2014: A healthy year for public-aided development in Philadelphia

We’re always being reminded, this time of year, that what we give is more important than what we receive. And while it’s good to be grateful for the many unearned privileges we enjoy day-to-day, it’s also appropriate to occasionally recognize the many ways in which the public shares its largesse with private developers.

Here are a few.

$40 million in grants for Comcast tower

When Comcast announced early this year that it would be building a new tower in Center City, edging out its first headquarters as the tallest building in Philadelphia, it also announced that the $1.2 billion project would benefit from $30 million in grants from the state and $10 million from the city. The state grants will come from various funds through the Department of Community and Economic Development over a period of four years. The local grants come from the capital budget, and while they’re technically dedicated to public improvements and the extension of the Suburban Station concourse, those improvements are sure to be enjoyed most by Comcast and its employees. More information on those grants here.

We also shouldn’t forget that Comcast, like anyone who builds a new tower or makes substantial improvements to her home, can take advantage of the 10-year property-tax abatement. In 2014, through the abatement program, Comcast avoided a $2.7 million bill on its current tower, which was completed in 2008 and is valued at more than $215 million.

As part of a land swap, Dietz & Watson will expand southward on what is currently fishing and boat access. In exchange, the City has received additional riverfront land in Bridesburg.
(Bradley Maule)

Land swap for Dietz & Watson expansion

Local officials spent some serious energy in the spring to help the lunchmeat manufacturer Dietz  & Watson expand its Northeast Philly headquarters after its plant in New Jersey burned down last fall.

In order to keep the company here—New Jersey had offered $30 million over ten years to relocate the headquarters across the river—the Philadelphia Industrial Development Authority spent $12 million on a portion of the former Frankford Arsenal and sold a portion of it to Dietz & Watson for $6 million. City Council rezoned the property so it could be built up for industrial use. The state made more than $14 million in aid available to the company.

As part of the very intricate deal, Bridesburg wound up with some new public land on the waterfront, which will be developed by the Department of Parks and Recreation into a new segment of the Delaware River Trail.

Dranoff's SLS International, Broad and Spruce. Rendering courtesy KPF Associates
Dranoff’s SLS International, Broad and Spruce. Rendering courtesy KPF Associates

A public street for a Center City hotel

Late last year, developer Carl Dranoff announced he’d be building a 47-story hotel at Broad and Spruce streets. The plan calls for a mix of hotel rooms and condo units, developed in partnership with SBE Entertainment Group of Los Angeles.

While the project so far hasn’t received any public grants—but again, don’t forget about the tax abatement—it will benefit from zoning changes approved by City Council. The changes upzone the property and extend the boundaries of the Center City zoning overlay, easing some restrictions on the property.

Most importantly, Council agreed to strike Cypress Street, a small, public alley between Broad and Watts streets, so that the new hotel can be built on that land.

Eastern Tower rendering
Eastern Tower rendering

State and federal incentives for the Eastern Tower

In October, just before being defeated for re-election, Governor Tom Corbett’s office awarded a $3.7 million grant to the Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation for its planned residential tower at 10th and Vine streets. The grant comes from the state Economic Growth Initiative program. The project, which has been proposed for some time, is still piecing funding together.

The project is supposed to include a few dozen apartments available to individuals making up to 80 percent of Area Median Income in addition to higher-end residential units. It will also include a community center on the lower floors.

In addition to the state grant, PCDC is also seeking financing through the federal EB-5 program. That program awards foreign investors green cards and an expedited immigration process if they make an investment of $500,000 or more in development projects in the U.S.

A publicly subsidized W Hotel is proposed for 15th and Chestnut streets in Center City
A publicly subsidized W Hotel is proposed for 15th and Chestnut streets in Center City

$33 million Tax Increment Financing package for hotels at 15th and Chestnut

Though a tax-credit package was technically approved late last year, construction has yet to begin on the proposed W Hotel at 15th and Chestnut streets, last we checked. In the summer, developer Brook Lenfest updated the Center City Residents Association on his plans for the site, which now include a Starwood Hotel in addition to the W.

Lenfest said he wouldn’t have been able to do the project without the Tax Increment Financing (TIF) package, which is worth $33 million. TIFs allow property owners to pay taxes based on the starting value of a given piece of land, and reroute the would-be-increasing tax liability (the “increment”) from improvements to finance the development itself. A PlanPhilly analysis of local TIFs found that most generate less revenue than the city and developers project at the time they’re proposed.

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