New Phila. nonprofit established to pump up North Broad Street

At the announcement are (from left) City Council President Darrell L. Clarke, developer Bart Blatstein, and Kenneth Scott, president of Beech Cos.
At the announcement are (from left) City Council President Darrell L. Clarke, developer Bart Blatstein, and Kenneth Scott, president of Beech Cos. (ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / Staff Photographer)
Posted: May 16, 2014

The nonprofit Avenue of the Arts celebrated its 20th anniversary last year, looking back on a stellar record of creating a cultural oasis bustling with theaters, restaurants, and hotels on South Broad Street.

On the other side of City Hall, though, North Broad has remained comparatively barren, hobbled by surface lots, empty buildings, and blight.

On Wednesday, City Council President Darrell L. Clarke announced the formation of a splinter nonprofit, helmed by North Philadelphia institutions and leaders, that would focus on the development of that corridor.

Clarke, who sits on the Avenue of the Arts board, said the creation of the group, dubbed Avenue North Renaissance, was "not an adversarial secession."

"On North Broad Street, we've been saying for a little while that there needs to be some new direction," he said. "This is different up here. This is going to be a different focus."

While Avenue of the Arts has concentrated on arts and entertainment, the new group will have a broader approach, Clarke said.

Clarke declined to discuss the nonprofit's funding in detail, but said city and private-sector sources would be available. He's also pursuing legislation that would allow business-improvement districts to collect money from advertising on "street furniture," such as benches.

Missing from Wednesday's news conference, held outside Bart Blatstein's Tower Place apartment development at Broad and Spring Garden Street, was anyone from the Nutter administration.

"The administration believes organizations that are set up to help specific public spaces . . . are always a good thing," said mayoral spokesman Mark McDonald. "In this case, we look forward to learning more about what's been proposed."

North Broad hasn't been devoid of development - new restaurants and housing have slowly been arriving, and Temple University is in the midst of a 10-year capital spending plan. With or without the new nonprofit, North Broad could be ready for renaissance.

Clarke hinted at a series of development announcements on the horizon that could top "hundreds of millions of dollars."

That's not counting two major proposals currently in a holding pattern:

Blatstein's application to turn the former Inquirer Building into a $700 million casino complex at Callowhill Street.

Developer Eric Blumenfeld's plan to convert the Divine Lorraine Hotel, North Broad's pillar of blight, into apartments and commercial space. That project got a boost of funding recently and could go forward soon.

Clarke also said the city plans to break ground in about two weeks on a long anticipated streetscaping upgrade that includes a 2.5-mile stretch of sleek streetlights up North Broad's center median. That project remains under the auspices of Avenue of the Arts.

"We'll see if that's going to change," said Kenneth Scott, president of North Philadelphia's Beech Cos., a consortium of organizations that includes a loan program, nonprofits, and a foundation. "I'm sure the maintenance of it . . . the new organization will have some part in it."

Paul S. Beideman, president and CEO of Avenue of the Arts, said he supported the concept of the new nonprofit focused on North Broad.

"Having a dedicated organization can be good," he said. "Everyone can be more effective. . . . That's what it's all about."

The new group would be governed by an advisory board that includes representatives from a number of institutions, businesses, and churches, as well as local, state, and federal elected officials.

Temple plans to be a "significant player" in the nonprofit, said Kenneth Lawrence, who oversees the school's government relations.

"It's just the beginning of the greatness this street will achieve," Blatstein said.


Abatement Give-and-take

City Councilman W. Wilson Goode has been trying for years to alter the city's 10-year property-tax abatement for new construction, a program he has called a tax break for the rich.

His latest attempt links the abatement to the Philadelphia School District's yearly budget crises. (About 55 percent of the property taxes go to the schools.)

Last year, Goode introduced a bill that would end the abatement on the school portion of the property taxes - meaning only 45 percent of the value of a new home would be eligible for an abatement.

In response, the city commissioned a study that found ending the break would slow development, eventually costing the schools and the city money.

Goode and Finance Director Rob Dubow had a testy exchange about the legislation Wednesday in a Council hearing - Goode told him he should change his name to "Rob money from the schools."

The abatement was designed to make building in a city with high labor costs attractive. Goode said the city should seek a new way to subsidize construction.

"Why wouldn't we create an incentive that didn't take money away from the School District?" he said.

"We're looking at the long-term effect on the schools and on development," Dubow said. "This legislation costs us development."

- Troy Graham


tgraham@phillynews.com

215-854-2730 @troyjgraham

comments powered by Disqus
|
|
|
|
|