The city of Philadelphia has used eminent domain to take a famous artist’s privately owned studio to build a supermarket that might end up sitting empty. The latest abuse of eminent domain for urban renewal in the city of Brotherly Love is among the worst yet.
Acclaimed artist James E. Dupree spent more than $300,000 of his own money turning a building in his old neighborhood of Mantua into a studio. Dupree creates art in the building, holds art classes there and leases space to other artists. His artwork has been showcased at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and in the collections of Patti LaBelle and the Dave Matthews Band, according to Forbes.
Yet that activity didn’t impress the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority, which seized two-thirds of his property for the supermarket.
“They consider me like a bum on the street,” Dupree told Forbes. “It’s just so disrespectful. … I invested everything I owned into this property. When I purchased the property it was basically condemnable.”
The artist purchased the three lots, which contained a broken down old garage and warehouse, eight years ago. He invested sweat equity in the project and devoted the proceeds from his successful art career.
The lots are in a great location across the Schuylkill River from three top museums and close to Drexel University.
Offered only $600,000 for $2.2 million property
Appraisers for the agency initially offered him only $600,000 in compensation for his property. Dupree estimated that the property is now worth around $2.2 million. The appraisers came back and offered him $40,000 in additional compensation for the $300,000 in work he had done on the building.
The major motivation for the seizure appears to be $2.75 million in state subsidies for the building of a supermarket in the low income Mantua neighborhood. But even though the authority has seized the property no supermarket chain has expressed any interest in opening a store in that location. That means the property might never get redeveloped or the store built on the site could empty.
- The authority refused to pay for Dupree’s moving costs. He estimated that it would cost around $250,000 to move his art to another location.
- The Authority seized the studio just four days before a new Pennsylvania state law which would ban such seizures went into effect.
- The authority only took part of Dupree’s property. He owned three lots but the authority only seized two of them — leaving him with a property he cannot use. Ironically enough, a new Pennsylvania law makes it illegal for the authority to seize the remaining lot Dupree owns.
- In 2012, just before the new law went into effect, the authority seized 12 times as much property as it seized in 2011.
There is some good news in the case: Changes in state law will make it illegal for the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority to seize any more property in the way it seized Dupree’s studio. Those changes came too late to stop the grab for his land.
Dupree is not taking the seizure of his studio lying down. He’s fighting back in a number of ways. Dupree is working with the Institute for Justice, an organization of lawyers that defend property rights, and he’s put a petition on Change.org to pressure city officials. Dupree hasn’t filed a legal challenge yet, although he could.
When asked what he wants the Authority to do Dupree was pretty explicit.
“Just give me my deed back,” the artist said. “I want to decide when and if I sell my property on my terms.