Archive: January, 2013
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"Interstate General Media today threatened to liquidate or sell the assets of the company" on January 18 "if it does not reach tentative agreements with all of its unions, including the Newspaper Guild," according to a Guild email today to members.
The owners also announced a new round of buyouts, even as they continue to hire young new reporters. The new owners, led by parking magnate Lewis Katz and South Jersey Democratic political boss George Norcross, had already sent newsroom morale into the tank last October with a flurry of unpleasant reassignments widely perceived to be an effort to push some older reporters to take a buyout.
Though other unions's contracts expired in October 2012, the Guild's is in force until October 13. Management is not willing to wait. Last summer, the Guild says the owners asked for voluntary pay cuts before the contracts was up--$8 million in wages and benefit givebacks.
The letter notes that when the new owners "acquired the company in April, Interstate General Media was well aware that the Newspaper Guild had a contract in place through October 2013. It was also at this time that owners George Norcross and Lewis Katz both stressed how much the newspapers meant to them and how they were in this business for the long haul."
The Guild letter also lands a blow on Norcross, noting that "while bullying and scare tactics might be have helped at least one of the owners to make his millions, that's a horrible way for a company responsible for publishing newspapers vital to the public trust, to operate."
I'll be writing a more about this. People in the newsroom with something to say can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here's the full letter:
Dear Guild member,
Interstate General Media today threatened to liquidate or sell the assets the company, which owns the Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia Daily News and Philly.com, as of January 18, 2013 if it does not reach tentative agreements with all of its unions, including the Newspaper Guild.
As you know, our contract expires in October 2013 while the other ten union contracts expired in October 2012.
Last summer, IGM ownership asked that the Guild volunteer to take pay cuts a year ahead of our contract expiration in order to help the company which was hemorrhaging money. The company seeks to cut $8 million out of our wages and benefits.
While bargaining with the other unions, the company shamefully, and repeatedly assured the other groups that the Guild would be opening its contract and giving concessions at this time. Nice of them to have such confidence that we simply couldn't wait to give up our pay.
When they acquired the company in April, Interstate General Media was well aware that the Newspaper Guild had a contract in place through October 2013. It was also at this time that owners George Norcross and Lewis Katz both stressed how much the newspapers meant to them and how they were in this business for the long haul. We will not be held out as scapegoats, to be blamed for not bargaining a new agreement while we have one standing. The owners are smart businessmen who do not leap into business deals or investments blindly.
While bullying and scare tactics might be have helped at least one of the owners to make his millions, that's a horrible way for a company responsible for publishing newspapers vital to the public trust, to operate.
As an example of the kind of fiscal foolishness we are dealing with, at the same time it threatens us and claims to be on the verge of liquidation, Interstate General Media is also issuing a buyout program today, using money it claims not to have to get our members to leave.
The company also continues to hire.
We are unwilling to once again bail out an ownership group without full access to the company's books and a realistic discussion of future revenue plans.
Dan Gross, President,
Bill Ross, Executive Director, and the Executive Board of the Newspaper Guild/Communications Workers of America Local 38010
If you're not sure what to believe after watching Promised Land (and the shale industry's damage-control advertising that accompanied it), you might want to stop by the Marcellus Shale Gas Project, an exhibition that opens today at the Gershman Y. The photo exhibit runs through Feb. 14 at the Y's Open Lens Gallery and includes images of the impact of drilling on Pennsylvania's landscape and portraits of people whose drinking water was contaminated. On Jan. 23, at 6 p.m., an opening reception will be held, featuring a panel discussion with Jeff Schmidt, director of Sierra Club PA.
It seems an apt time for the exhibit to arrive in Philly from Pittsburgh, where it was previously on display. After all, a Pennsylvania state legislator just moved to recognize January as "Safe Drinking Water Month." The bill was introduced as noncontroversial — after all, who can complain about safe drinking water — but it was introduced by Rep. Neal Goodman, who has criticized the Department of Environmental Protection in the past and who is from Schuylkill County, which sits on top of part of the Marcellus Shale formation and has been seen as poised to be swept up in the state's shale-gas boom. The draft resolution notes that "the Constitution of Pennsylvania sets forth the people's right to pure water and the preservation of our natural resources."
