Monday, May 15, 2006

Durham School Update

Suddenly, Independence Charter's attempt to buy the Durham School at 16th and Lombard doesn't look so hopeless. They were outbid for the property earlier this year by condo developers Miles & Generalis, who won the Philadelphia School District's auction. But when the duo subsequently announced plans to erect a 22-story tower (see below) in the school playground, neighborhood groups began voicing doubts. Miles & Generalis came back with several less-towering variations, but by then public opinion had turned firmly in favor of the K-7 school.

The problem is that developers have already tempted the School District by offering $6 million for the school and its generous playground - $1 million more than Independence's bid. Seeing the issue purely in terms of dollars and cents (rather than sense), the district took the developer's money. Nevermind that there are already hundreds of condos proposed for the neighborhood and an influx of young families is likely to follow.

But the cause of Independence, a K-7 charter now located in cramped quarters on Seventh Street, got a huge boost last week when the Center City Residents Association came out squarely on the side of the school. The association has sent a letter to Mayor Street and Council President Anna Verna (whose district includes Durham) opposing a zoning variance to allow housing on the site and - even more significantly - strongly supporting Independence Charter's purchase. Their support for the school fits with their new master plan, which calls for additional schools and infrastructure to serve the neighborhood's growing population.

Now it's up to the school district to do what's right. On May 23, district representatives are due to appear in Common Pleas Court (Courtroom 426, at 1 p.m.) to finalize the sale of school property. This is a chance for the district to withdraw the property from auction and restart the process. This time, instead of holding a simple auction, the district should craft a Request For Proposals. Under such a process, the district would no longer be obliged to sell to the highest bidder. It could instead make the sale to the most compatible user. That would truly be acting in the public interest.

6 Comments:

Blogger Ruby Legs said...

You keep this up, you ought to run for Mayor!!!

1:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Now possibly Miles & Generalis can do something more creative like replace the tawdry state office building at Broad and Spring Garden with a world class high rise development. Just think, the whole Spring Garden Street corridor could desperately use high end retail and restuarants on the ground floor, as the area is a ghost town at night. A Brew Pub, gormet food store and even a Starbucks would be quite nice in a 40 - 45 story tower or two towers.

10:12 PM  
Blogger normajean said...

Center City needs to retain and attract amenitities such as the charter school in order for it to survive. Empty-nesters and New Yorkers have plenty of other housing options from which to choose - a fact that the Center City Residents' Association has been wise enough to recognize. I hope the school is successful in its bid.

11:03 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree Normajean. Take Miles And Generalis, again for eaxample, they built 1,500 loft condos between Broad and 11th streets north of Vine and South of Spring Garden St. However, they have provided almost no amenities for that area. No Dry cleaners, deli or anything else to sustain life. Would the suburbs have allowed Bill Levitt to get away with this type of behavior. I doubt it!!

3:44 PM  
Blogger Sandy Smith said...

As far as the more mundane amenities are concerned--cleaners, grocers and the other merchants who supply the stuff of everyday life--a developer can make provision for them, but he can't will them into existence.

Given that the old warehouse and factory buildings in the zone between Vine and Spring Garden east of Broad do not lend themselves well to the insertion of street-level retail (for starters, their street floors are often a few feet above street level), I wouldn't blame the developer for the lack of amenities of this type. That will require new construction, in all likelihood.

8:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sandy, You are dead wrong. Just take a look at the warehouses being converted into condos in New York and Jersey City. Many of them contain excellent retail components. Although as you say a developer can not will mundane amenities such as retailers into existence; they certainly can make provisions for their existence. Miles and Generalis threw over 1,000 condos into existence in the Loft district and took the money and put it in their pockets and left the neighborhood holding the bag. There are many surface parking lots that could contain new retail in the area. If a suburban developer put 1,000 new apartments / townhouses up they would have had to submit a master plan including retail to feed these people. Also, having stores where these people could walk to would save the economy and ecosystem a pretty penny with the skyrocketing gas prices.

12:14 PM  

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