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Proposals sought for W. Philly site where eminent-domain battle was fought

The Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority is seeking development proposals for a mostly city-owned, two-block site in West Philadelphia's Mantua section, about two years after an eminent-domain challenge derailed plans for a supermarket-anchored project there.

The "request for proposals" document issued Wednesday for the nearly 105,000-square-foot site makes no specific demands regarding what should be built on the land, only that it be "beneficial for the community while also being financially viable."

The development site covers most of the area bounded by 36th and 37th Streets between Haverford Avenue and Wallace Street, excluding the 3617 Haverford Ave. studio of artist James Dupree. In 2014, the city abandoned a legal fight to acquire Dupree's building.

Redevelopment Authority director Gregory Heller said his agency now has a chance at a fresh start at having something meaningful developed on the site.

"I hope we can identify a development team that can finally get something built that can contribute to Mantua and that we can all be proud of," Heller said in an interview.

The Redevelopment Authority's request document stipulates that projects include a focus on "social impact," which Heller said could entail healthy-food offerings or job opportunities for local residents. It also states that projects should have "strong urbanism and architecture."

Current zoning of the site's northern half primarily limits development to housing, while the southern section is zoned for commercial and mixed uses.

The site is recognized under the federal government's Promise Zone program, which confers benefits to certain high-poverty communities, including eligibility for grants and technical-assistance opportunities.

Developers have until Feb. 17 to indicate their intention to submit proposals. The project will not necessarily be awarded to the developer with the highest bid price. Factors such as financial viability and social impact also will weigh heavily on the Redevelopment Authority's decision, according to the request.

Dupree, who has remained at his property, said in an interview that he hopes the development on surrounding blocks will include opportunities for job training and creative expression, such as a gallery for artists with disabilities or a culinary school.

But he said he wasn't sure what sort of relationship he would have with the developer selected by the authority.

"They can do one of two things: try to embrace me, or buy me out," Dupree said. "They've got to deal with me."