Pa. kicks in $47M for soccer stadium and other parts of $414M Chester project

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Gov. Rendell announces funds.

Derrick Davis couldn't tell you the first thing about Major League Soccer, or soccer in general, for that matter.

"Me, I ain't no soccer fan," said the 26-year-old firefighter and lifelong Chester resident.

But Davis doesn't have to know the sport to appreciate the economic benefit of building an 18,500-seat soccer stadium down the street.

"It would be cool, and bring some more revenue to the city," he said. "Chester would stop looking so negative if you bring something like that around."

That's exactly what Gov. Rendell and state Sen. Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi were thinking yesterday as they pledged $47 million in state funding toward a $414 million riverfront development that is expected to lure a professional soccer team to the region.

"It's going to change the face of Chester forever," Rendell said, comparing the project to Harrah's Chester Casino and Racetrack - except bigger and better.

"This development will, I absolutely believe, guarantee that Chester will become one of the first-class cities in Pennsylvania," said Rendell, who was joined by Delaware County Republican leaders and Democratic members of the state House.

Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber said in a statement afterward that the Philadelphia market, as a result of the announcement, is "now well-positioned to receive an MLS expansion team."

Delaware County and Chester officials already have committed $30 million to the stadium and, Rendell said, the Delaware River Port Authority is considering chipping in another $10 million.

The rest of the money will come from an investment group that includes iStar Financial's chief executive, Jay Sugarman; Swarthmore Group Chairman Jim Nevels; Philadelphia lawyers William Doran, and developers Christopher and Robert Buccini.

The Buccini/Pollin Group is spearheading the project, which will include the $115 million stadium, townhouses and apartments, retail and office space, a convention center and riverside promenade at the foot of the Commodore Barry Bridge in Chester.

Groundbreaking on the stadium is expected to begin in the second quarter of this year, Robert Buccini said.

The development, dubbed Rivertown, will produce thousands of construction jobs, 360 permanent jobs and eventually generate $19 million in annual tax revenue, according to an economic-impact study.

Included in the state package is money for a supermarket in Chester, which the city of 37,000 residents desperately needs. That combination of tax revenue, jobs and a supermarket was welcomed yesterday by lifelong Chester residents John Harmon and Lester Dickinson as they chatted near 3rd and Parker streets.

"That's an excellent idea," Harmon said, referring to the supermarket plan. "You have to go outside the city for a legitimate supermarket."

"The corner stores will kill ya," Dickinson added. *