Philadelphia Vital Statistics
CPDC/CCD's latest edition of Vital Statistics features newly updated data on Philadelphia employment and the hospitality sector. Between May and June 2013, the number of people employed in Philadelphia grew by 4,200, but the unemployment rate also grew from 10.1% to 10.4% because of an increase of 7,200 workers in the labor force, probably due to seasonal trends. Downtown hotel occupancy rates reached their highest level in the past 12 months. Keep up with Philadelphia's latest economic trends at centercityphila.org/business/vitalstats.php.
Nonmanufacturing Still Positive in August
Responses to the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia's survey of nonmanufacturing firms suggest little change in the local economy between July and August. Sales were up for 32.6% of the companies and down for 25.6%. The number of firms reporting an increased number of full-time employees was 20.9%; 9.3% reported decreases.
Respondents remained optimistic about activity over the next six months: 83.7% of the firms expected economic activity to increase, while none expected it to decrease, and 11.6% responded that it would remain the same.
Millennials Like Philly
Philadelphia was ranked 10th in the 20 Best Cities for 20-Somethings on Greatist, a blog targeting Millennials, and focusing on health, which Forbes magazine noted had almost 1 million unique visitors.
The article cited the start-up businesses as well as bigger companies as a great place to start a career, and also noted the airport, walkable neighborhoods, and the Reading Terminal Market.
To view the article and the other rankings, please go to greatist.com/health/20-best-cities-20-somethings.
Project Approval on Hold
The Zoning Board of Adjustment has scheduled a special hearing on October 9 for Rodin Square, the project being developed by Neal Rodin, which includes an expanded Whole Foods grocery store and 293 residential units at 22d and Spring Garden Streets, PlanPhilly reported.
The Logan Square Neighborhood Association (LSNA) asked for a continuance on August 28, in order to further study the impact of the additional traffic. The Philadelphia City Planning Commission (PCPC) recommended approval of the needed zoning variances on August 20.
To read the PlanPhilly article, please go to bit.ly/16UDB6N.
SugarHouse Revenue Down Slightly in July
Revenue at SugarHouse Casino on the Delaware Riverfront slipped for the second month in a row in July, according to the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board.
In July, the casino took in $19,440,486, compared to June's $21,064,966. The Commonwealth's share of taxes was $5,669,148 compared to $5,720,744 in June. The City of Philadelphia collected $692,109 in July compared to $708,075 in June.
To see all casino revenues, please go to bit.ly/Smpoyp.
Arts and Culture News
Competition for Designing Bike Racks
Several prominent sites in Philadelphia have been chosen to host special artist-designed bicycle racks created through a public contest. The Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, partnering with the City of Philadelphia's Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy (OACCE), is holding an open contest to design bike racks for Philadelphia's streets. Among the host sites will be City Hall, Penn Center Plaza, Sister Cities Park, Cret Park, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Boat House Row, and the Cira Center.
The competition is open to submissions from all members of the public. Contest submissions are free, and the winning artists will be given a set stipend to cover design, fabrication, and installation of the racks. The official rules and guidelines can be found at: tinyurl.com/bikerackcontest082013.
The contest is made possible by a $50,000 matching grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation as part of its Knight Arts Challenge. Matching funding has been provided by private and corporate donors as well as the Center City District.
SEPTA Board Approves Capital Budget
The SEPTA Board approved on July 25 its Fiscal Year 2014 Capital Budget and Fiscal Years 2014-2025 Capital Program.
Funding for capital projects in FY14 is set at $308 million. The budget reflects the fourth consecutive year of reduced funding due to the loss of state funds. Funding grew steadily from fiscal year 1997 until fiscal year 2011, when funding dropped by 25%.
The decrease in funding means SEPTA will be funding essential obligations such as contracts, safety issues, and vehicle and infrastructure replacements.
An annual $300 million capital program will severely hamper SEPTA's ability to bring the transit system to a state of good repair, the budget report noted.
To read the report, please go to septa.org/reports/pdf/capbudget14.pdf [PDF].
