Ravaged by Neglect

The causes, costs, and effects of property tax delinquency – detailed in this week’s PlanPhilly/Inquirer investigative series –
are staggering. Here’s a by-the-numbers breakdown of the city’s complex tax delinquency issues in bite-sized (albeit stomach-turning) bits.

Read more: Ravaged by Neglect.


Property-tax debt is ravaging Philadelphia

We have known this for years and have been working from the private market to help ease the burden. Read Patrick Kerkstra’s revealing analysis of the delinquency/blight connection:

Property-tax debt is ravaging Philadelphia

via Property-tax debt is ravaging Philadelphia.

Abandoned No More?

TWO ICONIC buildings on North Broad Street apparently are now in the hands of the same developer.

Eric Blumenfeld has reacquired the Divine Lorraine Hotel and has reached an agreement to develop the nearby Metropolitan Opera House as well, he said Tuesday.

Blumenfeld took title of the abandoned hotel, a blighted beauty targeted by vandals for years, at a sheriff’s sale Tuesday. Construction is to begin in January to convert the 10-story building into 125 loft apartments on the upper floors and new restaurants on the first two floors.

“I’m working with [restaurateurs] Marc Vetri and Jose Garces and I’m hoping to have a third [restaurant owner] as well,” Blumenfeld said.

On Monday, in the first stage of taking control of the Divine Lorraine, Blumenfeld purchased outstanding debt from New York-based Amalgamated Bank.

Blumenfeld declined to say how much he paid for the note, but the Inquirer put the value of the mortgage, back city taxes and other liens at more than $8 million.

The Divine Lorraine, at Fairmount Avenue, was built in 1892 as the luxury Lorraine Apartments and was one of the city’s first high-rises for the wealthy. Years later, it was the first Philadelphia hotel to be racially integrated.

Blumenfeld said reacquiring the hotel – which he had bought before in 2003 for $5.8 million and then sold to a group of developers in 2006 – is key to remaking North Broad. “The Divine Lorraine represents the real transformation of the corridor,” he said.

Blumenfeld already has put his stamp on North Broad by developing two apartment buildings and several restaurants in or near former clothing factories north of Spring Garden Street.

Now, he said, he is working with the owners of the Metropolitan Opera House, at Poplar Street, to come up with a plan to bring the old opera house back to life.

“I never shy away from a challenge,” Blumenfeld said.

He said he signed a partnership agreement with the Holy Ghost Headquarters Revival Center, which owns the Met, in the past couple of months.

The church’s pastor, Rev. Mark Hatcher, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

The Divine Lorraine got its name after the charismatic preacher, Father Divine, bought the Lorraine Hotel in 1948.

5025 Schuyler Street, Philadelphia, PA

From a neighbor:

I have been living next to this eyesore for 6 years now with my husband. The owner, a man who we’ve spoken to numerous times, has refused to do anything with this property. Our neighbors have pled with him to sell it, fought with him to clean up the overgrowth year after year and even called him for animals being trapped in the property. Recently, we had vandals break into the property to steal copper piping. Frankly I’m surprised it took this long for people to break in. I credit the delay only to our diligent neighbors and the burden that watching this property has taken on them.

One such neighbor has taken this person to court a number of years ago but I’m not sure what if anything came of the legal action. I’m also not sure what recourse my husband and I have to make this person responsible for this property and its maintenance. My husband and I anticipate trying to sell our house at some point and our property value is perpetually diminishing with each day that this owner takes no action. I’d like to call L&I but know what a bureaucratic mess it can be sometimes. If anyone can give us any helpful information as to how we can get some results, we’d be extremely grateful.

Frustrated and Fed Up

The Waste Land: first part in a collaborative series called “The Abandoned City”

This story, a partnership between City Paper and PlanPhilly, is the first of a series – “The Abandoned City” – about vacant and abandoned city land, funded in part by a grant from J-Lab: The Institute for Interactive Journalism.

By Isaiah Thompson and Anthony Campisi

Of the many, many terrible things that have happened to Theresa Lugo in front of her house, getting stuck in the foot with a used syringe is not, if you can believe it, the worst — although that was bad.

She was loading the kids into the car for a trip to the beach, and had put on flip-flops: “The needle went right through my heel,” she recalls. Lugo now makes regular visits to a doctor for tests. So far, they’ve come back negative. “I never touched a drug in my life,” she muses, “and now I have to deal with this.”

That’s not all she and the other residents of the 300 block of Tusculum in Kensington have had to deal with — not by a long shot. In an already-rough area (the drug-ridden neighborhood is, among other things, the murder capital of the city), their block, a small row of tidy, owner-occupied houses, stands out.

Drug dealers, junkies and prostitutes roam the street at all hours. Ambulances arrive daily, if not more often, to retrieve the living or dead bodies of people who have overdosed. The sounds of beatings — and, sometimes, pleas for help — wake residents up at night.

The people on the block can point to a single, unique source of their misery: an old, mostly defunct railroad bed that passes their houses just below street level — just, that is, out of sight, winding its way through the roughest neighborhoods in the city like a kind of dry driver of drugs, prostitution, violence, murder and crime.

Their little street happens to be a major access point, and the access couldn’t be easier: The only barrier between this wild swath and their front porches is an ancient, crumbling iron fence, wide open or just plain missing in several spots on their block alone.



What Will Become of The Divine Lorraine?

The Kingston Lounge, “Guerrilla Preservation and Urban Archaelogy” has posted a moving and informative photo journal of the history and recent dismemberment of this once-grand landmark on North Broad Street. While we strive to grapple with the shells on our blocks and in our neighborhoods, it is sometimes easy to forget that we have architectural treasures that are falling apart in our bustling commercial center as well.  Thanks, Kingston, for reminding us and for the moving pictures. From The Kingston Lounge on the Divine Lorraine Hotel –

It is unacceptable that this building, a national as well as a local landmark, is falling prey to demolition-by-neglect. While the figure of Father Divine and the nature of his movement may be controversial, it is uncontroversial that he was an important precursor to the civil rights struggle, and that the Divine Lorraine had a significant role in this history, both by association and by virtue of its status as the first integrated hotel in Philadelphia. Further, it is a remarkable building, and one of the few Hale commissions still standing. The avarice of a developer who gutted the building, “taking her for all she was worth”, and then walked away, should not be allowed to cause the eventual destruction of this treasure. I would urge all of my readers in Philadelphia to get involved on some level with the preservation of this structure. And I would urge all of my readers outside of Philadelphia to spread the word. If there is enough public outcry over this, if the right people are appropriately shamed, perhaps the Divine Lorraine stands a chance of being a jewel of Philadelphia once again.

We second Kingston.  Read the history and view the pictures of this faded glory on N. Broad Street: The Kingston Lounge: The Divine Lorraine Hotel.

Former Crack House 1739 Fontain

This former crack house is now renovated. Continue reading