The Brief: City Council Signs Off on a $7.27 Million Purchase of Land for New Waterfront Philadelphia Prison

Plus, the Philadelphia Tribune endorses Anthony Williams.

The long-closed Eastern State Penitentiary. | Photo by John Van Horn.

The long-closed Eastern State Penitentiary. | Photo by John Van Horn.

1. A City Council committee has authorized spending $7.27 million to buy a new 58-acre parcel on the Delaware waterfront for a new city prison.

The gist: PlanPhilly reports on the council committee’s approval of a bill that gives the Nutter administration a green light to purchase 7777 State Road, reports PlanPhilly. The lot is next to an existing city’s prison, which houses 1,500 inmates. If built, the new prison would replace the aging House of Correction next door, a project that’s estimated to cost between $300 million and $500 million.

Why it matters: City officials are adamant that the new facility is required. Councilman Bobby Henon described the existing facility next door as deplorable. But the huge investment highlights the enormous costs the city absorbs every time it locks somebody up. The city’s prison population stands at about 8,000 now, which is lower than it was in the earliest years of the Nutter administration but higher than it was a 12-15 years ago. The capital costs of a new facility are significant, but they’re paltry compared to the operating expenses. The city’s prisons budget this year is $244 million, more than any other single department in the city except for Police.

2. Philadelphia Tribune endorses Anthony Williams for mayor.

The gist: This weekend, the Philadelphia Tribune endorsed Williams over the weekend, calling the contest a two-person race and identifying Williams as “clearly the better choice.” The editorial highlighted his resume, his experience in Harrisburg and his willingness to take politically challenging positions.

Why it matters: Black voters are likely to decide this election, either securing it for Williams or rival Jim Kenney. A number of high-profile black leaders in Philadelphia have either already openly declared their support for Kenney or loudly hinted at it. In that context, the endorsement of the nation’s longest-operating African American newspaper matters very much indeed.

3.  City to sell off nearly 200 properties from its massive inventory of vacant land.

The gist: Plan Philly reports three city agencies will sell off more than 185 parcels at a private auction in June. The lots are largely concentrated in Kensington and lower South Philadelphia, where there is significant development activity. The lots are mostly small parcels.

Why it matters: Collectively, the city’s land-owning agencies hold more than 9,000 vacant lots. A Land Bank has been formed to take ownership of most of these lots and make the process of putting those parcels back into productive use more transparent and more effective. But it seems the Land Bank still isn’t up to handling an auction of this scale. A spokesman for the city told PlanPhilly the hangup is an unresolved labor agreement that is expected to be resolved soon.

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