New Weight Restrictions for 1,000 Bridges
PennDOT Secretary Barry J. Schoch on August 22 authorized additional weight restrictions for about 1,000 structurally deficient (SD) bridges statewide to ensure bridge safety.
Reducing the weight traveling on these bridges will slow down their deterioration and preserve safety while funding for their repairs remains uncertain, according to the press release.
The authorization applies weight restrictions to 530 state-owned and about 470 locally-owned bridges. Pennsylvania currently has 567 state bridges and 1,685 local bridges posted with weight restrictions.
Pennsylvania leads the nation in the number of SD bridges with 4,479. To view the bridges with new or lowered weight restrictions, please go to dot.state.pa.us and click on "Bridge Information."
To read the press release, please go to bit.ly/1ferpmF.
Study Looks at Reduced Driving State by State
A new report from U.S. PIRG Education Fund highlights the decrease in automobile driving across the United States. The study notes that contributing factors include the state of the economy, gas prices, demographic shifts, saturation of demand, and changes in technology, attitudes and preferences. The report offers some interesting analysis about the relative importance of these factors.
For example, the study found that unemployment was not directly correlated with reduced driving. Among the 23 states in which driving miles per person declined faster than the national average, only six saw unemployment increase faster than the nation as a whole.
The decline in average vehicle miles traveled, the report suggests, has been led by the Millennial generation. Average driving miles for Americans aged 16 to 34 fell sharply by 23% between 2001 and 2009.
To read the report, Moving Off the Road: A State-by-State Analysis of the National Decline in Driving, please go to go to bit.ly/142ZPcm [PDF].
City Bike Share Update
Mayor Michael A. Nutter announced on August 22 the completion of the Philadelphia Bike Share Strategic Business Plan and issued a Request for Expressions of Interest to host or sponsor bike share stations.
The business plan anticipates an initial investment of $3 million from the City that will be leveraged to raise further capital from state, federal transportation, and private funds. Setting up the program, targeted for a summer 2014 opening, is expected to cost between $10 million and $15 million. The operation of the program is expected to be self-sufficient and not require any public operating subsidy.
The City would like to set up 150 to 200 bike sharing stations stocked with 1,500 to 2,000 bikes in an area spanning the Delaware River into West Philadelphia, and from the Navy Yard through Center City to beyond Temple University's main campus in North Philadelphia.
Information on how to recommend a bike sharing site and all other information about the program can be found at phila.gov/bikeshare.
To read the press release, please go to bit.ly/19McVxd.
Amtrak to Add Higher-Speed Trains
Amtrak's new ACS-64 electric locomotives from Siemens Mobility currently are being tested and will begin to enter service this fall on the Northeast and Philadelphia-Harrisburg Corridors, Select Greater Philadelphia announced in its August newsletter.
The new locomotives will replace existing AEM-7 electric trains that have been in service for 25 to 35 years, with an average of 3.5 million miles traveled. The new trains will operate at speeds up to 125 miles per hour. Additional new units will replace the older trains through 2016, the article noted.
Judge Sets New Date for Airline Merger Trial
U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly in Washington on Friday ruled that the Justice Department's lawsuit that seeks to block the merger of US Airways Group and American Airlines will go to trial November 25, instead of March 1, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported on Friday.
The companies contend their merger would benefit consumers by creating another big competitor to United, Delta and Southwest airlines. Regulators say the merger would stifle competition, lead to higher fares, and the combination would dominate more than 1,000 routes nationwide.
The CEO Council for Growth, Philadelphia Convention & Visitors Bureau, the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, and the Philadelphia International Airport support the merger.
Sansom Street Scheduled for Repairs
Sansom Street from Eighth through 13th Streets is scheduled for resurfacing and improvements by the Streets Department throughout the week, weather permitting, Acting Streets Commissioner David J. Perri announced Friday.
Residents are urged to move their cars from the work sites when temporary "No Parking" signs are posted so that vehicles are not towed. In the event a car is towed, please contact your local Police District to determine its location.
