Thursday, March 31, 2005

Economic Development in North Philadelphia

A planned $75 million project at North Broad Street and Cecil B. Moore Avenue in North Philadelphia will contain a 7-screen movie house, 60,000 sq. ft. of retail, and housing for 800 students (see story). This project is adjacent to Temple University, North Philadelphia's economic powerhouse.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

They'd Rather Fly From Philly

Philadelphia International Airport now attracts more domestic passengers than any of New York's three major airports. A significant number of New Yorkers are making the two-hour trip south in search of cheaper flights. A recent New York Times article attributes the attraction to plummeting airfares related to the Philadelphia debut of Southwest Airlines in May.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Philadelphia Airport Gets an "A"

Standard & Poor's has affirmed Philadelphia International Airport's "A" credit rating and offered a stable outlook (see story). Among reasons given for the strong rating: moderate cost/debt levels for an airport of its size and hub status; steady passenger growth with “enplaned” numbers growing an average 2.4% for fiscal years 2001-2004; a diverse local economy; and a strong origin/destination base of 66% of total enplaned passengers in fiscal year 2004. What does this all mean? Philadelphia International Airport is well-managed and the prognosis for its future is good.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Most Sportsmanlike: Philadelphia School District Athletes

The School District of Philadelphia has recently joined the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association (“PIAA”). PIAA membership establishes connectivity between the Commonwealth’s broader student athlete community and the Philadelphia School District. One notable recent achievement: during the 2003-2004 school year, the PIAA reported that Philadelphia had the lowest number of players and coaches disqualified or penalized (see story). Relatedly, the District is in the midst of a $27 million spending program to upgrade programs and implement non-traditional urban school district programs such as golf and crew. Take a second, third, and fourth look at what Paul Vallas, his staff, and the School Reform Commission are doing; it's nothing short of revolutionary for Philadelphia's public schools.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Don't be Sad, the House of Blues Found a Home in Center City

Plans are moving forward to put a House of Blues in the bottom floors of the “The Grand”, the luxury apartment building at 15th and Chestnut Streets (see story). A letter of intent has been signed and the process is moving forward. The House of Blues – second-largest live music promoter in the world - has operations in eight other US cities.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Biomass Exporter Opens Philadelphia Port Facility

Green Energy Resources of Huntington (NY) has opened a port facility in Philadelphia that will annually export up to 1 million tons of biomass to other countries (see story). Biomass (plant matter used to fuel wood-burning power generation facilities) is the 4th largest energy fuel source in the world, after petroleum, natural gas and coal.

Planning Commission Executive Director to Step Down, Deputy Will Take Over

Richard Lombardo – a 35-year Planning Commission veteran and current Deputy Executive Director – will assume the post of Acting City Planning Commissioner when the incumbent (Maxine Griffith) steps down (see story).

Saturday, March 19, 2005

No Retreat, No Surrender

One bill would have virtually banned smoking in public places. The other would have prohibited campaign contributors from getting no bid City contracts (see story). Both didn’t move forward last week in Council. The first didn’t go to a vote and was held and the other was narrowly defeated – by just one vote. Will these setbacks dissuade Councilman Michael Nutter, the bills’ legislative shepherd? Nope. Said the Councilman, "I'm tenacious. I don't just drop issues, and these issues won't go away." Councilman Nutter has faced the mountain before and climbed to the top. You can thank him for the Police Advisory and Tax Reform Commissions. Don’t think he and his allies on Council can do it? AHT does. AHT believes. AHT has higher expectations for this City and believes that our best days – and a government to complement them – are ahead of us. Do you want to do something about it? Send a fax to City Council - via Hallwatch - and let them know where you stand.

Friday, March 18, 2005

$100 Million Mixed-Used Project Slated for University City

The University of Pennsylvania and the Hanover Company have announced plans to create a $100 million mixed-use development including high-end apartments, stores and a parking facility at the northwest corner of 34th and Chestnut Streets (see story). The seven or eight story structure will contain 295 apartments. Plans call for project commencement in September with completion by late 2007.

