GOVERNOR BIDS TO REVIVE PHILADELPHIA YARD TALKS

GOVERNOR BIDS TO REVIVE PHILADELPHIA YARD TALKS

First thing Tuesday morning, as promised, Gov. Tom Ridge placed a telephone call to German shipbuilding magnate Bernard Meyer in an effort to revive negotiations to build cruise ships at the shut-down Philadelphia Naval Shipyard.

Unfortunately for Mr. Ridge, Mr. Meyer was "out of the office," according to the governor's spokesman in Harrisburg, Tim Reeves."He said that it was Mr. Meyer's belief that there wasn't anything to discuss. But when he was asked specifically if that meant Meyer would not (ever) call again, he said 'No, No, No," Mr. Reeves said. "The governor stands ready to talk."

Telephone calls from the Associated Press to Joseph L. Meyer Gmbh & Co. in Papenburg, Germany, were also not returned.

Mr. Ridge's critics say he should have called Mr. Meyer last week.

The governor said Monday that he didn't make the call when negotiations began to crumble because a company official had told him not to do it.

On Friday, the company rejected a plan that called for it to invest $50 million of its own money, five times more than the company initially proposed, in a project to build cruise ships and specialty cargo ships at the shipyard.

State Rep. Bill Keller, a Philadelphia Democrat who represents the district where the shipyard is located, said he is convinced that the Ridge administration was never committed to the project.

Mr. Ridge said the state retained a team of maritime experts from a top accounting firm to help formulate the offer the company rejected and remains committed to the project.

"The commonwealth is still at the bargaining table," he said. "We don't have to be invited back. We never left."

At a news conference held to discuss the company's rejection, Mr. Ridge said Michael Schwarz, the company's lead negotiator on the deal, told him at a meeting on July 31 not to call the company owner.

''He said he was the negotiator and that we should deal with him," Mr. Ridge said.

Although Mr. Ridge said the state was willing to negotiate, he said Meyer Werft must be willing to budge a bit from its initial proposal.

The company asked for $167 million from state, city and regional sources. Mr. Ridge dismissed that as "pure fantasy. The amount of money they were asking for from various governments was almost beyond belief."

Pennsylvania would have had to put up $96 million of that total.

Mr. Ridge said he believed the state's offer to put up $45 million and secure another $45 million from Philadelphia, New Jersey and the regional port authority, was a generous starting point. Both proposals counted on more than $200 million in the form of federal loan and grant money.

President Clinton, who began a cross-country tour here Monday, told Mr. Ridge, Philadelphia Mayor Edward G. Rendell and other elected officials involved with the deal that he was committed to seeing that the funds are available.

"I think that this project is really worth pressing," Mr. Clinton said.