Public School and City Budget Crisis Update
Sale of Schools to be Expedited
Mayor Michael A. Nutter and School Superintendent William R. Hite on August 28 announced changes to the Adaptive Sale Reuse Policy for shuttered school buildings that will allow for some of the more marketable properties to be sold immediately in order to generate funds for the School District. The School Reform Commission approved the plan on August 22.
The District expects to sell or repurpose up to 31 properties, including the 24 schools that were approved for closure at the end of the 2012-13 school year.
The revised process, known as the Philadelphia Schools Repurposing Initiative, also will be more streamlined, flexible and predictable, allowing for early community input and stakeholder analysis about the process and potential building uses.
To read the press release, please go to bit.ly/16ZNJez. To read an article about the move from Newsworks, please go to bit.ly/16ZZrpu.
The School District is also exploring the sale of its art collection, Newsworks reported on August 29. The District has approximately 1,125 paintings, photos, sculptures and other pieces. Some are in schools and others are in storage. The collection includes portraits by Thomas Eakins and paintings by Henry Ossawa Tanner. The worth of the collection has been estimated between $2 million and $30 million, the article noted.
To read the Newsworks story, please go to bit.ly/15okzW0.
Meanwhile, the Philadelphia School District is seeking $103 million in concessions from the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers union, including wage cuts ranging from 5% to 13% percent and changes in health-care coverage, plus flexibility to assign teachers to schools without regard to seniority. The teachers' contract expired Saturday. Teachers return to the classroom today and next Monday,136,000 school students are scheduled to begin school. Union leaders said they do not expect to strike. For two perspectives on the union negotiations, see union leader Jerry Jordan's commentary essay in this morning's Philadelphia Inquirer, bit.ly/15uTLdA, and Tom Ferrick's essay in Axis Philly, axisphilly.org/article/enter-the-wild-card/.
How to Fund Schools and Public Pensions
"Huge unfunded pension obligations, totaling almost $50 billion, will continue to hinder the ability of both the City and the state to adequately fund schools and other vital services for years to come," writes Joseph P. McLaughlin, Jr., director of Temple University's Center on Regional Politics, in his commentary of August 21.
Rising pension costs are one factor that complicates reaching an agreement between the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers and the School Reform Commission (SRC), McLaughlin notes.
Working with elected officials in the five-county region, McLaughlin developed the concept that the 1.0% Philadelphia sales tax, scheduled to expire next year, be extended and dedicated to eliminating the City's unfunded pension liability, conditioned upon changes in law and labor contracts that make the City's pension system more affordable going forward.
The idea is one of many highlighted in a report issued in June by CORP, titled "What To Do About Public Pensions? Options for Funding and Reform." To read the report, please go to bit.ly/18CWEcV.
Parks & Open Space News
Tired of Run-of-the-Mill Benches?
While most park benches are utilitarian, check out these five imaginative creations from cities in the United States and Europe.
In one, Belgian designer Sebastian Wiernick uses flexible polyethylene tubes (plastic bottle waste) to build futuristic-looking creations equipped with their own lighting. To see public furniture redefined, please go to bit.ly/12slS9w.
Capriccio Café to Celebrate Anniversary
Capriccio Café at Cret Park, 16th Street and Benjamin Franklin Parkway, will celebrate its fifth anniversary on Wednesday, September 25, with lunchtime outdoor grilling and music by Brian Fitzgerald from Noon to 1:30 p.m.
In 2008, the Center City District completed $2.33 million in improvements at Cret Park, including new paving, a granite seating wall, new benches, trees, flowers and the 1,200-square-foot café with outdoor seating.
Come out for lunch and enjoy the celebration!
City Tax Collection Increases
City of Philadelphia tax collections were $169.4 million in July, a 10.7% increase over the same month in 2012, according to the Pennsylvania Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority (PICA).
Wage and earnings tax collected was $143.4 million in July, a 7.6% increase over the previous July.
Real estate transfer tax collected increased 18.9% over last July and totaled $15.2 million.
In the Quarterly City Managers Report for the last quarter of fiscal year 2013 (FY13), the City estimated General Fund tax revenue at $2,736.8 million, an increase of 0.9% over the estimate in the FY14-FY-18 Five-Year Financial Plan, submitted to PICA in July.
