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Philly won’t pave (artist’s) paradise to put up a parking lot p4

2/7/2015 | Real Estate Blog

It took two years, a team of dedicated lawyers and a lot of imagination to do it, but Philadelphia artist James Dupree beat city hall this past December. In 2012, the city took the fairly cynical step of delivering its declaration of taking just a few days before the move would have been prohibited (see our Jan. 30 post). The notice that Dupree’s studio in Mantua had been seized under the power of eminent domain spurred the artist into action.

Organizations like the Institute for Justice and the American Civil Liberties Union worked the problem alongside groups as diverse as Americans for Prosperity (a conservative property rights advocacy group) and Philadelphia’s Mural Arts Program. Dupree appealed on legal and cultural grounds and, by doing so, rallied nationwide support for his cause. The Internet proved crucial to his struggle.

The law of eminent domain requires just compensation for any property seized for public use. Dupree and his legal team disputed both sides of the equation. But even if Dupree had not objected to the seizure, he and the city were far apart on the value of the property.

The building had been completely rehabilitated over the decade that Dupree owned it. Though the appraised value was around $2 million, the city offered just $600,000. Another $40,000 was added to the pot later to compensate Dupree for the improvements he’d made.

When the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority offered a property swap, Dupree once again used the Internet to his advantage. He posted a video that showed the dramatic difference between his property and one of the city’s recommended sites. The video featured a dead cat lying in the road in front of the building. After that, it seemed that just about every story about the fight mentioned the poor cat.

The PRA changed its position quietly. There were no news conferences or teasers about important announcements coming soon. There was just a one-page statement noting that the cost of the litigation made it impractical for the city to continue the fight. The statement reinforced the city’s commitment to rebuilding Mantua, defended the city’s initial decision and wished Dupree “the best of luck in all his endeavors.”

Now that it’s over, will the name Dupree have the same cachet as Kelo in eminent domain cases?

Source: Forbes, “Philadelphia Artist Defeats Eminent Domain Land Grab, Will Keep His Studio,” Nick Sibilla, Dec. 23, 2014