Much of the scant construction in Pennsylvania in the near future will be funded by taxpayers, including the projects crammed into the $1.6 billion "Public Improvement Projects, Transportation Assistance Projects and Redevelopment Assistance Capital Projects" signed by

Gov. Rendell

last week.

My colleague Suzette Parmley has written about the $10 million offered developer Robert Ambrosi for his conversion of the former Pincus Bros. clothing factory in Old City into a hotel, apartments, and stores.

Our Harrisburg staff detailed the state's plans to immortalize the political papers of lame-duck Sen. Arlen Specter and the late Pentagon contract specialist Rep. John Murtha.

There are a lot more like those packed into House Bill 2289. City projects include:

$20 million for the proposed American Revolution Center in Center City, plus $5 million for the Independence Visitor Center.

$15 million for "redevelopment" at the former Tasty Baking Co. at Fox and Roberts Streets bordering Nicetown and East Falls.

$10 million for projects, including the Specter library, at Philadelphia University in East Falls.

$10 million for a "research/education facility" at Drexel University.

$5 million for "mixed-use development" in South Philly's Grays Ferry section.

$5 million for Norris Square Civic Association's redevelopment project in North Philly.

$5 million for Aspira Inc., which has a long track record recruiting and supporting Latino students for college, to "develop" the former Cardinal Dougherty High School in Olney.

$3 million "for a new Community Legal Services building" to house antipoverty lawyers.

$750,000 for "campus expansion" at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine on City Avenue.

And in the suburbs:

$15 million for construction at the Keystone Industrial Port Complex in Falls Township.

$10 million for "blight removal" and reconstruction at Chester's Union Square Neighborhood Revitalization District.

$7.5 million "for a mixed-use commercial/retail development" at Fornance, Wood, and Locust Streets in Norristown.

$5 million for "construction, renovation, and improvements in the Bucks County enterprise zone" in Bristol Township.

$5 million for "the retail development of a 35-acre site in Upper Darby."

$1.5 million for "an industrial facility project" at an unnamed site in Montgomery County.

Where'd we get the money? We're borrowing it, from the regular sale of state bonds to private investors, Rendell spokesman Gary Tuma told me. Taxpayers will be financing these projects for decades, as they do with most of what governments build.

A lot of the projects require additional funds from private developers, Tuma said. Plus, the state Office of the Budget can impose conditions before releasing the money.

So maybe not all the projects will get built - this year, or ever. Some of the money will end up going to projects in next year's bill.

There is no all-wise Harrisburg agency picking economic winners. No "invisible hand" of the free market killing off the worst proposals.

This is a grassroots political process, if by grassroots you mean politically adept developers and private and community interests pushing legislators to let them get their hands into the public wallet.

Grabbing Pennsylvania public funds for your firm and your buddies, in the name of higher social goals, goes back to Ben Franklin and Robert Morris, as Charles Rappleye's new Morris biography reminds us.

From the public's perspective in these job-scarce times, the process is only tolerable if a lot of people are hired to build these projects, and run them, once they're done.

America's Warehouse

Besides tax-funded projects, almost the only action in Pennsylvania commercial real estate these days is out in the warehouse districts clustered along I-78 from Allentown down to Chambersburg, where the grandchildren of miners and steelworkers seek work pushing pallets and packing truck containers.

Pennsylvania's toll-free Interstate belt, along the inland truck route from New York to Washington, now ranks as America's Warehouse, the postindustrial home of places where stuff made somewhere else gets parked until East Coast consumers and businesses want it.

Check, for instance, the latest "industrial space" report from Philadelphia-based national landlord Liberty Property Trust.

So far this year, Liberty has leased three million square feet of warehouse space - that's as much as all the office space in Philadelphia's two Liberty Place towers, plus the Liberty-built Comcast Center - in the state's warehouse belt.

New tenants include companies such as Diversified Distribution Systems Inc., of Minneapolis, which is moving from a smaller Baltimore facility into a nearly half-million-square-foot facility near Chambersburg in search of extra space and a "more advantageous labor market," as president Gary Langer told me.

We're now America's Warehouse? "You pretty much nailed it," says Liberty spokeswoman Jeanne A. Leonard.