Mantua artist wins eminent domain fight

Mantua artist wins eminent domain fight
Charles Mostoller

The Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority announced Thursday that it will give artist James Dupree back the deed to his Mantua studio, two years after it seized the property under eminent domain and set off a legal fight.
“Unfortunately, the legal costs associated with Mr. Dupree’s appeals make it impossible to continue,” PRA executive director Brian Abernathy said in a statement. “Despite all the work to date, PRA will end condemnation proceedings, enabling Mr. Dupree to keep his studio.”
The studio was condemned along with more than 50 other properties to give to a developer planning a retail plaza across four city blocks.
Dupree lost his case in Commonwealth Court, but his lawyers filed appeals papers on Wednesday.
Now, it appears the entire project will not happen.
“While we have explored the potential of building around Mr. Dupree’s property, a viable project under these conditions is not possible,” Abernathy said. “The inability to acquire Mr. Dupree’s property puts the prospect of bringing fresh food tothis community at serious risk.”
The proposed development, entitled “Westview Plaza,” was pitched as a grocery store bringing more food options to Mantua, which the PRA called a “food desert.”
However plans show that a significant area in the proposed project was intended for other retail options and parking.
“We are thrilled to receive the news that the PRA has decided to drop the condemnation proceedings and return the deed to Dupree Studios,” said Giavonna Dupree on behalf of her family, who expressed gratitude to their supporters.
“While we have won a significant battle we remain committed to contributing to the development of the Mantua community,” she said. “We are confident that Mantua still houses adequate land for whatever developments the PRA has planned. We are so excited that Dupree Studios will remain a cultural asset in Mantua.”
The Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority had offered Dupree $600,000 for his 8,600-square-foot studio, which he bought nine years ago and completely refurbished. Dupree said the property was worth more than $2 million in the developing neighborhood.
“Victories in Philadelphia are always hard won,” said Melinda Haring, an activism manager at the nonprofit Institute for Justice, which supported Dupree’slegal fight. “James’ victory proves that citizens can fight and beat City Hall.”