Thursday, June 30, 2005

They Like Us, They Really Like Us

A survey of 2005 college graduates – recently conducted by Right Management Consultants – indicates that seventy-six percent of the area's college graduates prefer to stay in the Greater Philadelphia region. Thirty-nine percent of college graduates surveyed indicated they were “very likely to stay”, 37 percent were “somewhat likely”, 15 percent were “not very likely”, 6 percent had “no idea” and 3 percent said they were “not at all likely”.

Cancer Fighting Hospital to Open in Northeast Philadelphia

According to the Philadelphia Business Journal, Cancer Treatment Centers of America (“CTCA”) – an Illinois-based company – is creating what will be its first East Coast hospital on the site of the former Parkview Hospital in Northeast Philadelphia. The cancer-fighting center - scheduled to open in November 2005 – should generate 170 new jobs in year one and up to 500 jobs within the first three years. CTCA estimates the center's regional economic impact to be $6 million in its first year of operations, and approximately $22 million annually by year five. The Philadelphia hospital will be CTCA's fourth regional cancer center, joining others in Zion (IL); Tulsa, (OK); and Seattle (WA).

Sunday, June 26, 2005

LISC Makes $22 Million Committment to Philadelphia

Philadelphia Local Initiative Support Corporation (“LISC”) announced a $22 million commitment of private/public funding to Philadelphia over the next couple of years (see story). Philadelphia LISC has assisted in the development of thousands of housing units, the construction of shopping facilities and community centers, commercial corridor rejuvenation, and cultivation of Philadelphia's community development corporations’ professional capacity. Among other things, LISC gathers corporate, government and philanthropic capital to help community development corporations revitalize underserved neighborhoods.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Modern Courts Coming to Philadelphia?

This Monday, two state senators plan to introduce a measure that could make groundbreaking changes to the way judges in Philadelphia come to the bench (see story). "Our method of picking judges has become too heavily dependent on things such as ballot position, campaign contributions and street money," Sen. Vince Fumo said. "Judges should serve on the basis of their legal experience, competency and professional temperament." Consequently, Fumo and Sen. Anthony Williams (D., Phila.) have announced that they are advancing legislation that would amend the state constitution by requiring the Governor to appoint judges who are recommended by a judicial nominating commission. Who else is supporting this measure? Lynn Marks, executive director of Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts; Zack Stalberg, president of the Committee of Seventy; Andrew A. Chirls, chancellor of the Philadelphia Bar Association; and Michael Coard, head of a new watchdog organization named Judging the Judges. The legislation - affecting judicial placements for the Philadelphia Common Pleas and Municipal Courts - would create a 19-member judicial nominating commission populated solely by Philadelphia residents. There are a number of procedural hurdles before modern, progressive courts can come to Philadelphia. The proposal must win approval in two consecutive legislative sessions, then voters across the Commonwealth would have to approve the change (affecting only Philadelphia). Finally, Philadelphia voters also would have to support the change in a citywide referendum. A well organized and participatory selection process is the way that most states select their judges, and it's heartening to see Philadelphia move towards a more progressive judiciary selection process. For more information, go to the Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts website.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

The One Great Thing About the Bush Administration (for Philadelphia)

History will show that George W. Bush was a bad president. From domestic to foreign policy, to his unyielding, repugnant, and regressive stances on homosexual marriage, gun control, and the environment, the President is a divisive, ineffectual, uninspiring leader. However, when he was first elected, I thought that if there was anything positive that his presidency could do for our great City, it would be to commence federal corruption investigations of those local public officials that our loyal partisan District Attorney would never go after. A few years later – while I don’t claim any credit/blame – news of a bug planted in the Mayor’s office revealed that the Feds had in fact been conducting a massive fraud/corruption investigation for several years. That bug (and others) led to the City Hall corruption case and recent convictions (and guilty pleas) of over a dozen political operatives. Assisted by a network of cooperating witnesses and 60,000 secretly recorded conversations, FBI agents indicate that they are far from completing their corruption-busting work in Philadelphia. "I see this case as being open when I retire in a few years," said FBI agent James K. Welch, supervisor of the public-corruption squad in Philadelphia. "We're not halfway done yet." Welch did not elaborate, but it has been reported that the Feds are examining City contracts related to insurance, Penn's Landing, minority contracting, and the Philadelphia International Airport. According to the article in last Sunday’s Philadelphia Inquirer, the FBI hopes for changes, such as proposed ethics reforms, in "what we see as a corrupt system." While the investigation and subsequent guilty pleas and convictions don’t guarantee positive changes to our political/government systems and culture, there are hopeful signs that Philadelphia residents and politicians are taking the issue seriously. The City’s Board of Ethics has staffed up and Councilman Nutter’s anti pay-to-play bills will become law, pending voter approval. While there’s certainly a downside to the corruption investigation – who needs the bad press and notoriety – the ongoing investigation will keep this issue in the public’s mind heading into the next mayoral elections and will no doubt shape the outcome, hopefully in favor of a candidate who will provide strong ethical leadership and improve the quality and focus of governance in Philadelphia.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Texas Developer Building 285 Luxury Rental Units in East Falls

Winther - a private developer from Houston, Texas - is building a $50 million, eight-building apartment complex on the grounds of a former mill in East Falls (see story). The community will be called Dobson Mills Apartments and will encompass 306,000 square feet; 7,000 square feet of street-level retail will be provided on Ridge Avenue. Winther focuses on developing luxury rental properties in high-density, urban “infill” locations. The company’s vice president – James Tollett III - believes the luxury rental market is underserved in Philadelphia and that people are seeking out new construction. The average apartment at Dobson Mills will be 1,000 square feet and monthly rents will average $1,800. "We're looking for people who like a Center City lifestyle and can put their feet on the grass every day and be five minutes from the business district," said Tollett. This new development will be proximate to downtown East Falls’ burgeoning restaurant and commercial district.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