University City: A Neighborhood Ascends

In 1995, Penn began implementing a strategic plan to improve University City; ten years later, their actions have produced dramatic results (see story). The mechanism for moving forward much of this progress is the University City District (“UCD”). Since 1997, this special-services agency has supplemented municipal services in areas such as security and litter abatement and taken a more administerial role with respect to district governance and economic development. The results are decidedly impressive; according to a recently released report, 19 retail, entertainment and eating establishments opened last year, including World Cafe Live. The Cira Centre - a 28-story office tower and the first on the west side of the Schuylkill – will open later this year right next to Amtrak’s 30th Street Station. Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s (“CHOP”) $650 million expansion will double that facility’s size. Finally, the population has increased by nearly 3,000 and median home prices have jumped from $72,700 to $245,000.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

College Students Love Pennsylvania

According to the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities of Pennsylvania, the Commonwealth does better than 49 other states in college student retention (see story). Pennsylvania has overtaken New York – for the first time - as the #1 destination for first-time freshmen leaving their home states to attend university. The net gain is 12,209 students; Pennsylvania is now #1 in this "net migration" metric as well. In the longer term, nearly 20% of out-of-state graduates will remain five years after graduation. This means 3,500 young, college-educated workers are added to our state every year; not too shabby. Finally, with over 80 institutions of higher learning in or near Philadelphia, our town is reaping a majority of the benefits from this demographic trend. The evidence? A booming real estate market and exploding restaurant/entertainment sector and a generally younger, hipper vibe that's getting hard to ignore.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Condo-mania in Philadelphia

Since 1998, over 12,000 residential units (mostly condos) have sprouted up in Center City. Citywide, there are more than 15,000 new single-family homes and condos proposed (see story). Why is this happening? A couple of reasons: (1) Tax Benefits: Philadelphia offers a 10-year property tax abatement on commercial and industrial buildings converted to residential use and for new residential construction; and (2) Demographic Trends: Baby boomers with money are looking to downsize and move back into the City for the social and cultural amenities and young urban professionals are looking for relatively inexpensive first homes that are close to their jobs and social lives in the City.

Monday, March 14, 2005

A Vision for Enhanced Rail Transit in Philadelphia

The Delaware River Port Authority (“DRPA”) is contemplating various transit enhancements, including two options with direct implications for Center City. One alternative would create new trolley/electric streetcar service originating at PATCO’s Franklin Square Station (currently moth-balled) to Spring Garden Street and Pier 70 along Delaware Avenue. Service could be extended to the burgeoning Navy Yard complex and stadia in South Philadelphia. Another possibility would extend SEPTA’s Subway/Surface light rail system underground along Market Street to Delaware Avenue with service extending north to Spring Garden Street and south to the Pier 70 shopping plaza. Service could be extended to the Navy Yard complex and stadia in South Philadelphia.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Philadelphia's Aspiring Class

Tom Ferrick has an excellent column in today's Philadelphia Inquirer that discusses the great work that Paul Vallas (the Philadelphia School District's CEO) is doing to respond to the "Aspiring Class". Ferrick notes recent School District initiatives to create more magnet high schools and to implement enrichment programs at all district grammar schools. Ferrick describes the Aspiring Class as "consist[ing] of parents in the city - who come in all colors and classes, who want more for their children than marginal or minimum-wage jobs, and who see education as the way to achieve it. They demand more of their children and they demand more from their children's schools."
While public education is a major priority, the Aspiring Class is a growing demographic in Philadelphia that has broader concerns. The Aspiring Class loves the City and urban living but demands excellent public services. If they don't get what they need here (or don't know they can get it), they leave. Other City agencies would do well to listen to and respond to the Aspiring Class. Keeping these folks - and their tremendous intellectual, social, and fiscal resources - are essential to the long-term economic viability and social vitality of our great city.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Another Philadelphia Hidden Treasure: Settlement Music School

Settlement Music School was founded in 1908 and is the largest community arts school in the nation. With six branches in the area, Settlement provides instruction in music, dance, and the related arts to more than 8,000 students on a weekly basis.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Philadelphia School District: Pursuing Excellence

The Philadelphia School District plans to expand programs for high-achieving and gifted elementary students, including creating three separate schools that could serve up to 1,200 students by September 2006. In addition, 50 centers featuring more rigorous curricula will be created within existing schools next year. And beginning in September, every school will offer after-school, Saturday, and summer school programs for high achievers in reading, math and science. Paul Vallas and his amazing team continue to delight and amaze.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Another Center City Office Tower Planned

Plans to build Center City's third new office building are coming together as Viacom International contemplates occupancy at a proposed 15th and Arch office tower. The 17-story structure would house Viacom’s local television broadcasting operations. If everything works out, Viacom would move in about March 2007.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Symphony House Sales Hit a High Note

