Vacant & Desolate NO More! Reform to Come

Vacant Land in Philadelphia spreads far and wide and comes in all shapes and sizes.  One would assume that vacant property would be fairly easy to acquire because the city and neighbors should want someone to develop them hince improving the community and city as a whole.  But in Philadelphia, unless u are well connected or informed in the acquisition process of vacant properties it is a confusing and slow system to crack.  Both City Council and the Mayor say they want changes but the challenges are huge.
Navigating the system for vacant land is tedious but doable.  For developers, the time it takes to get title to these properties can often end deals.  Fortunately, due to lack of development in recent years, City Hall has shown a renewed interest in making it easier for interested builders to get vacant land.  Last week following a forum at Temple University, Councilman Darrell Clark introduced legislation in city council that would give the city powers to seize the assets of property owners who failed to repair blighted properties.  Clack took the initiative because he didn't get a sense that these things were being prioritized at a level that he and other members of council were comfortable with.  This will take a high level of attention for the city to make significant progress on vacant land management.

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One big fix favored by many non-profit developers and policy experts is the creation of a land bank, a central repository of all city-owned land,  with one list of available parcels and a single process for acquiring those properties.  The city has started by mapping abandonment.  This will be a great task but with a lot of effort it can be done.  Although there are many agencies that have records of vacant lands, their list don't match up.  Some list say there are 40,000 properties, while other say 60,000.  Clark and many others would like the city to take immediate action, instead of taking months or years to get the city record books in order.

See Planphilly for a nice article on this issue.


Proposed I-95 Condemnation Corridor

Zoning bill No. 100553 allows owners of buildings, parking lots, and other existing uses to rebuild anywhere that is within 350 feet of their former location and 200 feet from either side of the expanded highway right of way without going through the usual zoning permitting process.  This legislation stands regardless of the zoning that exist in the area the displaced property owner chooses to relocate to, unless the new site is in a residential district.

The Goal of the bill is to preserve jobs and tax revenue.  The widening of I-95 will result in the condemnation of many properties abutting the Interstate, this would mean the lost of hundreds of jobs and taxes, therefore the bill is proposed to encourage and aid in the continuation of business with minimal dislocation and interruption.  If this bill is adopted, it would create an I-95 Condemnation Corridor that would stretch the entire length of I-95 in the city and also include all arterial streets, collector streets, and ramps within the area.  Its width would be set at 200 feet from both of Penn DOT's rights of way.

The bill basically allows anyone who is condemned by I-95 to relocate within that 400 foot corridor without going through all the normal zoning notions.  The new, relocated use or structure cannot exceed the size, height or square footage of the one it is replacing.  There are a lot of questions the Planning Commission still needs to address such as the distance of the billboards, industrial, and parking structure in relation to existing and displaced residential properties and how the relocation will effect existing communities that will consume the displaced tenants.


Philly Developer May Bank $100 Million in State Funds

Philadelphia developer Bart Blatstein of the Piazza and other developments in Norther Liberties may be the recipient of almost $100 million in state money to fund his proposed shovel ready projects for Northern Liberties.  Blatstein is set to receive $45 million for a new hotel-mixed-use project near his Piazza at Schmidt's development; $25 million to build an 86-suite, boutique hotel at Second and Poplar Streets; and another $25 million to redevelop a state office building at Broad and Spring Garden.  Of course with all this state money being thrown around there are bound to be critics.  Some believe that in the midst of a state recession and steep cuts in social-service programs and funding for libraries and state parks, these capital dollars should go toward public projects.  Blatstein believes these projects will create lots of jobs and tax revenue, fueling future development in developing neighborhoods.

I personally am all for it!  Although our transit projects (City Hall Station) need a lot of money as well as projects like the Free Library expansion and Dilworth Plaza renovations.  There is hopefully enough money to go around for everyone to get a piece of the pie.

Check out philly.com for more


$1.2 Billion Temple 20/20 Project

Temple 20/20 is a visionary plan to make Temple University a destination campus over the next decade.  The Philadelphia Business Journal reports that the university has mapped out a series of projects that aim to achieve several objectives for the school and its North Philadelphia Neighborhood without expanding upon its 105-acre footprint along North Broad Street.  The school is hopeful the new projects will revitalize and bring new life to North Broad Street and re-establish the artery as the gateway to the campus. Upon completion the plan will create more green and academic space, develop additional campus housing and link the core of the campus to North Broad Street.

The school has 12,000 students residing on campus and wants to add over the next several years enough beds to accommodate between 16,000 and 20,000 undergraduate students, bringing more students onto the campus.  Temple plans this summer or fall to begin construction of a new student housing structure that will add 1,700 beds and cost $150 million.  This is awesome news for any investors and developers building, renovating, or planning to purchase property in the near future around Temple University.  The big bonus for developers is that Temple does not guarantee housing for student after their first year, so that leaves thousands of students knocking on your doors!

I apologize for the image quality.  They are from a slide show posted on Planphilly.com

Sugar House Casino Debutes in Northern Liberties

On Thursday September 23 the long anticipated and for some dreaded arrival of Philadelphia's first casino, Sugar House Casino is set to open its doors to the general public.  The casino held a test run for Pennsylvania Gaming Control board members on Monday along with invited guest totaling 10,000 supporting four charities that will receive proceeds from the Monday and Wednesdays test runs.  The casino will open with 1,600 slots machines and 40 tables where dealers will lead rounds of blackjack, poker, and other games.

Many believe the casino will be a great fit for Delaware Avenue, hopefully encouraging more residential and commercial development.  This could also do great things for property values in neighboring Northern Liberties, Port Richmond, Fishtown, and Kensington neighborhoods, all of which are witnessing a lot of development and gentrification.

Although the design is respectfully modest considering its location, there is much to hopefully be improved over time.  Many were disappointed at the dominance of parking, the suburban approach, and non existing ground floor retail.  However, there is a planned parking structure slated for the future, but hopefully there is also a curbside hotel and retail that will ease the minds of all its neighbors. Despite all that is lacking, designers did do one thing right in designating a beautiful river-walk at the rear of the property, which coincides with "A Civic Vision For The Central Delaware"that Penn Praxis says sets an extraordinary high bar for the rest of the river.