Ryan Briggs Ryan Briggs is a staff writer and connoisseur of City Hall intrigue, business dealings, neighborhood gossip and local lore. Ryan has studied, worked and resided in Philadelphia since 2004, covering politics and development issues for Hidden City, Next City and Metropolis, amongst other fine publications.
West Philadelphia High School
More than 12 months after recieving a bid, the much awaited sale of the vacant 250,000-square-foot West Philadelphia High School still has not been completed, according to the Philadelphia School District and New York-based development company Strong Place Partners. Strong's managing director, Andrew Bank, says that since formally entering into a contract to buy the school from the district four months ago, he has been excercising an apparently generous "due diligence period" built into that agreement with the district, the length of which he said was confidential.
However, the delay raises serious questions about the district's current budget, which hinges on revenue from the sale of a series of other school district properties that were put on the market late last year. That supposed revenue seems less certain, given that West Philly High, put on the market nearly two years ago, still hasn't sold.
Explaining the unusually long agreement period, a source within the district said they assumed that before completing the $6 million sale, Bank was likely waiting to secure zoning variances for the overhaul of the massive school building into a 300-unit apartment complex with a ground-floor retail componant.
However, Bank made it clear in a phone interview today that there was a "panopoly" of factors at play. While alluding to possible environmental issues and the application for historic tax credits, he added that a final design had not yet been agreed upon for zoning purposes.
"When our proposal was submitted, it was based on a prelimary evaluation of the building and now we're ascertaining whether what we proposed on that perliminary basis will actually fit, so that the economics work," said Bank. He added that precisely how retail would be integrated into the century-old Gothic institutional building without compromising the historic exterior, and therefore disqualifying valuable historic tax credits, was still "up in the air."
The district is banking on the sale of at least $61 million worth of school properties by July 2014 to cover part of its highly publicized budget gap, and revealed this week that it had gotten 20 offers for seven schools vacated last year. But West Philly High was vacated in 2011 and put on the market shortly afterward, along with about a dozen other school properties.
The fact that one of the first buildings the district sought to unload doesn't seem to be much closer to actually selling could mean there's more trouble ahead.
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