Last week, we wrote about property owners in Olde Kensington whose land is being taken by the city via eminent domain to clear the way for an affordable housing development (rendering above) to be backed by a $1.8 million investment from the city. (The project, being spearheaded by the Arab American Development Corporation and Conifer Realty, would be across the street from Al-Aqsa mosque, whose logo also appeared on the renderings.)
People who think eminent domain should be reserved for things like highway and airport expansions, not housing developments, have been up in arms about this. Mel Athanasiadis, a local pizza shop owner who is losing seven properties under this taking, is hoping they'll join him for a protest this Saturday at 2 p.m., outside his property at 1529 Cadwallader St.
As far as protest photo ops go, the backdrop he's selected — pictured below — may not help his cause much, given that advocates for the plan are calling this area blighted and badly in need of an injection of fresh capital. Proponents of the move point out that the business renting the property, Northern Liberties Auto Repair, will get relocation assistance.
Pennsylvania's Corrections Secretary John Wetzel is trumpeting $35 million in annual savings to be achieved via the closures of two state prisons, SCI Cresson and SCI Greensburg, announced this week. But critics of the state's prison complex, which has seen its population quintuple in the past 30 years or so, are questioning the savings, especially as the state continues construction on two new prisons in Montgomery County, at a total cost of $400 million. The closures of Cresson and Greenburg, which together house about 2,400 inmates, are offset by the opening of a new, 2,000-bed, $200 million institution called SCI Benner, while the two new Montgomery County prisons will theoretically replace SCI Graterford.
Decarcerate PA called on Gov. Corbett to stop construction adding further beds to the state prison system — since, historically, the experience in the state has been, "If it gets built, it gets filled." The prison population is now around 51,000, which exceeds the designed capacity of the state institutions.
“We certainly support the move to close these two prisons – particularly SCI Cresson, which is under federal investigation for its poor treatment of people with mental illness,” Decarcerate PA’s Matthew Pillischer said in a statement. “Since the DOC is finally recognizing that Pennsylvania does not need more prisons, we hope their next step will be to cancel the unnecessary $400 million construction of two new prisons in Montgomery County.”
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Paleoconservative conspiracist radio host Alex Jones has, well, captured the nation's imagination after yelling at Piers Morgan that "1776 will commence again if you try to take our firearms!"
Pennsylvania's leading right-wing figure, state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, appeared on Jones' show in 2010.
Notably, Metcalfe failed to respond to Jones' assertion that "Israeli art students" were involved in the 9/11 attacks and then in Nevada undertaking surveillance against the National Security Agency. Metcalfe, as I discussed in my 2012 profile, has led the charge to dismantle gun control and implement voter ID in this state. And he has ties to the far right and white supremacists.
Metcalfe's agenda has made him a number of friends and fans on the political fringe. In October 2010, he decided to appear on the radio show of popular conspiracist Alex Jones, who believes that 9/11 was an "inside job"; who promotes the idea that Obama and a secret global cabal of bankers is going to round up Americans in FEMA-operated concentration camps before setting into motion a eugenics plan that will wipe out 80 percent of the human population via poisoned food; and who claims to "have the government documents where they said they're going to encourage homosexuality with chemicals so that people don't have children."
During his appearance, Metcalfe did not contest Jones' statement that "federal Homeland Security is fully infiltrated" by the Israeli government and that "Israeli art students" involved in the 9/11 attacks were now in Nevada undertaking surveillance against the National Security Agency. Instead, Metcalfe responded that Obama and other political enemies "embrace these socialist leftist policies of the Eastern Bloc nations that when I was in the military, we were prepared to go to war against during the Cold War."
Watch the Jones-Metcalfe interview here:
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People throughout West Philadelphia were devastated to watch Elena's Soul Lounge, a reputedly century-old meeting place for drinks, music and food drawing people from both east and west of Cedar Park, burn to the ground on Christmas Eve. What happened later that week, however, is confounding: The demolition crew taking apart Elena's severely damaged the two neighboring businesses, Gary's Nails and the new-but-beloved Cedar Park Cafe, affectionately known to some as "breakfast-lunch."
