and is poised to do so again, just merged with the Chamber. This potentially strengthens Schweiker’s hand to let the bill pass. At the same time, however, Governor-elect Ed Rendell, a Democrat and former mayor of Philadelphia, agrees that if the city puts up half the money, it should control half the board.

Citing this “political tug of war,” in a surprise move, Bernard C. Watson resigned as chairman of the center’s board. He is the only board member who has served on the board for the center’s entire 10-year history.

The Republican legislators who wrote the bill applaud the move, charging Watson was ineffective and “secretive.” However, it leaves the Convention Center Authority board, already diminished to seven members through previous resignations, with neither a CEO nor a chairman.

To add to its woes, the board has failed to bring the carpenter’s union into compliance with new work rules, which are considered crucial to the center’s ability to lure major conventions. State funding for expansion is contingent on development of new work rules.

Regardless of what Schweiker does, the ongoing “political tug of war” ensures the Convention Center’s fate will end the year as it began, in turmoil.

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