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

12/29/2014 | Real Estate Blog

The Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority has reached a settlement with a property owner over an eminent domain dispute. What happens next is anyone’s guess.

The property owner is no ordinary citizen. He is James Dupree, a world-renowned artist who established his studio in Mantua almost 10 years ago. The building had been a car garage, but Dupree invested time and money into making the 8,600-square-foot facility into a showcase for his work.

When law students learn about property law, they learn about the “bundle of sticks” that are our property rights, and they learn about the theories underpinning development and land use. They learn that assigning a value to a piece of land depends on its “highest and best use.” Real estate appraisal is based on highest and best use, too.

Return on investment is a factor, but it’s a little more complicated than that. The question is how that piece of land can reasonably and realistically serve the majority of the stakeholders without putting a financial strain on anyone involved and, of course, within the limits of the law.

In 2012, the city knew that Dupree’s neighborhood in West Philadelphia lacked one important “amenity”: a grocery store. The last remaining supermarket in the area had closed down more than two decades earlier. The residents lacked the resources to redevelop the area and, in turn, to attract a new supermarket.

The federal government came to Mantua’s rescue. A grant from the Department of Housing and Urban Development funded the development of a master plan for the neighborhood. A newly formed neighborhood association took on the task, completing its work in June 2013. Naturally, the plan included a supermarket.

Dupree’s studio is one of two habitable buildings on his block. What a perfect place for a supermarket, the city thought.

If you don’t live and work there, Dupree responded.

We’ll continue this in our next post.


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

NewsWorks, “Artist’s fight to save studio space from Philly takeover is work in progress,” Peter Crimmins, Nov. 22, 2013