The fire that destroyed Elena's had left both businesses largely intact; the cafe even opened the next day. Today, Gary's and Cedar Park Cafe's roofs are caved in, and orange violation notices from the Department of Licenses and Inspections are pasted to their facades: they have 30 days, as of Dec. 28, to repair or demolish their buildings.
A weekly series of foul-mouthed investigations into empty lots, dead-ass proposals and other design phenomena in Philadelphia. Find more stories like this at Philaphilia.blogspot.com.
2116-2124 Market St. -- Oh, West Market Street in Center City. What did you do to deserve such a horrible existence? How has development passed you by lo these many years? How did you miss out on all the development that surrounds you? Why are you more empty now than you were in 1850?
The 2100 and 2200 blocks of Market Street are pieces of shit ... and they've been that way for a loooooooong time. Even 100 to 150 years ago, it was nowhere you wanted to be. This empty lot, stuck in the middle of the shitbaggishness, is one of several in the immediate area, but it's the newest and saddest. In the ancient past, this lot consisted of a coal yard and a single row house at 2120 Market St. that had a row of trinities behind it. By 1875, houses filled the rest of the site except for at 2116-2118 Market, where a small industrial building filled the space.
By time the 20th century rolled around, the predecessor to the fire station that sits immediately to the east of this lot had been established. Some of the houses became small commercial buildings with storefronts. The industrial building, known as the Estate of Stewart Maloney, started its journey as a series of car factory/dealerships.
In 1909, the Philadelphia Fire Insurance Patrol opened their third station at 2122 Market (not to be confused with the fire station at 2110 Market). Fire Insurance Patrols were something every major city had in the olden days. They would come in after a fire to prevent further damage to a structure caused by the putting-out of the fire itself. The main goal was to reduce the amount of insurance claims due to fires in commercial buildings and valuable residences. They were phased out in the latter half of the 20th century, but NYC's Fire Insurance Patrol lasted all the way up to 2006.
The lot in 1908. The old fire station is to the left. The industrial building is immediately next to it, then the row of houses-turned-businesses. The Fire Insurance Patrol Station No. 3 is the fancy-looking building in the middle. It was just finishing construction at this point. Picture from PhillyHistory.org, a project of the Department of Records.
By the 1920s, all the houses on the row were gone. Either they were replaced with commercial buildings or altered beyond recognition as a house. The Stewart Maloney Estate industrial building was expanded upward in 1914 based on designs by the Ballinger firm. It would continue being used as different auto factory/dealerships until 1936. That was the year that the Benn Family's famous furniture store first moved onto the block to start its 58-year reign as the ultimate dick-kicking discount furniture store of the region.
A sequel to the Reliable Furniture Company started by the Benn Family patriarch, Nate Ben's Reliable became a famous discount furniture store that was super popular despite never advertising for its entire existence. Rich and poor alike were served by Nate Benn's. Sightings of famous local athletes, up to and including Wilt Chamberlain, were a common occurrence. The business became so successful that, by the 1970s, the family owned most of this block and large portions of the 2200 and 2300 blocks of Market.
In 1990, the Benn brothers were convicted of stealing more than $1 million of sales-tax revenue over the course of at least 20 years. Nate Benn himself died before doing any time, but his two younger brothers were in state correctional facilities for 2.5 years (not bad considering they each faced a 563-year sentence). The store declared bankruptcy in April 1993 and manage to stayed open until December 1993, surviving the march of skyscrapers down Market in the late '80s and early '90s.
After the store closed, the Benn properties were purchased by STB Investments in U.S. Bankruptcy court for a total of $4 million with the intention of making room for a future skyscraper. The Zoning Board of Adjustments approved the demolition of the old Benn properties on the 2100 block (except their appliance store at 2106-2108 Market, still standing) and this empty lot was born.
