Mayoral candidate Michael Nutter yesterday sharply criticized the Street administration's handling of the proposed short-term relocation of the Youth Study Center to the vacant Eastern Pennsylvania Psychiatric Institute (EPPI) on Henry Avenue.
"I think it's a bad site, given the other development opportunities in the surrounding community," said Nutter, who represented the East Falls neighborhood for almost 15 years in City Council.
Residents in East Falls, the Abbottsford development and Allegheny West have been "ignored and disrespected" by city and state officials who have quietly been putting the deal together, Nutter said.
In an effort to quell neighborhood fears that the city might decide to make the Youth Study Center's move to the 15-acre EPPI site permanent, Nutter said, "If I'm fortunate enough to be elected mayor, there's no way in the world that this will be anything other than a temporary site."
As the Democratic nominee in an overwhelmingly Democratic city, Nutter is expected to succeed Mayor Street as mayor in January.
Nutter's comments yesterday, in the wake of a Daily News story that revealed the proposed move, came after Street signed legislation authorizing the city to enter into a 99-year lease with the Barnes Foundation.
The suburban foundation, known for its priceless art collection, plans to build a new home on the Parkway site of the Youth Study Center, at 20th Street. The actual lease-signing, Street said, is at least several weeks away.
Street told a large City Hall gathering that he had a new site for the youth center, but he conceded "there is some community work yet to be done."
How much work became clear minutes later, when Ralph Wynder, a Register of Wills employee and the leader of the 38th Ward, buttonholed Street as the mayor was leaving the Reception Room.
The two engaged in a brief, intense scrum, with Wynder urging Street to come to the community and explain what he was proposing.
"I'm not coming, I'm not coming," Street said, who noted that a meeting was being scheduled.
Wynder then said he'd take up the issue with Gov. Rendell, whose adminstration, according to a source close to the negotiations, is prepared to pay a chunk of the estimated $7 million to $11 million cost of renovating EPPI for a youth-detention center.
Street responded, "I'm never going to give you a song and a dance. I'm never going to lie to you."
The mayor then said he'd attend a community meeting if he thinks it's necessary, but otherwise, "If I don't think it's necessary, I won't come."
But Wynder wasn't through.
"John, we just want respect," Wynder said to the mayor. "We just want to be given respect. Just come to the community and tell us about this move. Nobody had any idea that this move was happening until this past weekend."
Street, who pledged that the Youth Study Center would stay at EPPI for no more than three years, said he wasn't overly concerned about the center's impact on the surrounding neighborhoods.
"If this were a permanent facility and not a secure facility, then I would be very, very nervous about asking a community to absorb" it, he said. But, he asserted, "It will be in and out of there before people hardly know it's there."
Nutter said he was bothered by the lack of community involvement in the early stages of planning.
"It's crystal-clear that the residents have nowhere near the information they need and deserve for such a controversial project," he said. "There should be a full, transparent sharing of all information on this proposal."
Street said it was difficult to get meetings scheduled during the summer. One was held in early August with a handful of East Falls leaders, though not with Wynder.
Andrew Eisenstein, managing partner of the Ironstone Real Estate Companies, one of the developers of the former MCP Hospital site next door to EPPI, said that moving the center to EPPI "is poor planning."
His group is planning $65 million in renovations for a mixed-use development of apartments, an assisted- living center, office and institutional space, and a school for autistic children on the hospital's 15-acre tract.