By Brian Abernathy
The Mantua section of Philadelphia is a vibrant community. Cultural amenities, transportation infrastructure, and nearby institutions have helped spur recent real estate investment. However, Mantua's poverty rate still hovers at roughly 50 percent. Public safety, quality education, and unemployment still challenge residents.
Like many underserved city communities, Mantua is also a food desert. Studies have shown that limited fresh food options contribute to obesity, heart disease, and diabetes, and negatively affect public health. Residents leave their neighborhood to shop at grocery stores or use corner stores that are often limited in their ability to sell fresh produce. "We are Mantua!", the transformation plan that engaged the community, strongly indicated residents' desire for healthy food choices.
To address this issue, in 2006, the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority (PRA) began working with the Mantua Community Improvement Committee, Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell, and others to bring a grocery store to the neighborhood. A site at 36th and Haverford was identified and the process to assemble the development site through condemnation began. James Dupree's art studio was a key parcel to complete this assemblage.
The local and national media coverage of the condemnation has described PRA as acting solely to benefit a for-profit developer and without concern for the broader community. I strongly disagree with this characterization. Bringing fresh, healthy food to Mantua was a desire conveyed to PRA by residents, and our efforts were designed to address that request.
Unfortunately, the legal costs associated with Dupree's appeals make it impossible to continue. Despite all the work to date, PRA will end condemnation proceedings, enabling Dupree to keep his studio. While we have explored building around his property, a viable project is not possible, putting the prospect of bringing fresh food to this community at serious risk.
The commitment PRA made to Mantua eight years ago to bring quality foods and employment opportunities will continue. We will do everything we can to bring a grocery store to this community and are exploring other sites. Further, any properties acquired for this development will not sit vacant for long. Working with the community and Council, we will identify an appropriate development for this site.
While I believe PRA has done all it could to find a fair solution with Dupree - offering independent appraisals of his property, offering other potential locations for his studio, and paying all relocation costs - I know that the emotional attachment to property is real and deep. I am disappointed that we could not reach a resolution but respect his passion.
Dupree is a talented artist and I wish him the best of luck. I hope he recognizes that PRA shares his deep passion for the Mantua neighborhood.