All Empty Philadelphia Schools for $100 million: Doubt It!

There has been an arm wrestling match going on in City Council for the last couple of weeks now.  The battle has involved a solution to the continuing problems faced by the Philadelphia School District.  On one side of the Chamber, the Mayor supported an extension to the 1% sales tax, the highest in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, which would then be used to borrow $50 million to advance to the schools.
On the other side, City Council wants to advance the $50 million to the schools based on the potential sale of numerous vacant school buildings.  Council won in the arm wrestling match but I am a little skeptical about the sales.

The old West Philadelphia High School has now been sitting vacant for a number of years.  It seems to be in a prime location at 48th & Walnut.  The new building is a sparkling gem at 49th & Market.  Some old school buildings, the Landreth being an example, have been converted in senior citizen housing.  This process takes private and public funding sources and will be a challenge in out present economy.  Childs School, located at 17th & Tasker Streets, has been vacant for two years now.  It sits at the intersection of two bus lines and would be a prime example of a redevelopment project.  There has been no definite movement towards a developer being selected.

Germantown High School, University City High School, Bok Vocational High School and William Penn High School are all closed.  The students who attended there resided in beautiful buildings that are on the list for a potential $100 million sale.  Many catholic schools that closed are now home to charter schools or senior housing.  Among those are St. John Neumann, North Catholic, Cardinal Dougherty and King of Peace.  The landscape for education has changed drastically in my lifetime.  On the positive side, Mastery Charter and KIPP Charters are growing by leaps and bounds.

There has been some recent debate about reducing or eliminating 10 year tax abatements for developers.  The tax abatements seem to be a drain on the funds available for the school district.  Developers are convinced that construction would stop dead in its tracks without this incentive.  Councilman Wilson Goode proposed decreasing it to 50% of its present value but still couldn't get enough votes to move the legislation.  It is because of this unwillingness to dig deeper in their own pockets that I doubt a sale of all vacant school buildings.  Carl Dranoff is building luxury apartments throughout the city and threatens to leave if the tax abatement is halted.  He can afford to build without the abatements but won't.  Most councilmen mention the construction jobs that will be lost but that is the subject for another blog.

It is November 1st today.  This means that a developer will have to complete agreements of sale on almost 35 vacant schools and also have some sort of game plan for reusing the space.  A hearing on a Take Back the Vacant Land movement was held on Monday and there is still the problem of what to do with 30,000 vacant parcels of land in the city.  We have a lot of inventory and the population growth doesn't necessitate the acquisition of large tracts of land.  Can anyone see farming making a comeback?  It will be interesting to see this process play out.  The mayor was booed out of his last budget address due to his inability to settle on a contract with DC 33 and 47.  The lack of movement on the sale of these school buildings could lead to a rocky road for Council.  The School District will be back with their hands out next year,

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