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Developers Rush to Build in Final Days of Philly's Tax Abatement

Neighborhoods that have been stubbornly resistant to investment for decades are suddenly the scene of waves of permitting activity as the city of Philadelphia prepares to tighten its tax abatement program.
August 12, 2020, 5am PDT | James Brasuell | @CasualBrasuell
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Inga Saffron reports on a sudden glut of development proposals in Philadelphia. "Across the city, developers are scrambling to put together housing proposals before Philadelphia’s lucrative 10-year property tax abatement expires Dec. 31 and is replaced by a less generous incentive. The revised version cuts the value of the tax holiday in half."

"So many housing proposals were submitted to the city this month that the design review board had to schedule a second meeting to accommodate everyone," according to Saffron. The potential effects of this sudden rush to develop would eventually manifest all over the city. "There are plans for glass skyscrapers in Center City, a full-block apartment building in Brewerytown, even a mid-rise in the Northeast neighborhood of Tacony," according to Saffron.

Then there is the hopscotch of vacant properties along Delaware Avenue in Northern Liberties, which, according to Saffron, has resisted the development of every previous building boom and planning effort in recent decades, only suddenly to be full of project proposals. 

But now, in the middle of a historic pandemic, with massive numbers of people unemployed and the city’s economic fortunes uncertain, developers seem to have decided that this is a perfect time to build on the Delaware. This month alone, four companies will present their waterfront visions to Philadelphia’s Civic Design Review board. Should these projects get built, more than 1,500 new apartments would rise in the empty zone between Spring Garden Street and the Fillmore complex on Frankford Avenue. A real neighborhood could finally emerge on the Delaware.

According to additional details and data shared by Saffron on the articles, the number of household units proposed in the August rush will equal the number of units proposed in all of 2019. Whether all of these units get built is doubtful, but many of them certainly will be built. And, according to Saffron, all of this development interest, fleeting as it might be, is a sign that many developers with money to spend are bullish on the future of Philadelphia. That's a lesson for other cities wrestling with the media narrative about the demise of urban lifestyles as a consequence of the coronavirus pandemic.

A similar glut of development interest changed the New York City landscape when the 421-a abatement expired in January 2016

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Published on Monday, August 10, 2020 in Philadelphia Inquirer
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