City Hall spat puts multi-million dollar project on hold

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- A last-minute spat between the mayor's office and Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell has put the development of a major 13-acre property in jeopardy.

Both sides are blaming each other with no clear sign of what happens next.

The former Provident Mutual Life Insurance Company building at 4601 Market was originally supposed to be the police department's new headquarters. But that plan was scratched as impractical.

Mayor Jim Kenney's office then worked on a deal with developer Iron Stone to turn the 325,000 square foot building into a public health campus.

But today during a scheduled vote, Councilman Jannie Blackwell decided to put the matter on hold.

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney said, "We're very disappointed, I mean we worked for quite some time to come up with this."

"The mayor may be grossly disappointed, but I'm grossly disappointed," said Councilwoman Blackwell.

Councilwoman Blackwell blames the mayor's staff for not adequately explaining to her constituents during hearings how they would benefit from the project through jobs and other opportunities.

"They came grossly unprepared, did not explain anything to them, and you know when you don't talk about it, people feel like you're trying to squeeze them out," added Councilwoman Blackwell.

"She actually forced us to cancel a public community meeting in the summer, in July that we had scheduled and she wanted it to stop, so we didn't have a chance to talk to the community, she wouldn't let us," said Mayor Kenney.

The mayor says truth be told, the plan was designed to be all inclusive in terms of opportunities for West Philadelphia residents.

"There are all kinds of opportunities during the construction for minority-owned firms, for young people of color," said Mayor Kenney.

"I sure would like to see that in writing," added Councilwoman Blackwell.

For the record, it's not as if both sides are incapable of working with each other.

"You know, I like this administration and like to work with them," said Councilwoman Blackwell.

It's also clear both sides would like to see the project move forward.

"I mean I would love to continue to go forward with it, however I mean the partners in the development team are getting disgusted and frustrated," said Mayor Kenney.

Councilwoman Blackwell added, "You know the ball is in the mayor's court, I'm ready when he's ready, and I'm looking forward to develop one of the best sites in the city."

So as it stands now, the project is up in the air. But at this point, it's not dead.

We will see what happens after city council's holiday recess in January.
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