The name of the politically connected restaurant on West Oak Lane is Relish, but it's leaving a bad taste in taxpayers' mouths.
The state of Pennsylvania is paying $1.1 million this year to keep the eatery afloat. Relish received a $650,000 loan from the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corp., and a $470,000 grant from the Department of Community and Economic Development.
Relish is owned by the Ogontz Avenue Revitalization Corp., a nonprofit founded by state Rep. Dwight Evans (D., Phila.), outgoing chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee. Maybe the eatery would do better if it were run by Bob Evans, the restaurant chain.
Relish's grant is used to pay staff salaries. It has never made a payment on its PIDC loan since 1998 because payments are due only when the restaurant turns a profit. What a sweetheart deal.
Small-business loans often help a for-profit enterprise get started, or expand. But taxpayers shouldn't be subsidizing a restaurant's ongoing operating expenses. If the place can't turn a profit, it needs a different formula.
Neighborhood rebuilding is a worthy goal, and OARC has revitalized commercial corridors and promoted charter schools, among its achievements. But the example of Relish points out the pitfalls of legislators' creating nonprofits funded with taxpayers' money and given little oversight.
Pennsylvania has seen too many examples of nonprofits connected to powerful pols that stray far from their original mission. These groups also serve as political juice for legislators, fostering goodwill, patronage jobs, and contracts through tax dollars.
Evans is the prime patron of OARC, but he holds no official position with the group. In the last three years alone, Evans has directed $17 million in public funds to OARC. That includes a whopping $1 million to produce last summer's West Oak Lane Jazz Festival, an annual event that drew sparse crowds this year.
Last year, OARC spent $760,000 to buy a West Mount Airy nightclub from partners with past and present ties to Evans and the nonprofit. The club has since closed.
Taxpayers have no way of knowing whether their money is being spent productively on such risky enterprises. The level of public funding for OARC merits review by an independent agency such as the state attorney general.