Monday, December 9, 2013

Eminent Domain Abuse in Philadelphia?

Ilya Somin highlights an article from the Institute of Justice that describes the City of Philadelphia’s attempts to condemn an artist’s studio in order to transfer the parcel it to a new private owner that would build a supermarket and parking lot on the site:

James Dupree has been celebrated around the world for his art. But now he is being condemned by the city of Philadelphia—literally. His art has been shown at many museums, including the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts…

But the city of Philadelphia has other plans for his property. In November 2012, the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority (PRA) was authorized to acquire 17 properties to build a supermarket in Mantua. According to the redevelopment plans, the PRA wants to bulldoze Dupree’s studio to make room for the privately-owned grocery store and its parking lot. No tenant has been identified yet, but the supermarket project has received $2.75 million in state subsidies….

Dupree estimates professionally moving his oeuvre would cost at least a quarter of a million dollars. So just relocating his vast collection actually costs more than what he originally paid for the building.

Transforming a broken-down garage and warehouse into a top-notch art studio was no easy feat. “When I purchased the property, it was basically condemnable,” he said. The roof leaked when it rained. The plumbing and electrical were “next to nil.”

“I invested everything I owned into this property…I was basically broke,” Dupree remarked. The property itself cost a little under $200,000. Installing new electrical and plumbing: $60,000. Fixing the roof was another $68,000. Thousands more were spent on renovations, furnishings and appliances.

But Dupree sensed the property at 3617-21 Haverford Avenue had enormous potential. With over 8,600 square feet, the facility has plenty of room to train aspiring artists and showcase his oeuvre. It’s also in a great location: The studio is right across the Schuylkill River from the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Barnes Foundation and the Rodin Museum. Even closer is Drexel University, which is expanding into Mantua.

All of those investments paid off. What was once a dilapidated building is now a pillar of the local community and worth $2.2 million. His studio demonstrates what private redevelopment can accomplish.

Yet rather than respect his right to property, according to Dupree, “they would rather steal it…”

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This one is a beaut. I have sometimes been skeptical of IJ's claims of abuse, but I have looked at the HUD-sponsored plan (grantee is a failed public housing agency) for the area, and I cannot see any justification -- public or private -- for this taking. The proposed supermarket may have been rationalized on Michelle Obama's pet idea that the neighborhood lacks healthy groceries, but HUD "food desert locator" indicates that it is not underserved by existing markets. Yet the supermarket acquisition was actually a line item in the Pa. Governor's budget. Seems to confirm my idea that eminent domain abuse usually happens when the local government is playing with a higher government's money.

Posted by: bill fischel | Dec 11, 2013 1:21:44 PM

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