If you think this lot is crappy now, it was supposed to be a lot worse. STB's original plan was to move Les Gals to the former Nate Benn's Reliable Appliance Store space at 2106-08 Market and knock down even more buildings to create an even bigger lot that would have filled most of the block. They tried to convince the city to move the fire station to where the Forum Theater is located, but failed.
This lot was only supposed to last 5 years, but has managed to last 19. Both hope and fear are in the future of this space. This last month, lots of rumblings and rumors started to swirl based on the fact that the Forum Theater and Les Gals (both in buildings that were owned by the Benns) closed on Nov. 30. According to an Inquirer article published a couple of weeks ago, STB Investments and their financial backer Richard Basciano are starting to talk development again for this location. The problem is: this lot is going to get worse before it gets better. Now that Les Gals is gone, the idea of demolishing it and the building next door for surface parking is back on the table.
Therefore, it's very likely that this lot will be growing even larger. STB won't be able to develop anything here until they get ownership of a few more properties on the block and get that firehouse moved (which Deputy Mayor for Economic Development Alan Greenberger has already stated will probably never happen). Therefore, look forward to a larger and more long-term surface lot for this block. Fuck.
Hopefully, I'm wrong about that. Maybe the larger surface lot will be temporary and modern construction will hit this block for the first time in 50-plus years (when the fire station was replaced with a modern facility). Development of this block will bring the city one step closer to bridging the gap between 30th Street Station and the West Market Central Business District, something that should have happened 80 fucking years ago.
Some of the smartest people in Philly have spent much of the past year or so trying to figure out how to attract investment into one of the city's most under-utilized regions, the Lower Schuylkill. Here's an idea that they probably haven't spent a lot of time mulling over: What if we ditched the entire stretch of I-76 that runs from the Vine Street Expressway to Gray's Ferry Avenue?
This is the premise of the winning proposal of this year's Ed Bacon Student Design Competition, a submission called SHIFT: Smart Hub Infrastructure for Tomorrow, created by a team from Cornell. Maybe the winning selection isn't too surprising, since one of the judges was Next City's Diana Lind, who also advocates abolishing I-95 between the Ben Franklin and Walt Whitman bridges.
The logic behind SHIFT: "Since 1959, the Schuylkill Expressway has been an unpleasant fact of life for metropolitan Philadelphia. Mayor Richardson Dilworth even called it 'the worst mistake of my administration.' But, as transportation patterns shift over the next century, Philadelphia has the opportunity to undo that mistake." It would simply redirect traffic to less congested routes, creating a loop around the city rather than through it. All this would clear the way for stuff like the waterfront park rendered above.
Notably, this did not win the prize for "most realistic" — but it doesn't hurt to dream big.
596 Acres — a New York City-based organization that merges vacant-land advocacy with social media to help neighbors organize around disused lots — is gearing up to bring its digitally savvy wherewithal to bear on Philly's thousands of abandoned and vacant parcels. The Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia's Garden Legal Justice Initiative is partnering with 596 Acres to create the Philly version of the website, which the Law Center's Amy Laura Cahn says will launch this spring, hopefully by late April.
While the city's so-called front door website for purchasing publicly owned land has offered some clarity on the lots currently for sale by the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority, it doesn't list all city-owned lots. And in any case, the majority of vacant lots in Philly are privately owned, Cahn notes. The data is out there, but "there's not really one place that brings all of that together and provides the opportunity to organize. What also isn't readily available is how you acquire a publicly owned or privately owned parcel," Cahn says. "That information is easy to find if you're a developer, but much harder to figure out if you're not."
The Marcellus Shale Coalition is running in-theater and social media damage-control efforts — or, as a press release says, responding "to the work of fiction with real facts and responsible conversation" — including the 15-second ad embedded below. The ad (perhaps the only thing viewers will see in the theater that's less intriguing than the pre-movie FBI warning) will run during during movie previews. The Coalition, which always runs promoted tweets, will be stepping that up as it attempts to drive traffic to the LearnAboutShale.org website. They've also collected critical reviews of the movie and the science behind it, which you can find here.
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