Economic Development

Philly council passes improvement district for hotel project

Rendering of W and element hotels project. Image courtesy VisitPhilly

Rendering of W and element hotels project. Image courtesy VisitPhilly

In a Philadelphia council session mostly dominated by the drudgery of zoning bills and property transfers, lawmakers unanimously passed legislation creating a special district for a hotel project at 15th and Chestnut streets, introduced on behalf of Council President Darrell Clarke.

The ordinance creates a “Headquarter Hotel neighborhood improvement district” covering a single parcel – the future site of W and Element hotel projects. The NID would allow banks financing the project to place a lien against the development, which one estimate placed at $280 million, if benefits from a separate $33 million tax incentive deal underpinning the development fail to materialize.

The project is backed by real estate investor Brook Lenfest – a scion of billionaire H.F. "Gerry" Lenfest - who had separately won some $42 million in state and federal subsidies for the project, which has already broken ground. Some hotel operators had publicly opposed those incentives in the past. 

Separately, legislation to establish a business improvement district in Philadelphia’s famed Italian Market area was withdrawn following opposition from neighborhood businesses.

Councilmembers Cindy Bass and Jannie Blackwell also championed the issue of water quality in state prisons, introducing a resolution calling on the state to address dangerous health risks associated with water contamination.

The state has had long-running issues at the Frackville and Mahoney correction facilities, both of which were constructed next to former coal ash disposal sites. Numerous Philadelphia convicts are housed in both prisons – including Mumia Abu-Jamal, who used contact with activist groups to draw attention to the issue.


In other business:

- In separate resolutions, council called on Congress to fix prescription drug pricing, extend Medicaid coverage to drug addicts and increase federal funding for heating subsidies. A fourth resolution called urged SEPTA workers and management to stave off a transit strike.

- Council member Kenyatta Johnson argued in favor of a resolution that would push for minority inclusion in upcoming "ReBuild" contracts that will channel soda tax revenues to dilapidated municipal buildings. A seperate bill from Blondell Reynolds Brown that would weight certain city contracts in favor of applicants based in the city of Philadelphia had its first reading.

- Additional properties in the Philadelphia Land Bank were authorized for sale to private buyers for a “workforce housing” development in Francisville.


This article has been updated to reflect the fact that Brook Lenfest is not a billionaire, and that the $280 million figure associated with the hotel project is one estimate of the cost, not the actual cost.

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