Lost in the hustle of Thursday's last Council session before the summer recess (including the passing of the city budget and a property tax hike, plus the mayor's veto of DROP reform) was the final passage of two bills that sparked considerable debate and drew protesters to City Hall.
Both were sponsored by Councilman Frank DiCicco and concerned the economic health of Center City.
One creates a commercial advertising district in Market East, allowing developers to erect digital billboards several stories tall if they invest at least $10 million in the properties. The area east of City Hall has been depressed for decades despite being home to a number of historically significant buildings. Anti-billboard activists and some neighborhood opponents feared a gawdier version of Times Square would be the result.
The other bill changes the city’s 12-year-old sidewalk behavior ordinance to address overly-aggresive panhandling. Supporters for the homeless initially feared the bill would give police too much leeway to arrest people living on the streets. Advocates for the homeless and Center City businesses eventually reached a compromise.
Both bills were backed by the Center City District and its president, Paul Levy.
Levy said he doesn't expect the Market East signage bill to be a panacea for the corridor, but the current rents simply don't support a major revitalization. Giving developers the incentive of income from digital billboards could spur some action, he said.
The change to the sidewalk behaviour legislation was designed, he said, to give police the ability to deal with disorderly panhandlers without calling in a civilian outreach team. Center City businesses have complained about a small number of presumably homeless people - mostly mentally ill and/or addicted men - who have accosted costumers and worse.
The change "respects the rights of people who may be homeless and gives police the tools they need to do their jobs," Levy said.
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