|(photo from deseretnews.com article 1-5-16)|
It is good to see plans for construction of a $70 million Mormon temple in Center City moving forward, despite the Nutter administration’s best efforts to undermine the deal.
Mayor Nutter should be basking in one of the biggest development projects to come together on his watch. But instead, the administration managed to come away from a good deal looking bad. Even in reaching a settlement, the Nutter administration still managed to squeeze $100,000 from the owner of the property and $300,000 from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
At issue was a lawsuit the city’s Redevelopment Authority filed in December against the land owner, Stephen Klein, after he struck a deal to sell the property for $7.5 million to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The RDA suddenly wanted to seize the property, claiming Klein breached an agreement signed 23 years ago to develop the site within five years. The RDA then offered to drop its lawsuit if Klein would give the city a 25 percent cut — or $1.9 million — of the sale price for the property.
Such an offer was completely arbitrary, and reeked of extortion. More broadly, the move sent a negative message to developers throughout the city, which is already known as an unfriendly and costly place to do business. RDA director Terry Gillen argued that Klein had violated his 1987 agreement and the city should now share in his “windfall.” It was a lame argument given the facts. Klein made several attempts to develop the site over the years, but could never fashion a deal that worked. He maintained a parking lot on the site and paid his property taxes, which totaled $52,000 last year. And Klein is hardly making a killing on the deal. He paid $3.7 million for the property in 1987 and is selling it for $7.5 million.
The bigger issue is this: In a city struggling to attract investment and jobs, the Nutter administration’s heavyhanded tactics sent a bad message that threatened to kill this gift horse. The 68,000-square-foot temple is expected to create 300 construction jobs and 50 permanent jobs. Once complete, the temple is expected to attract 400,000 visitors a year. Fortunately, the Nutter administration came to its collective senses. The mayor announced that the differences between Klein and the RDA had been resolved and construction could soon move forward.
But even in announcing the deal, it was revealed that Klein would pay the city $100,000. (A far cry from the $1.9 million the city was seeking, but a shakedown nonetheless.) Gillen said the Mormons would fork over $300,000 to “a cause or program that is consistent with the church’s mission.” In return for what? The pleasure of spending $70 million in the city? Welcome to Philadelphia. The city that loves you back — provided you pay a six-figure fee.