The back and forth over how much money Philadelphia can expect to get for different school district properties continues this week, with Mayor Michael Nutter’s office making the pessimistic case, and Darrell Clarke’s office making the optimistic case:
Council President Darrell L. Clarke wants to give the district the money in exchange for its portfolio of empty schools, which could then be sold over time to repay the city.
He believes the city easily could make back the money – and possibly more – by 2017.
The Nutter administration cites the district’s recent track record of selling property – as well as the experience of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and other big city school districts – and says selling schools is difficult and uncertain.
“What someone says they might pay for something . . . versus what someone’s willing to write a check for is an entirely different subject,” the mayor said. “In many instances, these buildings, quite frankly, are shot. They’re 65, 70, 80 years old.”
The mayor would rather borrow the $50 million, calling that method the quickest, most assured way to get the money to the district.
But Clarke says the district’s inventory of empty buildings, which includes 24 schools closed this year, contains some choice real estate.
I want to remind everybody though that “choice real estate” isn’t just about which neighborhoods the properties are in, but also what you’re allowed to do with the properties.
It seems to me that the city could magically make many of these properties a lot more valuable simply by changing the zoning to allow larger more valuable uses.
For an example, take the Alexander Wilson Elementary School building at 1300 S. 46th St. in West Philadelphia.
The zoning map says this property is in a CMX-2 zone, where building height is restricted to 38 feet and a corner building can only use up to 80% of the lot.
As Alan Greenberger’s office says, many of these buildings are not in great shape, so there’s limited potential for the reuse of some of the current structures. I can’t speak to what kind of condition this building is in, but I do know that a big land parcel just two blocks from very nice Clark Park is likely to be pretty valuable to a developer.
A developer isn’t going to spend the money to demolish the Alexander Wilson building just to replace it with a 38-foot building. That definitely doesn’t pass a cost-benefit test. But if City Council upzoned this property to CMX 2.5 (55 feet) or CMX-3 (no height limit, but Floor Area Ratio of 500) then the property would sell for a lot more money because it would be profitable to demolish the building and build a much higher value structure on the land.
So the question of how valuable these properties are, and how much they can be sold for, really comes down to zoning. With the stroke of a pen, City Council could decide to make some of these parcels a lot more valuable than they are presently worth.
(via Troy Graham)