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Science Center fights city 'land grab'

University City Science Center says it's suing to prevent the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority from taking back its land

The University City Science Center says it filed a Common Pleas Court lawsuit Friday "to block the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority's effort to seize undeveloped parcels" between 38th-39th Sts in what the center calls an "unprovoked 'land grab'."

The city says the center, a consortium of the University of Pennsylvania, Drexel and other schools that rents offices on more than a dozen blocks to the schools, private companies, and small firms with ties to university scholars, has defaulted on its agreement to develop the properties. (Not "payments".)

But according to the center, a "specific provision in the redevelopment agreement bars the RDA from declaring a default for 'unforeseeable causes' beyond the control and without the fault of the Science Center. The financial meltdown was an 'unforeseeable cause' and has made strict compliance with the development schedules set in 2006 'commercially impracticable.'

"The complaint states that the RDA's attempt to take and then sell the parcels now 'threatens the integrity of the Science Center, is inconsistent with the Urban Renewal Plan and would cause immediate and irreparable harm'." Michael Sklaroff, Esq., of Ballard Spahr, represents the center. Case is University City Science Center vs Redevelopment Authority of the City of Philadelphia, 10-0503967. More in tomorrow's Inquirer.

Does RDA have new owners in mind? UCity real estate commands higher rents than a lot of Center City properties. Developer-lawyer Tom Leonard has been trying to raise funds for an office building at nearby 41st and Market, but so far that project hasn't happened.