Bass letter seeks investigation into PRA’s treatment of minority developers

by Tom Beck
Posted 1/18/22

The letter comes in the wake of a dispute between Bass and a group of neighborhood activists who call themselves The Friends for the Restoration of the Germantown YWCA over the future of that building and what developer the PRA should grant the rights to develop it to.

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Bass letter seeks investigation into PRA’s treatment of minority developers

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In a letter addressed to City Controller Rebecca Rhynart released on Friday, Councilmember Cindy Bass has called for the investigation of the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority’s practices involving minority developers.

The letter comes in the wake of a dispute between Bass and a group of neighborhood activists who call themselves The Friends for the Restoration of the Germantown YWCA over the future of that building and who should get the rights to develop it. The activists, fed up with six years of inaction on a development proposal chosen six years ago, organized a petition campaign to pressure the PRA into seeking a new developer. Bass, however, seeks to keep the existing developer, KBK Enterprises.

The PRA moved to cancel its agreement with KBK in early December, and Bass alleged that the developer had long faced racial bias in that organization. KBK is a Black-owned development company based in Pittsburgh and Columbus. 

“I believe that an investigation is warranted to determine how a majority (non-minority) developer was scored as a minority despite the fact he is not,” Bass wrote in her letter. “Furthermore, the actual minority applicant was scored as a non minority.”

The above quote is in reference to Bass’s earlier claim that the PRA gave KBK “the runaround” by incorrectly scoring the two developers who bid on the building. Minority developer KBK, Bass said, was scored as a non-minority. She also said the other developer, which was Ken Weinstein, who is white and also submitted a proposal, was scored as a minority. 

The Local asked the PRA for its own explanation of the scoring in a previous article. At the time, the PRA said, through spokesperson Jamila Davis, that KBK received a lower score because the company “failed to include a signed EOP” in its proposal submission, referring to the document that outlines a developer’s minority status. 

When the Local asked why Weinstein was scored as a minority, Davis said the PRA had “no knowledge of this occurring.”

Weinstein said that his initial proposal, which involved building affordable senior housing, would have been a partnership with nonprofits Mission First Housing Group and Center in the Park. Both of these organizations, he said, are “headed by people of color,” which is why his team was counted as a minority developer. 

In her letter, Bass said that “after recently reviewing the entire scoring sheet it became obvious that serious inconsistencies related to scoring exist within that same document.”

In the next paragraph of the letter, Bass expresses concern about the PRA’s handling of minority-owned development companies in general. She says she can “give numerous examples of minority applicants removed from properties/projects and given the run around by PRA” and that she is “greatly concerned that black and brown developers are shut out based on scoring systems like this and other mechanisms that reward favored friends and preferred patrons.”

She cites KBK’s owner Keith B. Key as one example of a minority developer slighted by the PRA. She also lists Donahue Peebles and former Dallas Cowboy running back Emmitt Smith as minority developers who were also treated unfairly.

“While successful in other parts of the United States, they were all labeled as unqualified or otherwise had an inability to complete their projects,” Bass’s letter stated. “Meanwhile, numerous projects by non minorities have languished for many years and then turned around when the market and conditions are in their favor. I have examples of those as well.”

Specifically, she objected to the removal of Donahue Peebles’ organization, Peebles Corp., on a project to turn Logan Square’s Family Court Building into a hotel and Smith’s E. Smith Realty Partners selling its 31-acre Venice Island property, which the company planned to build a mix of commercial and residential buildings on, last year. 

However, despite Bass’s claim in the letter that the PRA “gave them the runaround,” neither Peebles’ nor Smith’s projects were handled by the PRA, according to spokesperson Jamila Davis. 

The Local asked Bass whether she was certain that the PRA was involved with these projects, Bass responded in a text message that she believed it was actually the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corp. that was responsible for both. 

She didn’t respond to a texted request for clarification about why her letter blamed the PRA.

Neither Peebles Corp., E. Smith Realty Partners nor KBK Enterprises responded to requests for comment for this article.

Just about a week ago, The Friends for the Restoration of the Germantown YWCA Building filed a formal complaint with the city controller’s office over what they say is Councilmember Cindy Bass’s “abuse of power” during a Dec. 7 community meeting at the First Presbyterian Church in Germantown.

Yvonne Haskins, a member of the friends group, called Bass’s letter a “ruse” and “a ploy to distract from her behavior that was unacceptable at our Dec. 7 meeting.”

The Friends group said its meeting was “hijacked” by Bass, who they say “incited physically-threatening behavior by unknown men who seemed to be there on Cindy’s behalf.” 

Towards the end of her letter, Bass makes a number of formal requests, including a formal Right to Know Request into the PRA’s handling of the Germantown YWCA, a full investigation of the PRA’s scoring system as it relates to the Germantown YWCA project and “[a]ny and all other examples of minority developers who have been improperly labeled to diminish their scoring and therefore lose development opportunities.”

Rhynart’s office confirmed with the Local on Tuesday morning that it received the letter, but it could not confirm that an investigation into the PRA has been opened.

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