Mayoral candidates share views on development at BUILD Philly forum

Four candidates vying to be the next mayor of Philadelphia shared their views on enhancing and protecting the city’s built environment with a room full of developers, planners, and preservationists Tuesday morning.

The BUILD Philly event, held at the National Museum of American Jewish History, was convened by nearly two dozen local nonprofit groups and trade associations, including the Urban Land Institute, Community Design Collaborative, the Preservation Alliance, the Building Industry Association, and others. It was moderated by PlanPhilly editor Matt Golas.

Three candidates were no-shows: Democrats Doug Oliver and Milton Street, and Republican candidate Melissa Murray Bailey. The rest—Nelson Diaz, Anthony Williams, Lynne Abraham, and Jim Kenney—answered ten questions submitted by various member groups of the BUILD Philly coalition.

Candidates were given the questions in advance so they could prepare thoughtful answers, which they did to varying degrees of success.

Anthony Williams summed up the candidates’ attitudes in saying that the 10-year tax abatement has been “astonishingly successful” in bringing new development to the city. (Lynne Abraham has advocated for expanding the abatement to 20 years in underdeveloped neighborhoods, while Jim Kenney has called for reassessing the land values on abated properties to bring more revenue into the city.)

Nelson Diaz trumpeted his work at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, where a legal opinion of his ushered in a new model of mixed-finance public-housing development. Abraham described Council President Darrell Clarke’s proposal to restructure the municipal government as “an attempt to put the mayor at a disadvantage,” while Williams said the government needs to be realigned with an eye toward greater efficiency.

Kenney repeatedly emphasized the need for a mayor to work with City Council members in order to accomplish an agenda. But he was at his spunkiest when talking about historic preservation, saying that architecture is what gives Philadelphia and its neighborhoods their distinct character.

See highlights from Twitter and watch the full video below. The mayoral primary is on Tuesday, May 19th.  

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