Issue In Concert Hall Dispute Is Not Taxes, It's Greed

Posted: July 13, 1988

In 1983, The Philadelphia Orchestra Association began a study of the need for a new concert hall, to supplement the venerable 130-year-old Academy of Music.

In 1986, its Board of Directors, some of the Delaware Valley's leading citizens, voted to undertake this massive project, and to raise over $100 million privately. This effort, which will not call for any city funds, will provide a facility for the entire community to use for the next century.

The Orchestra has been acquiring land for the new concert hall on the site bounded by Broad, Spruce, 15th and Delancey streets. Last year, we acquired our first parcel for $140 per square foot and in May, we acquired a second for $150 per square foot.

We have offered the remaining three property owners (Robert and Harvey Spear of Centra Associates, former state Rep. Sam Rappaport of Rosewood Associates and Willis McNamara, owner of 1430 Spruce Street) $165 per square foot for their parcels. Our offer is 12 times the assessed value of the Spear property and 16 times the assessed value of the Rappaport property.

The owners have rejected what we consider to be a very fair offer. They want at least $300 per square foot. In full and extensive hearings before the City Planning Commission and Redevelopment Authority, they stated they are ready to develop a 37-story apartment building adjacent to the concert hall. They argue that this produces a potentially higher tax yield than a concert hall alone, and the Orchestra should not be permitted to acquire their property unless their mixed-use project is implemented.

Given the city's financial straits, this is a convenient argument. However, the issue is not taxes. The issue is three property owners who, for their own gain, will use every legal means available to thwart, a project that is vital to the cultural life of the entire Delaware Valley. In the past, Spear has tried to block the Commuter Tunnel, Vine Street Expressway, Justice Center and Convention Center.

The concert hall for the Philadelphia Orchestra is real; design has been under way for over nine months, and groundbreaking is scheduled for next summer. The Spear-Rappaport-McNamara proposal is fictitious; their team has no track record in development. Spear runs parking lots; Rappaport is a lawyer; McNamara owns a townhouse. Should they be even considered?

By contrast, we are talking world-class Orchestra, world-class architect Robert Venturi, world-class acoustician Russell Johnson, hard at work to realize this internationally significant project.

Apartment buildings can be built anywhere; the Planning Commission has determined that there are many available sites in Center City. The property owners' agreement is a ploy to obtain more money for their properties. If the eminent domain process goes to its completion, they would be awarded fair market value, as provided by law.

Councilman John Street should not hold up introduction of the ordinance, but rather should, as the Urban Redevelopment Law requires, give the entire City Council a chance to review and pass upon the redevelopment proposal. The Philadelphia Orchestra Association feels confident that, after full public hearings and thorough consideration of all the issues, City Council will approve the building of a new concert hall - at no cost to the taxpayer - which will benefit the city well into the 22d Century.


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