No Need for a Prison With a View

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Let’s say you owned some prime riverfront property. What would you do with it?

Perhaps you could attract some port-related businesses. Such enterprises have no choice but to be on the river, obviously, so they might pay a premium. They normally create family-sustaining jobs.

There are other possibilities. There are recreational uses that might include boating. Also, people will pay a premium to live near the river, to have an office near the river, or perhaps dine with a river view.
There is a limited amount of riverfront property, so you would want to maximize the value.

Philadelphia’s elected officials are going through a similar process right now. They are considering what to do with a prime piece of riverfront property. The leading choice:

A prison.

Seriously. A prison. How stupid is that?

Shouldn’t any analysis done by the city be similar to that of any private developer? Can you think of any reason why a prison needs a riverfront location?

There is a bill in City Council right now, introduced at the behest of Mayor Nutter, to spend $7.2 million to purchase 58 acres of property along the Delaware River that is adjacent to the dilapidated House of Corrections. The idea is to replace that prison with a new one on the newly purchased land.
If successful, such a plan would ensure that this scarce, valuable property is off the tax rolls – and producing fewer jobs and income for the city – for at least a generation.

The city’s Planning Commission voted 5-0 to recommend against this ridiculous plan. There was extensive testimony against it from neighbors. Peter McDermott of Mayfair pointed out that "this property is valuable – it’s located along the Delaware River, 450 feet from a shipping channel."
Not to take away from his testimony, but someone had to point this out to City Council?

One of Philadelphia’s great natural assets is its location on the Delaware River. In many ways it is the most valuable land in the city.
Some years ago I took a cruise on the Delaware River and along the way they pointed out the prison that Camden had on the river. The tour guide made fun of Camden for that. What was obvious to a tour guide seems to be lost on our mayor and City Council.

Camden officials some years ago finally came to their senses. They moved their prison and redeveloped the land. Still, it was a waste of resources to build a substantial facility like a prison and then tear it down after only 20 years due to a mistake in placement.

I have visited the House of Corrections (fortunately in a professional capacity). Given that it was built in 1874, it does not surprise me that it needs to be replaced. Great! But instead of putting another prison there, let’s sell that land and get it back on the tax rolls and more productive.
We have an opportunity to correct the mistake that some past mayor and Council made in putting a prison along the river. Instead, the current mayor is pushing Council to make the mistake bigger.

Finally, count on Nutter to say something that points out another problem. He said of acquiring the property, "If you have that size piece of property adjacent to all of our other facilities up there, it’s smart on our part to at least acquire it and then another administration will decide what they actually end up doing with it."

Sorry, Mr. Mayor. The city should not own any property that it does not have a concrete short-term plan for, let alone prime riverfront property. Such purchases tie up city assets that could be used for other needs and keep property off the tax rolls.

Matt Wolfe is a Republican Ward Leader in West Philadelphia and writes on behalf of Philadelphia’s Republican City Committee. [email protected]


J. Matthew Wolfe
Law Offices of J. Matthew Wolfe
4256 Regent Square
Philadelphia, PA 19104
(215) 387-7300
[email protected]