Caught in the Act

$100K for Gtown High? Leaked plans raise red flags and neighborhood activism

In January 2019, Germantown Facebook groups blew up over a real estate listing promoting development of Germantown High School by a firm called MSC Realty. The listing showcased a suburban-style shopping center surrounded by parking lots on what is now the lawn of the high school property, fronting Germantown Avenue. Neighbors and community leaders were blindsided. The proposed plans seemed far from the vision supported by the City’s “Philadelphia 2035” plan, created with extensive community input and adopted in October 2018.

Mysteriously, the listing has since disappeared – but the leak had already mobilized Germantown United CDC, which posted a eye-opening summary of the situation on their website. Props to Board President Julie Carroll, who covered all the twists and turns with handy links informative asides. GUCDC also quickly organized a community meeting, despite Cindy Bass’s objections that they were “jumping the gun” as she said in her opening remarks March 14th.

Regardless, there was great turnout for GUCDC’s “Community Visioning Meeting.” About 200 people packed the beautiful Janes Memorial Church to learn about the proposed development and voice their concerns to the Councilwoman and State Rep Stephen Kinsey. In addition, a representative from Mosaic Development Partners consulted the audience about how developers want to work with communities to create rewards and opportunities for everyone.

Folks didn’t just come out in droves to listen, filling the church and the balcony. They lined up for their turn at the mic, too. Over 20 neighbors spoke, most went on for several minutes — many included history lessons, personal Wish Lists and shout-outs to local businesses/organizations. A few outright attacks on Cindy Bass right to her face, omg. Whenever the moderator begged people to keep their comments brief, the crowd would shout back, “Let her speak!” They finally shut the mic down as the meeting stretched a half hour overtime.

Biggest crowd reactions of the evening when:

  1. GUCDC’s Emmaleigh Doley revealed that the beautiful, historic Germantown High School building sold for $100,000 — Fulton for only $500k (The properties had been valued at $4.55 million, though a judge ruled in 2017 that this was a “fair and reasonable offer”).
  2. A reporter from Chestnut Hill Local called out Cindy Bass for a recent fundraiser hosted by attorney Darwin Beauvais, the council for the developer of the GHS/FEF sites.
  3. A local developer told Ken Weinstein (who was not there) to “check yourself” for “buying up all of Germantown.’

Conclusions? Not a whole lot but this wasn’t a “decide what you think” meeting – it was more “here’s what we know/what we don’t know.” It was also a chance for neighbors to be heard, and hopefully become part of the process that helps determine Germantown’s character through growth and change ahead.

MEET THE DEVELOPER? Cindy Bass announced at this meeting that High Top Real Estate & Development (who is already rumored to be off the project) will be presenting plans for Germantown High and Fulton School properties to the community “within the first two weeks of April” but that doesn’t seem likely. In an update she posted to Facebook April 3rd (and shared to the “Changing Germantown” group), Cindy explained she has been unable to meet arrange this meeting:

Cindy Bass  Back in late 2017 I spoke to the developer involved with GHS and advised them to hold public community meeting. At that time, I was assured by the developer that they would sit with the community to hear neighbors’ ideas and present their own plans for the site.

I’ve been trying to reach the Germantown High developer to schedule a spring community meeting but unfortunately, my numerous requests and outreaches have gone unanswered.

I can’t comment on the developers plans for GHS because I never had that discussion with them. This makes it even more frustrating that they have not had contact with the community to share their plans with all of us. I’m going to continue trying to reach out to them and work to get something scheduled.

As you can imagine, comments were lit (here’s just a taste):

Cindy. Isn’t the lawyer for the developer your friend? Has he been fired? 

These plans should’ve been presented to the community, the sale is highly questionable.  

I’m sickened by the thought of these council people taking advantage of poor people of color. Blaming gentrification while they’re doing it. 

Can’t wait to vote in May.

As a councilperson who represents this community and this choice landmark, you should absolutely know what is happening and what has been happening or not happening. 

Sounds like there sound be a serious political reckoning in response to these events. 

We are all incredibly confused and offended by this transaction. 

An April 3rd PlanPhilly.com article’s headline pretty much says it all, “Blackwell helped a developer get city land. Now he’s hosting a fundraiser for her.” Optics, as they say, do not look great here.

Don’t just sit there — advocate! Join your neighbors at the next Germantown High School meeting, hosted by GUCDC on Monday, April 22 at 6:30pm, same place as the last meeting: Janes Memorial UMC, 47 E. Haines St. (map).  If you love Germantown, you should totally come!

Armchair Investigations Continue…

Meanwhile, March’s meeting has left many Germantowners scratching their heads about how neighbors could’ve been so blindsided by the GHS/FES sale…

Big thanks to Bernard M. Jordan Lambert for Facebook Live-ing the meeting so thousands of neighbors could watch & comment!

Why wasn’t the public better informed? Where was the paper trail from Concordio to developer Jack Azran?

Sharp-eyed citizen journalists came up with an interesting theory after reviewing the public paperwork along with statements made by Devin Tuohey, a principal at Concordia. Tuohey has said his company used an LLC to purchase the properties, then sold the LLC to Mr. Azran. Since the sale was for the LLC — not the schools — property records wouldn’t show a new owner because the LLC name did not change. No “sale” and no transfer taxes.

So we’re all good here, right? UPDATE: Word on Facebook is that Gtown High’s got $70K in unpaid taxes, and is slated to go to Sheriff’s sale May 15th if the owners don’t pay or work out a deal.

Join the “REDEVELOPMENT OF GERMANTOWN HIGH” group on Facebook for all the latest scoop plus note-comparing, fact-finding and insider insights from folks who’ve been following Germantown politics for decades.

Whatta Steal! The City paid $150,000 for the Butler Homestead in 1913 to build Gtown High — that’s about $3.7 million in today’s dollars.

Still Confused? So much drama in the GHS/RBES saga, we turned it into a four-act play. Delve into all the juicy details in GUCDC’s exhaustive overview – make sure you click all the links. The more you know!

Complete History of Germantown High School & Fulton Elementary School Properties (Abridged)

LIGHTS:

ACT 1: 2013

Philly School District to Germantown High School: We’re closing you, we don’t have the $500k needed to keep you going.
Germantown Community: We can give you the $500k please don’t close our school!
PSD: Nope. And we’re gonna close Fulton Elementary now too.
Germantown Community: Gah!

ACT 2: 2013-2017

The City: If we bundle all the School District properties we have to sell, we can unload them super cheap to a big developer for fast cash.
Concordia: Deal!
Germantown Community: Are you kidding me?!

ACT 3: 2017

Concordia: We hate lawsuits and protests. We’re outta here.
Jack Azran: Don’t look at me, I’m just the local developer who bought the LLC that owns the property.
Germantown Community: Who is this man and why is he winking?

ACT 4: 2018 – TODAY

MSC Retail: We’re proud to develop our innovative vision in Germantown!
Germantown Community: But wait, we already have a plan.
Lawyers:  There’s a new plan we’ll show you when we’re ready.
Germantown Community: Why are you hiding your plan now? What is going on?
Cindy Bass: This is a community-driven process.
Germantown Community: Then why are you hanging with developers and acting so sketchy about it?
Lawyers: That reminds me, we could use a variance on some nearby apartments.
Cindy Bass: This is a community-driven process.
Germantown Community: Omg hand me that microphone.

CURTAIN

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