A year after the Philadelphia Land Bank was signed into law, the first 17 parcels are being sold, signaling that the new quasi-government body is open for business.
However, its merchandise still hasn't arrived.
The transfer of properties can't happen until City Council returns to session Jan. 22. And even then, the process might not be so easy.
The land bank is meant to streamline the system for turning nearly 30,000 tax-delinquent, often-vacant parcels throughout the city into productive properties.
The idea is for the land bank to begin with an inventory of publicly owned properties - 8,000 have been identified as good candidates for the bank, said spokesman Paul Chrystie. The land bank will also acquire privately owned delinquent and vacant properties to package for sale.
What the land bank has to offer will largely depend on the political will of district Council members. Each of the 10 district members must approve the transferring of deeds to the land bank and again when a property is to be sold.
Councilwoman Maria Quiñones Sánchez, author of the land-bank legislation, said there would likely be some balking by Council colleagues to transfer properties in their districts to the land bank. But she hopes she can serve as an example.
"I'm going to have to lead myself," she said, "to show this can work."
Seventeen properties in the 1600 block of Bodine Street in North Philadelphia are to be the first available for sale through the land bank - all in the councilwoman's district.
One of those parcels is owned by the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corp.; the other 16 are city properties. The land bank would own all of them, making it easier for a developer to buy them without having to acquire them separately, Chrystie said.
Those parcels were chosen as the land bank's first because they are in an area with new development, Sánchez said. She would like to see the 17 vacant properties turned into a rental or owner-occupied project, Sánchez said.
"The biggest tool will be [land] acquisition" of privately owned tax-delinquent land, Sánchez said. "That's when the land bank will really be tested."
Every acquisition and sale of a property must be approved by the district Council member, preserving the councilmanic prerogative. That was a condition of the deals brokered in order for the land-bank bill to pass.
Council members expect properties to trickle into the bank, varying district by district.
"I'm sure some will be transferred," Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell said. "In terms of all the properties in my district that are city-owned, I'm not sure."
Councilman Bobby Henon, chairman of Council's public property committee, said he understood why some Council members might be apprehensive.
"I think once Council members feel comfortable with it," he said, the transfers will begin to happen. He joked that the land bank had better have a good marketing strategy.
But even if Council members are convinced, Henon said, he doesn't expect a massive dumping of properties.
"I think it will be staggered," he said. "It's the first time we do this."
Another wrinkle to be ironed out is the transfer of employees to the land bank.
District Council 33, Philadelphia's union of blue-collar workers, needs to approve a collective-bargaining agreement that will allow 14 city employees from the Redevelopment Agency, Philadelphia Housing Development Corp., and Office of Housing and Community Development to be transferred to the land bank.
Gary Hawkins, president of Local 1971, representing the workers who are to be transferred, could not be reached for comment Friday.
Chrystie said city officials were confident the agreement would be signed. Council would also have to approve the transfer agreement.
For those interested in developing the 17 parcels on North Bodine, a meeting will be held at 10 a.m. Jan. 20 at the Philadelphia Housing Development Corp., 1234 Market St.