How Best to Engage Absentee Landlords to Buy In to Business Corridor Revitalization

Organization: 
Rising Sun Avenue Business Association
City: 
Philadelphia
State: 
Pennsylvania
Organization Overview: 

Rising Sun Avenue Business Association, Louis A. Brown, Jr., M.D. President

In March 2017, at a Lawncrest town hall meeting, Philadelphia 9th District Councilwoman Cherelle Parker approached me with the mandate to organize business owners on my section of the Rising Sun Avenue business corridor in the Northeast section of Philadelphia. 

My history in this area goes back 30 years where I have practiced dermatology. I have engaged in a number of revitalization efforts for the Rising Sun Avenue Business Corridor, including one in which we engaged the Brown and Keener Urban Planners with a grant from the then Councilwoman Marion Tasco. A ten million dollar proposal was drawn up based on their evaluation of, and recommendations for Rising Sun Avenue. This Proposal was sent to both the then Chairman of the Pennsylvania State of Representative Appropriations Committee, Dwight Evans, and the Pennsylvania Department of Economic Development. The proposal did not get funded. 

Subsequent, attempts at Rising Sun Avenue revitalization have occurred with the support of the then State Representative Mark Cohen. A number of business owners met with various Philadelphia City Agencies to express our concerns, however, save for a few cosmetic changes, nothing substantive resulted. 

Most recently with the mandate from Councilwoman Cherelle Parker, a collection of motivated local stakeholders, including representatives from major neighborhood institutions including the Philadelphia Protestant Home, The U.S. Naval Supply Depot, Kindred Hospital, as well as small business owners, and Pennsylvania and Philadelphia elected officials have met to formulate strategic plans for the revitalization of the Rising Sun Avenue Business Corridor.

Progress has been made on traffic mitigation strategies, commercial leasing workshops and repurposing of underutilized structures. While, the Rising Sun Avenue Business Association is not formally structured as a 501c3 non-profit, this is one of its aspirational goals. 

Project Name: 
How Best to Engage Absentee Landlords to Buy In to Business Corridor Revitalization
Project Type: 
Strategic Plan
Project Overview: 

Many of the business owners on the Rising Sun Avenue Business Corridor in Northeast Philadelphia do not own the properties where their businesses reside. Conversely, many of the property owners do not live in close proximity to their buildings in this business corridor. In addition, because of the relatively low commercial rents which they receive for their properties the property owners are disincentivized to improve the outside appearances of their properties. Also, they are less than rigorous in enforcing the cleanliness of the sidewalks and streets directly in front of their properties. 

On the other hand, the business owners feel little incentive to make physical changes to the outside appearance of their businesses since they do not own the properties, and cannot recoup any expenditures if the move, or lose their lease. Furthermore, these business owners are negligent in maintaining the cleanliness of the area in front of their businesses, presumably because of both their lack of ownership, and lack of civic pride of their local place of business.

As a result of these respective disconnects in responsibility, the appearance of the overall streetscape suffers, except for a few notable exceptions. The consequence of this apathy is that the commercial corridor loses its attractiveness as a place to patronize. This is a downward perpetuating cycle which hinders the attraction of new businesses and customers.

There is public funding to improve the appearance of these properties. The City of Philadelphia offers matching grants for the improvement of the storefront facades of the buildings in commercial corridors, but neither most property owners, nor the business owners on Rising Sun Avenue avail themselves of this funding.

Problem: In order to reverse this phenomenon, it is first necessary to obtain vital contact data on the ultimate property owners of these buildings. This entails accessing Philadelphia City tax, licensing and property records, as well as questioning the business owners. In addition, the business owner and property owners need to be surveyed to determine what motivators, or penalties would prompt them to better maintain the appearance of the properties, and the cleanliness of the areas in front of their properties.

Objective: By performing this research on a common urban problem having widespread implications, the student will acquire knowledge of how to best engage absentee landlords and improve the retail mix on commercial corridors. The student could pilot different approaches to get the absentee landlords attention and buy into this corridor revitalization. 

Deliverable(s)

The student will generate a realistic proposal outlining strategies for reaching absentees landlord of a targeted segment of the Rising Sun Avenue Business Corridor in the Philadelphia Northeast. This proposal will list property owner names and contact information. It will contain pertinent information regarding the properties covered to include information about the current business owner lessee as well as publicly available financial information regard the occupant business owner and the commercial property landlord. In addition, and most importantly, it will contain verifiable techniques that the student has devised to convince absentee landlords and/or current business owner occupant to rehabilitate their commercial property on the Rising Sun Avenue Business Corridor. In addition to a narrative description of the project, the final result should include a spreadsheet containing the relevant information of the business properties investigated.

Spots Available: 
1-3
Eligibility: 
Executive; Full-Time
To Apply: 

To apply for this project, please contact Cassie Tomkins at ctomkins@upenn.edu.

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Contact Information

Fels Institute of Government
University of Pennsylvania
3814 Walnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104

Phone: (215) 898-2600
Fax: (215) 746-2829

felsinstitute@sas.upenn.edu