A week prior to the sales office opening at Dranoff Properties’ 31-story “Symphony House” at Broad and Pine Streets, nearly 1/3 of its 163 condominiums were sold. The Center City residential housing boom continues apace, with ownership and rental units being added with rapidity. Philadelphia’s growing downtown population (the third largest in the US) continues to fuel an explosion of retail, culinary, and entertainment offerings.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

PA Democrats - Growin' Up

In a show of unity evidencing a maturation that could propel the Pennsylvania Democratic Party to ascendancy, the field of strong contenders in the US Senate primary has been reduced to one. Barbara Hafer and Joe Hoeffel - both excellent politicians and admirable public servants - have put aside personal aspirations and provided Robert Casey a clear path to the nomination. AHT believes this is a good thing; the Democratic Party - nationally and in Pennsylvania - must become more ideologically diverse to win national and statewide races. Democrats also must adopt strategies that can propel them to electoral victory. Sometimes this means getting behind those who don’t pass our myriad litmus tests but can get the most votes. In contrast to Casey, AHT is unequivocally pro-choice (of the safe, legal, and rare variety) and is vehemently pro gun control; however, we believe that winning elections - this one in particular - is more important than ideological orthodoxy and a potentially divisive and costly primary.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Philadelphia Chamber Supports Smoking Ban

The Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce has declared its support for Councilman Michael Nutter’s legislation that would prohibit smoking in most public venues - including restaurants, bars, and hotels. “The facts prove that banning smoking in public places will not adversely affect business," said Mark Schweiker, Chamber President/CEO and former Governor of Pennsylvania (see story).

Philadelphia Phlash Returns for the Season

Beginning March 1, 2005 and running through November 30, 2005, purple Phlash buses will ride again. The Phlash fare is $1 and its route takes riders to 19 important destinations including Center City hotels, Penn's Landing, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Temple Womens Basketball: Best in the Region

Temple's Lady Owls have won 21 consecutive games and became the first team since the 1996-97 season to go undefeated in the Atlantic 10. They are nationally ranked at #16 - higher than the Villanova men. Dawn Staley - the coach of Temple, Philadelphia native, and Olympic gold medalist - just received the Atlantic-10 "Coach of the Year" award for the second straight time. The Lady Owls are seeded #1 going into the A-10 tournament this weekend.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Former Green Party Candidate for Governor to Try Out for Pittsburgh Steelers

This is funny but accurate...from Politics PA:

(HARRISBURG, PA)—Former Green Party candidate for governor, Michael Morrill, today declared his intention to try out for the position of wide receiver for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Morrill admits he has no experience in organized football, has only a casual fan’s understanding of the game and at age 50 might be a little slow for the National Football League. When asked why he thought he might be qualified to be a wide receiver for the Steelers, Morrill said he was inspired by four-time Super Bowl Champion Lynn Swann. “If Lynn Swann can run for governor with absolutely no public policy experience, why shouldn’t I be able to try out for the Steelers?” Morrill responded. Morrill was also asked what he thought his chances were to make the Steelers. “About the same as Swann’s chances to be elected governor,” he replied.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Innovative Blogger Networking Site: Bloggers Market

From their website: "Let's say you read [various blogs] everyday. Many of us are going to these same blogs, but don’t have the opportunity to interact when we are there. Even if your favorite blog offers comment or diary opportunities, you still basically stick to the thread topics and overall focus of that blog, be it politics, music or sports, etc. Bloggers Market will enable bloggers to "network in ways [they] can't on [their] favorite blogs. Here [they] can search for items posted by...fellow blog readers who list services, meetups or old items they want to sell and identify themselves by listing their favorite blog."

Philadelphia Higher Education Network for Neighborhood Development

The Philadelphia Higher Education Network for Neighborhood Development (“PHENND”) is a collaboration of 42 local colleges/universities that strives to build its members' capacity to develop mutually beneficial, sustained, and community-based service learning partnerships. PHENND seeks to rejuvenate/support local communities and their public schools through the cultivation of civic responsibility among the region's colleges and universities.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Excessive Fragmentation: PA has Too Many Local Governments

Pennsylvania has nearly 2,600 local governments and a few thousand quasi-governmental units. Sixty percent of local governments in PA have populations under 2,500. This excessive fragmentation thwarts local governments’ ability to effectively and efficiently deliver services. The answer? While easier said than done, municipal consolidations/mergers must be encouraged and small, non-viable units should be discouraged, possibly through withholding of state funding. See Terry Madonna's op-ed in the Philadelphia Inquirer for more background.

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