How did Philadelphia's organized stagehands - Local 8 of the International Association of Theatrical and Stage Employees, plus members of four allied unions - arrange to start work Thursday on a $6 million headquarters, under I-95 in South Philly, in the middle of a recession?
"The stars lined up," the international's Philadelphia-based vice president, Michael Barnes, told me. His union raised $2.5 million in Pennsylvania state capital investment funds, $1.4 million from a PNC Bank loan, the rest from his members' building fund.
The 117-year-old union claims 1,000 members in the Philadelphia area - stagehands and roadies who work theaters, music, circus, film, and sports shows behind the scenes, plus mechanics, wardrobe artists, treasurers, ticket-takers, and
ushers. The largest group, the stagehands, earns $20 to $35 an hour, plus medical and retirement benefits.
Barnes said his union was betting there would be more jobs for skilled show workers in the future, especially if skeptical legislators can be persuaded to extend Pennsylvania tax credits that led M. Night Shyamalan and Robert De Niro to filming sites at the old Budd Co., the Navy Yard, and other local locations over the past year.
Stagehands currently train at the union's old Hartranft Avenue hall, or on-site at the Kimmel Center and other show venues. "But there's other events going on, and getting time [for training] has been a challenge," David Thiele, an operations executive at Kimmel, told me.
Before an audience of tattooed stagehands, IBEW Local 98 leader and neighborhood resident John Dougherty, landlord Leon Silverman, and State Rep. Bill Keller, (D., Phila.), Barnes sketched his new classrooms and catering hall as a training center that would prepare Philadelphia workers to haul, set up, and pack down Broadway Across America plays, Live Nation concerts, and events at Global Spectrum and other arena chains around the nation.
Barnes is even counting on work from union-averse Comcast Corp., whose pending purchase of NBC Universal Inc. will "create the potential for Philadelphia to become one of the leading content-production centers in the world. . . . Philadelphia will become the go-to place for the entertainment industry in North America."
"This is where we should be spending tax dollars. This is putting people to work," Keller shouted, to cheers. "We're lucky we started on the plan six years ago. There's no money for it in the state budget today."
Google comes to Philly
Google Inc. plans to relocate its new Philadelphia outpost, which it picked up when it bought Invite Media Inc., the online-advertising system founded by four University of Pennsylvania undergraduates.
"They'll be moving" from Invite's current programmers' office on Chestnut Street to another Philadelphia location, still to be determined, Google's Rob Shilkin told me.
Google confirmed the deal Thursday, on its DoubleClick Inc. advertising blog. So did Invite Media chief executive officer Nat Turner, 23, in an e-mail. They wouldn't disclose the price, though one report had it at $70 million. "It's a very talented team, and a great business," Shilkin said.
The firm's programmers and engineers labor in a funky low-rise apartment building, upstairs from the closed former Moon over Miami bar. Most of its top managers have moved to a Manhattan office.
Google vice president Neal Mohan posted on a company blog that the online display advertising Invite sells for Yahoo!, Google, and other websites "will be much bigger than it is today, which will benefit the entire ecosystem - advertisers and agencies who can run more effective campaigns, demand-side platforms who offer real-time bidding services to advertisers and agencies, publishers who will get higher prices and more competition for their ad space (while controlling what space they make available, and to whom), and users who will see more useful ads that load faster."
First Round Capital L.L.C., of West Conshohocken, joined two Comcast-affiliated funds in backing Invite Media. Partner Chris Fralic praised Invite's "maniacal focus" on online ad auction customers in his blog at First Round's website. Fralic says the site was designed by Turner when the future CEO worked for the fund as a teenaged intern in 2005.