The Rendell Administration: Running the Commonwealth More Efficiently

One of the things that most people don’t fully realize about government is that it’s a real enterprise, not an abstraction to be argued about at cocktail parties. Like any large business or institution, the Commonwealth’s state government administers a vast amount of personnel, physical resources, programs, and processes. This means that there are usually many opportunities to develop management and productivity initiatives that can save money and/or enhance service levels. That said, the Rendell Administration has identified procurement strategies that will generate $140 million in annual savings (see story). It’s a result of “strategic sourcing” (i.e., organizing contracts for maximum savings) initiatives. In addition to public policy and other more “exciting” issues, this is the kind of thing that Rendell and the excellent folks on his team focus on; the mechanics and processes of government. It’s not sexy, but it’s the real stuff of managing a government.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Pennsylvania to take Action on Global Warming?

According to PennFuture, Pennsylvania House Bill 500 - the "Greenhouse Gas Reduction Act" - has been gaining political momentum in Harrisburg recently. The global warming bill, sponsored by Rep. Greg Vitali (D-Delaware), has bipartisan support with 10 Republicans and 43 Democrats as co-sponsors.

The legislation would require Pennsylvania to:

- Conduct a statewide inventory of greenhouse gas emissions;
- Create a stakeholder group to advise the state on global warming issues;
- Develop and publish a global warming statement for Pennsylvania that includes an analysis of economic opportunities for the Commonwealth; and
- Develop an action plan for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the state.

Center City Hotel Occupancy and Tourism: Still Going Strong

April was an exceptional month for Center City hotels, which were 83.6% occupied, up 18.6% from April 2004, according to Smith Travel Research. Revenue per available room (“RevPAR”, a standard industry measure) was at $123.22, up 27% from last April. Year to date, downtown hotels' occupancy was up 8.4% and RevPAR was up 15.2%. PKF Consulting's April industry “Snapshot” also reported that attendance was up this year through April at most attractions in Center City; the National Constitution Center was up a whopping 64.1%.

Monday, June 13, 2005

National Council of La Raza: Philadelphia Bound

According to the Center City District and the Philadelphia Multicultural Affairs Congress ("MAC"), the largest Latino organization in the country - the National Council of La Raza - is holding its 27th annual conference in Philadelphia from July 16-18. The more than 15,000 delegates - including Latino civic activists and elected leaders - will have a projected economic impact of $8.2 million.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Philadelphia School District Creates More Comprehensive History Curriculum

The Philadelphia School District has become the first in the nation to require courses in African and African-American history as prerequisites for high school graduation (see story).

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Random Pennsylvania Factoids

PA has 2,569 units of local government, 500 public school districts, and 67 counties. The only state to have more units of government is Illinois. Of those municipalities, 56 are considered cities, 964 as boroughs, and 1,548 as townships. There is also one town - Bloomsburg - the only one in the state, created so by special charter championed by state Senator Charles Buckalew in 1870.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Architectural Salvage Industry in Philadelphia Expands

Second Chance – the Baltimore-based, non-profit architectural salvager – will open a retail operation this fall in Philadelphia, according to the architectural salvage industry’s leading publication, Architectural Salvage News. Second Chance’s executive director said that Philadelphia was the first city with the interest, manpower, and desire to make the enterprise a success. Second Chance focuses on deconstruction, architectural salvage, and job training. They work with low-income residents to train them in a wide variety of skills, ranging from carpentry to craftsmanship.

Philadelphia Art Museum: Going to the Moon

Ok, it’s not exactly going to the moon, but it’s just as ambitious. The Philadelphia Museum of Art is planning what will be the largest cultural expansion in our City’s history, an exciting $500 million push to expand/renovate the facility, including a dramatic subterranean excavation that would create addition display capacity (see story).

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

The Emperor has no Clothes

Mark Allen Hughes from Penn has an op/ed about the Street Administration’s NTI program in today’s Daily News (see story). Mr. Hughes says that “NTI was a pile of money, and its only strategic imperative was to be spent. Without a core strategy, NTI was little more than a story told by the [M]ayor about the effects of absentee landlords and boarded-up windows.” Mr. Hughes notes that - according to the fifth-year budget for NTI - the program will have incurred $300 million in new debt and have knocked down less than half of the collapsing houses in Philadelphia, not exactly stellar performance with regard to one of the program’s main goals. I remember being at a “kaffee klatch” (at Babette Joseph’s house) for Mayor Street when he was running for the office in the 1999 Democratic primary. Mr. Street discussed the NTI concept then and I was struck by how half-baked the idea sounded coming from somebody who’d been in City Council for nearly twenty years representing a largely blighted area. He didn’t seem to have an informed vision/plan for advancing a structured anti-blight program, just – as Mr. Hughes points out – a pile of money that needed to be spent and an election that needed to be won.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Fuji Bikes Pedals into Northeast Philadelphia

Quietly, Fuji Bikes has moved their world headquarters from North Jersey into an industrial park tucked near Philadelphia's Northeast Airport. Fuji has renovated an old structure and built new facilities that house office space and a distribution warehouse totaling 70,000 square feet. While Fuji isn't the largest bicycle company, they have a distinguished 100-year history and have currently captured 10% of the bike sales market and continue to grow. Fuji could have gone anywhere in the world, but chose the urban center that is rapidly becoming the center of the universe – Philadelphia – America’s hometown.

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