Nutter, Gillen, Pritchett / philly.com photo
This just in ...
By Thomas J. Walsh
Terry Gillen, senior adviser to Mayor Michael Nutter for economic development, has been tapped to serve as an emergency executive director of the city’s Redevelopment Authority.
The move came after the Nutter administration found severe accounting and management problems within the city’s anti-blight Neighborhood Transformation Initiative and promptly froze NTI operations indefinitely. The program was initiated by the Street Administration to demolish neglected or dangerous properties in poor neighborhoods while consolidating parcels and clearing the ground for redevelopment.
“The mayor approached me and asked me if I’d go and, in the immediate term, try to get a sense of how bad the problems are connected with the NTI bond situation,” Gillen told PlanPhilly on Thursday evening. “It obviously raises questions about how well the place has been managed. He wants me to get a handle on that, and get recommendations and changes to him.”
Nutter also announced today that he would take a seat on the RDA’s board of directors. Gillen will maintain her advisory role and title and continue to serve Nutter’s cabinet.
“Right now it is our intention that it will be temporary, and then assess the situation and take it from there," Gillen said. "It’s pretty consistent with what the mayor has had me doing all year – to step in and take a look at projects that are serious and need a pretty high level of attention and don’t fit neatly into one department or one category. He and I want to see what the situation really is.”
Union leader John J. Dougherty, RDA’s chairman since 2000, resigned in April, one week after he was upset by Center City lawyer Lawrence M. Farnese Jr., in his bid to succeed State Sen. Vince Fumo.
Since 2002, the city has made plans to condemn thousands of distressed homes and other buildings through NTI at a cost of about $73 million, according to recent press reports quoting Andrew Altman, deputy mayor for planning and commerce. However, the administration revealed last week that only about $41 million is available, and that to make up for the $32 million shortfall, RDA took out another property-acquisition bond, valued at $44 million. The newer debt came with an obligation to sell land bought with the money at fair market value.
Gillen said she’ll be working with Rob Dubow, the city’s director of finance, who will be leading the effort to straighten out the mess and reestablish proper oversight of NTI’s acquisitions. She said they would determine if outside assistance is needed from a financial services company. Gillen said she had not yet talked with RDA staffers or started to investigate the NTI problems in detail.
“I think she’s a terrific choice,” said Peter Kelsen, a prominent land use and zoning attorney at the law firm Blank Rome LLC. “She understands the nature of development and redevelopment in Philadelphia, and she understands the Philadelphia process as well as anyone.”
In a statement from the city, Nutter said he wants to work with Gillen “to improve the [RDA’s] systems for property acquisition, disposition, and management, and to make the RDA a high performing agency that supports our efforts to bring jobs, affordable housing, and other neighborhood improvements.”
“I think Terry is a very solid professional, and [recently] our agency has worked with her on gaming-related issues,” said Gary Jastrzab, acting executive director of the Philadelphia City Planning Commission. Jastrzab said Gillen also worked closely with the Planning Commission in her role at the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corp. as overseer of the Navy Yard conversion in the late 1990s.
Gillen said the next step is an RDA board meeting next week, when her appointment is expected to be finalized. She said others might be brought on board to help with the situation.
Also joining the RDA’s board, it was announced Thursday, will be Wendell Pritchett, Nutter’s deputy chief of staff and policy director, and Jennifer Rodriguez, director of community and economic development at Asociación Puertorriqueños en Marcha. Pritchett is an urban renewal specialist on leave from his position as a law professor at Penn. Rodriguez, another PIDC veteran, is on the board at the Greater Philadelphia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
Gillen was Nutter’s political director during the 2007 campaign. Prior to that, she was the chief executive of the Collegiate Consortium for Workforce and Economic Development, run from an office at the Navy Yard. She served as policy director for the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development in Harrisburg under the Rendell Administration and was chief operating officer of the National Community Capital Association. She was a senior vice president at PIDC in its Office of Defense Conversion from 1995 to 1998.
“Any smart person being put into RDA to see what is going on is a good idea,” said Alan Greenberger, vice chair of the Planning Commission under Altman. “My own experience with RDA as an architect ran from pretty good to pretty awful.”
Read the official announcement:
MAYOR NUTTER APPOINTS MEMBERS TO THE REDEVELOPMENT AUTHORITY AND RECOMMENDS EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
Philadelphia, June 5 – Today, Mayor Michael A. Nutter announced that he, Wendell Pritchett and Jennifer Rodriguez will serve on the board of the Redevelopment Authority of the City of Philadelphia (RDA). Mayor Nutter will begin a full five-year term; Wendell Pritchett will fill the unexpired term beginning immediately and ending on March 28, 2009; and Jennifer Rodriguez will fill the unexpired term beginning immediately and ending on March 28, 2010.
Mayor Nutter also announced that he will recommend to the board that Terry Gillen be appointed as the Executive Director of the RDA. Ms. Gillen would maintain her role as Senior Advisor to the Mayor for Economic Development and continue to serve in the Mayor's Cabinet.
"The RDA plays an important role in economic development. It is my goal to work with the Executive Director and staff to improve the Authority's systems for property acquisition, disposition, and management, and to make the RDA a high performing agency that supports our efforts to bring jobs, affordable housing, and other neighborhood improvements to our city," said Mayor Nutter.
Mayor Nutter thanked former board members John Dougherty and Michael Fera, who recently resigned from the board, for their service. Current members of the board, appointed by Mayor Street, are Asia Coney and Roxanne Covington. The newly constituted board will meet for the first time on Monday, June 9th.
Terry Gillen is the Senior Advisor to the Mayor for Economic Development. Prior to joining the Nutter campaign as the Political Director in 2007, she was the Chief Executive Officer of the Collegiate Consortium for Workforce and Economic Development. She also has served as the Director of Policy for the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development in Harrisburg under the Rendell Administration and as Chief Operating Officer of National Community Capital Association. From 1995 to 1998, she was Senior Vice President of the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation.
Wendell Pritchett is Deputy Chief of Staff and Director of Policy for the City of Philadelphia. He is on leave from the University of Pennsylvania, where he is Professor of Law and teaches Property, Land Use, and Local Government Law. He has previously served as Executive Director of District Offices for Congressman Thomas M. Foglietta and Staff Attorney at Regional Housing Legal Services. At Penn, his research focuses on urban renewal, public housing and, housing finance, and his biography of Robert Weaver, the first Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, will be published by the University of Chicago Press in September 2008.
Jennifer Rodriguez is the Director of Community and Economic Development at Asociación Puertorriqueños en Marcha. (APM). Prior to joining APM, she worked at the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation (PIDC). Jennifer is a member of the Board of the Greater Philadelphia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.