Greenberger named Altman’s ‘interim’ sub

June 30, 2009

By Thomas J. Walsh
For PlanPhilly

Philadelphia City Planning Director Alan Greenberger, who was a private, successful Center City architect from the early 1970s until 2008 with MGA Partners, has been named by Mayor Michael Nutter as the city’s interim deputy mayor for commerce and economic development.

Greenberger was named the city’s Planning Commission Director last year, taking over in the fall.

Since Deputy Mayor Andrew Altman announced his departure – after just one year – to  lead London’s pre- and post-2012 Olympics planning efforts, there has been speculation that Greenberger might fill the post, at least temporarily. Altman’s last day was Friday, June 26.

Greenberger is on vacation this week and was unavailable to comment late Tuesday. He will be a placeholder during the summer months until Nutter decides to replace Altman either with one person (Altman was the first to hold down the two city cabinet positions of commerce and planning / economic development) or the traditional two.

“We’re really trying to take a look at the position,” said Terry Gillen, Nutter’s senior adviser for economic development. In the meantime, “we’ve got competent people. Commerce is in good hands.”

Gillen, who was Nutter’s mayoral campaign manager and is a veteran of the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corp., is among the few names regularly surfacing as a replacement for Altman on at least one level. But she dismissed that for the time being, saying she “won’t get into what I wouldn’t do.”

Wearing two hats already, as senior economic advisor to the mayor and the head of the Redevelopment Authority, “I feel like I’m finally getting some good things done,” Gillen said. “It takes about a year.”

Gillen was tasked a year ago with serving as an emergency executive director of the city’s troubled RDA, and in that role has been credited with starting to turn around a troubled agency.

Gillen also said that a bond audit for the Neighborhood Transformation Initiative (NTI), initiated under Mayor John Street, is still pending. If there are “irregularities,” she said, they will have to be addressed by the RDA.

More than a year ago, it was revealed by the administration that NTI was badly mismanaged, with a $32 million budgetary shortfall, forcing the RDA to take out another property-acquisition bond, valued at $44 million. The newer debt came with an obligation to sell land bought with the money at fair market value.

“This is an interim arrangement,” said Luke Butler, Nutter’s deputy press secretary. “A search (is on) for the best person … from Philadelphia, from city government, or from further afield. And with planning and economic development being such high priorities, we want to get the best person for the job.”

Nutter also appointed Kevin Dow, deputy director of commerce for neighborhood and business services, to serve as acting chief operating officer of the Commerce Department.

“The permanent structure of the job will be a point of discussion between the mayor and the candidates for the position of deputy mayor,” Butler said. “I don’t think it being the summer is a factor – it’s an important priority.”

David Brownlee, a Penn professor of architecture, city and regional planning and historic preservation, told PlanPhilly in August 2008 that Greenberger “has shown an enormous interest in the full range of design scales, from the fittings out of an individual room to the design of cities.”

Greenberger has also been a longtime architecture professor at Drexel University and the University of Pennsylvania. He is a co-founder of the Design Advocacy Group of Philadelphia.

“This is someone for whom the quality of design is highly important, and the approach to city planning that comes with that is an approach that I very much welcome,” Brownlee said. “Economics and demographic indicators and political structures are terribly important, but at the end of the day, what people will remember as they walk around the city with their eyes open, is what it looks like.”

Greenberger will be a loyal deputy for as long as he holds the position, which could be a while, given the current economic circumstances. When he was named Planning chief, Greenberger said of Nutter, “There’s no way I’d be doing it without the mayor – it’s his agenda. I wouldn’t be leaving private practice if not for this.”

Greenberger, whose profile has been steadily growing, is already accustomed to filling in for Altman. With an easygoing but efficient style of management, a pleasant courtship of the city’s most influential neighborhood groups, an accommodation of the press and a frequently stated desire to ride the middle ground between solid planning and a realistic approach to  development, Greenberger has arguably done more to raise the profile of the city’s Planning Commission than Altman did.

The mayor’s office also announced that Altman’s position as the chairman of the Delaware River Waterfront Corp. would be temporarily filled by Donn Scott, currently vice chairman of the entity, which is only months old, taking over for the troubled and now-disbanded Penn’s Landing Corp. earlier this year. The first board meeting of the DRWC was held just over two months ago, on April 24.

“There’s no doubt Andy was an incredible talent,” Butler said. “That said, Alan Greenberger and Kevin Dow have great records and have done important work.”

Joseph Syrnick, currently vice chairman of the city Planning Commission, will serve as acting chair until Altman’s permanent replacement is named.

Previous PlanPhilly coverage of Alan Greenberger’s tenure as Planning chief:

Underground tour

Love Park makeover

A good fit for design crowds

Greenberger’s note today (Tuesday) to the Planning Commission staff was:


“The Mayor is announcing today that I am being named to replace Andy Altman on an interim basis.

“Though my duties will increase during this period, I want to reassure all of you that my long-term goal is to remain the Director of Planning and to continue to advance our shared agenda.

“I will undoubtedly need more of your support for however long this interim period lasts.  I know that I can count on your professionalism and dedication to Philadelphia.

“Thank you for all you have done and continue to do in making planning a vital part of Philadelphia’s government.”

It was signed, “Alan.”

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