The Development Workshop closed out 2015 with visits from Alan Greenberger, Deputy Mayor for Planning and Development and Chairman of City Planning Commission and Brian Abernathy, Executive Director of the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority and recently announced First Deputy Managing Director for the Kenney administration.
Deputy Mayor for Planning and Development and Chairman of City Planning Commission
Greenberger gave a spirited overview of his service in the Nutter administration, during which he worked to convince Philadelphians that the City can grow, that it deserved to grow, and that it could compete nationally and attract outside investment. He noted that although some have advocated for prioritizing jobs in outlying neighborhoods, we should remember that Center City is a powerful generator of jobs for people in our neighborhoods, because it is extremely accessible by public transit.
Job growth in Center City (such as around the Convention Center) help the overall job base for the City. While Commerce Department staff has focused on small business development and neighborhood commercial corridors, particularly connecting entrepreneurs with resources, major development projects in Center City have generated more entry-level job opportunities. Greenberger said that the Development Workshop helps the public understand Philadelphia’s economic base, and that real estate development is vital to the health of the City, with $11.5 billion in investment over the past six years.
Greenberger predicted that significant areas for future development include the Delaware River waterfront, gaps in Center City (such as Market Street from 21st Street to the Schuylkill), Market Street East, North Broad, and South Broad below Pine. Infrastructure improvements will be critical, particularly transit (such as improving travel options between suburban areas), as well as sewers, gas pipelines, and bridges. He also suggested that the City should be more aggressive with remapping improperly zoned land to allow more projects to proceed as of right, and that perception of appropriate development scale evolves over time.
For example, strict height limits now may not make sense in the future.
Executive Director, Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority | First Deputy Managing Director for the mayor-elect Kenney administration
Abernathy, currently Executive Director of Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority and recently announced as the First Deputy Managing Director for the mayor-elect Kenney administration, provided an overview of his time at the Redevelopment Authority for the Workshop.
Abernathy worked to balance the budget at the Authority, although it is a work in progress and needs further restructuring as the Authority is still losing money. With the Authority focusing on housing and the Commerce Department and PIDC focusing on commercial and industrial uses, community development agencies have begun to work more closely with the Commerce Dept. Commerce will continue to work to attract and retain businesses, while also collaborating with other City agencies to promote neighborhood development. The Community Development Block Grant program may be used creatively to fund development initiatives beyond housing.
Abernathy also provided insight into some aspects of his upcoming position with the Kenney administration. Going forward, he will oversee the Streets Department, Water Department, the Department of Licenses & Inspections, and other City agencies. Particular attention will be paid to workforce development strategies, infrastructure improvement, and anti-poverty measures.
Various Workshop members discussed problems in obtaining building permits from L&I, and the need for the new administration to streamline the permit process, an important profit center for the City. We agreed that permitting delays and L&I staffing issues would be discussed at a future Workshop meeting as part of the new administration’s restructuring of L&I.