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.
Point Breeze has struggled to cope with problems handled in some neighborhoods by CDCs and other non-profits, like illegal dumping.
Point Breeze developer Ori Feibush was the target of a protest Aug. 24 in which a group called the Point Breeze Organizing Committee (PBOC) attacked what they described as Feibush’s “profits-first” business model. In a lengthy manifesto, they demanded, among other things, that developers like Feibush enter into community-benefit agreements that would channel part of their profits back into neighborhood improvements and affordable housing.
Now, it looks like Feibush is taking their advice … sort of. Feibush tells City Paper he’s planning to open a privately funded community-development organization and community center at 20th and Federal streets that would assume some duties normally undertaken by business-improvement districts, like street cleaning, installing trash cans and lighting, assistance with 311 complaints, and dispensing grants to local businesses for façade improvements and security cameras. To that end, Feibush has hired former Francisville Neighborhood Development Corp. manager Barbara Kelley to lead operations at the center at 1155 S. 20th St.
“Point Breeze has lacked — for many, many, many years — leadership and direction, and access to otherwise-available resources,” Feibush says. Comments like that can be read as a shot across the bow of local organizations like South Philadelphia HOMES (SPH), a nonprofit that does economic-development work in the neighborhood. The longtime executive director of SPH, Claudia Sherrod, announced her resignation in September, a day before City Paper published an article about an illegal dump located partially on land she owns in Point Breeze. But Feibush says his center is intended to “support” existing organizations in the neighborhood.
Interestingly, Feibush also notes that he has been paying the real-estate taxes for “five businesses” on Point Breeze Avenue. Additionally, a source familiar with SPH’s activities said that the developer recently donated $5,000 to SPH. Feibush disputes that, saying he has contributed “roughly $3,000” to SPH and a total of $30,000 to neighborhood charities this year.
Feibush has had well-documented disputes with the city and with City Councilman Kenyatta Johnson. Probably not coincidentally, Feibush announced earlier in the year that he plans to challenge Johnson for the 2nd District Council seat in 2015. Historically, Council members have relied on constituent services — similar to the planned offerings at Feibush’s new community center — to win favor with the electorate. But Johnson says he “support[s] any effort to improve the quality of life for the residents of the Second Council District” — including Feibush’s initiative.
But some in the area see it as one more way to control Point Breeze. Gary Broderick, a PBOC organizer, called Feibush’s plan “anti-democratic.” He added in an email, “It’s part of a larger pattern going on in this country, and in this city, of starving the public sector and then using the diminished capacity of government to justify privatizing public service.”
Parts of this story were originally published on the Naked City blog.
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