A similar report, the Financial Forecast & Snapshot, from the Office of the City Controller, noted that wage, earnings, and net profit tax collections totaled $143.86 million, a 7.4% increase compared to July of last year.
Monthly sales tax collections totaled $21.64 million, a 3.24% increase over the previous July, and the third consecutive month of year-over-year increases.
In an addition, the report noted that there were 37,975 job openings posted online in Philadelphia, and 67,300 persons recorded as unemployed in June.
To read the PICA report, please go to bit.ly/13TG69N [PDF].
To read the City Controller's report, please go to bit.ly/13ZED70 [PDF].
PCPC Assesses New Zoning Code
The city's new zoning code was enacted one year ago, and on August 22 the Philadelphia City Planning Commission (PCPC) delivered a 99-page report to City Council describing how well the code is meeting its goals and recommending certain amendments for its improvement. (City Council will resume its weekly meetings on Thursday, September 12, at 10:00 a.m.)
The report includes four major recommendations: Council should adopt about three dozen "technical amendments" to standardize definitions and correct errors; expand qualifications for the Registered Community Organization (RCO); monitor zoning data more closely; and emphasize remapping so that appeals can be reduced and residents can have a reasonable expectation of and input on what can be built in their neighborhoods.
The report also suggests that the Civic Design Review process needs clarification, among other things.
To read the report, please go to bit.ly/178xl1A [PDF].
To read the PlanPhilly article, please go to bit.ly/12vcKB0.
Progress on Delinquency Debt
For the first time since Mayor Michael A. Nutter took office in 2008, the rate of growth on the delinquency debt slowed sharply, according to a special report in PlanPhilly, published on August 24.
The City also has made notable gains in reducing the total number of delinquent accounts, from 102,787 in April of last year to 97,310 in April 2013, the article noted. However, the amount of property tax delinquency has grown over the past year from $515 million in April 2012 to $522 million in the same month this year.
These numbers suggest that the City's collection efforts are improving but have yet to yield major progress to contain a delinquency that ranks among the worst in the nation, according to the article.
To read the special report, Signs of Progress Amid Delinquency Crisis, please go to bit.ly/156rL9b.
New Transportation Priorities and Their Impact on Development
The Central Philadelphia Development Corporation (CPDC) will hold a Membership Meeting on Tuesday, September 10, at 4:00 p.m., at the Union League of Philadelphia, 140 South Broad Street, Lincoln Hall.
Presentations will be made by Jerry Sweeney, President and CEO of Brandywine Realty Trust, and Carl Dranoff, President and Founder of Dranoff Properties, about how changing demographics and transportation priorities are affecting real estate developments that have recently been constructed or are in the pipeline.
Millennials own fewer cars than previous generations and prefer public transit, walking, biking or car-sharing. Many empty-nesters are also eager to do without the car. Center City's residential and commercial development projects are beginning to accommodate these changes as well as other urban lifestyle preferences.
CPDC also will release the results of a comprehensive survey of downtown workers about their transportation habits and preferences.
Business casual attire required.
The September meeting is generously sponsored by BDO.
CPDC members are encouraged to invite both young professionals and other members of their firms to attend this meeting. Please RSVP no later than Tuesday, September 3, to Carol Raffa, firstname.lastname@example.org or 215.440.5500.
Pennsylvania Transportation – Invest Now
PenTrans (Pennsylvanians for Transportation Solutions) will host a forum, Pennsylvania Transportation – Invest Now, on Wednesday, September 25, from 4:30 p.m. to 7:00 p.m., at the Pyramid Club, 1735 Market Street.
While transportation funding always seems to be in crisis mode in Pennsylvania, the current situation is especially extreme, especially momentous. The forum is aimed at doing everything to encourage passage of an adequate transportation funding bill this year.
Speakers will include Joe Casey, SEPTA General Manager; Barry Schoch, PennDOT Secretary; State Representative Kate Harper (R., Montgomery County); and Leslie Richards, Montgomery County Commissioner.
Admission is $50 to $65.
To register, please go to conta.cc/14W0AyE.