(The Center Square) — For downtowns in the largest American cities, leaders see a turning point coming in recovering from the pandemic and building for the future.

“A lot of things that we’ve become frustrated with can be dramatically changed as we go forward, but not if we stay asleep,” Paul Levy, leader of the Center City District in Philadelphia, said in a keynote address during the Saul Ewing National Real Estate Conference on Thursday. “This is the moment for business and civic leadership to shape the recovery.”

Levy, who has led the business improvement district in Philadelphia since 1991, lamented that city leaders “set up a disincentive” in the form of a business-repelling wage tax. Problems like slow economic growth, high poverty rates, and taxes before the pandemic were made even worse when Covid-19 hit, he said.

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“When I focus on the wage tax and business taxes, that to me has been the biggest depressant of job growth in this city,” Levy said.

While demurring to endorse or oppose the proposed 76ers basketball arena on Market Street, he argued the street was incomplete, falling short of its potential as a visitor corridor.

“I am in favor of really anything that can add density, that can add vitality, if it is well-designed, if it’s well-integrated into the city, and if we can manage its transportation impact,” Levy said. “The arena is just the pretext for doing what we needed to do for the last twenty years, which is fill in the gaps on Market East.”

The CCD released an analysis of downtown recovery in October, noting that downtown numbers are still down but approaching 2019 levels. Cities with a larger share of workers in industries where remote work is possible have been slower to recover, as have cities with fewer residents who live close to work.

We’ve lived through these cycles before… it’s going to take really concerted leadership.

For recovery, much of that action is out of mayors’ and elected officials’ hands.

They can, however, require local, state, and federal government workers to return to the office and avoid an “urban doom loop,” Levy said. “Frankly, this needs to be done in the private sector taking the lead in terms of revitalizing their cities.”

Though Philadelphia saw a dramatic spike in murders in 2020 and residents worry about crime, the financial stability of the public transit system, and affordability concerns, Levy argued against cynicism and the inevitability of decline.

“Different leadership in this city, different energy, changes trajectory,” Levy said. “We’ve lived through these cycles before… we know how to do this; we just can’t accept it’s gonna happen on its own; it’s going to take really concerted leadership.”

Anthony Hennen is a reporter for The Center Square. Previously, he worked for Philadelphia Weekly and the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal. He is the managing editor of Expatalachians, a journalism project focused on the Appalachian region.

This article was republished with permission from The Center Square.

4 thoughts on “Despite stifling taxes, Philly leaders counter narrative of decline”

  1. Data from the U.S. Survey of Working Arrangements and Attitudes reveals that in August, 50.5 percent of full-time workers with jobs suitable for remote work split their time between onsite and remote work, up from 46.8 percent a year earlier, the outlet said.
    Unfortunately, Philadelphia politicians and thought leaders are not aligned with reality – the world or the state of things as they actually exist, as opposed to an idealistic or notional idea of them. It is not surprising as our federal politicians and thought leaders are just like them. And the few local leaders that do see reality are too scared to risk the consequences of honesty – see Thomas Jefferson University President Mark Tykocinski. So novel solutions will not be attempted until calamity arrives.
    Office utilization rates in both the suburbs and the submarket of Philadelphia are much lower than “the news” or industry groups will openly admit. Lenders, landlords, and government officials are hoping they can hold until a “recovery.” I wonder though, because the Covid-19 public health emergency declaration was officially over May 11, 2023 per Biden Administration decree. And that was about a half a year ago. There probably won’t be a “recovery” because in our hysteria as we printed too much money, we actually created a new system, and the effects are just beginning to manifest. One reality revealed during Covid hysteria is a majority of Philadelphia industries do not need the workers to be there five days a week – it is that simple.
    Solution: Philadelphia elementary and high schools need to be fixed and changed to become superb. Then, people will clamor to be in Philadelphia, and it will boom.
    Solution: Our society does not have enough shame and thus there is vast discord. We need to fix that by teaching children at an early age the old maxims: treat people the way you want to be treated, actions have consequences, sticks and stones can break your bones… but names can never hurt you. E pluribus unum, Latin “out of many, one.” It basically means make one out of many, with the best leading and all pulling together in the same direction, which goes back to ancient times, as even Saint Augustine used it in his c. 397-398 Confessions (Book IV.) These old maxims work, but they stopped being learned because they stopped being taught as we allowed Godless communists to take over schools.
    Solution: Our current politicians in power benefit the most when majority of their voters depend on them for benefits and basic permissions for daily living. So, the taxpayers need to vote out these corrupt politicians and help the children of the people who can’t pay taxes to get a better education.
    Our new mail-in ballot voting system will benefit the current politicians and thought leaders in the short-term, but their leadership is going to have dreadful consequences for us all in the long term, and it seems we are in a nosedive. Although, we have not completely fallen apart yet as a society. The US dollar crash will happen eventually… and then we shall pick ourselves up and press on! I’ve enjoyed this brief time of the US Congress being Speaker-less, because they had to stop printing so much money for a few days for all these budding wars outside of the US. Alas, we will soon get a US Speaker and these corrupt politicians will continue to drive omnibus spending at full speed into a crash. It seems inevitable.

    1. Dung,
      I’m a commercial real estate agent with 20+ years of experience and office utilization is significantly worse than published “news” sources will admit currently. It is partly why I say authorities lie… a lot. Phantom Vacancy represents the portion of real estate (roughly 30-40% of current office space ebrywher in PA suburbs and Philadelphia submarket) which is leased, and those tenants are still paying rent until the lease expires in 1-3 years, even though much of their space is not being used; however, when those office leases expire over the next 1-3 years total rents will decline for office landlords by +/-25-30% – because tenants will shrink to fit their utilization. And interest rates have gone up – because lenders will no longer lend at interest only… and interest rates jumped by about 5% (imagine if your car loan payments jumped 5%) but lenders will demand some skin in the game. So these pro-formas from 2019, 2020, and 2021 that pension funds, and hedge funds, used to justify purchasing their office buildings are going to be… they will be beyond badly off target. The children (20 and 30 yr. olds) that were paid commissions to deploy pension fund money juiced their pro-formas really badly. Yes, Covid-19 really messed things up for everyone, but corruption and rot are systemic, and it can only be cured with determination and discipline.

  2. I may be unable to interpret those results correctly. It seems that their view of “near 2019 levels” is actually 80-70%– give or take each category.

    That’s not nearing 2019. That’s 20% + less.

    1. Dung,
      The Bureau of Labor Statistics calculates many different CPIs designed to track different product types, populations, and regions – it is intended to be confusing to all of us trying to understand it; yet, easy to manipulate for propaganda purposes. Let’s say we wanted to calculate the rate of inflation from January 2015 to January 2020. The rate of inflation between January 2015 and January 2020—as estimated by the CPI—was 10.38 percent. Yet the cost of gasoline jumped 34% when it averaged $2.43 per gallon (gal) in 2015, but in 2021 spiked to $3.26 per gallon… the national average on Christmas Day. I cherry picked that data and selected 2021 instead of 2020 (because Trump Administration was far superior to Biden Crime Administration) but the data is accurate. The average price of gasoline in the United States is $3.47 per gallon as of today 10/23/23. And actually, goods and services have gone up in price by an average of about 176.589% since 1984.
      In direct reference to your comment: You are correct – it is a lot of stupid or untrue talk or writing; basically, Communist doublespeak and government nonsense. They lie. A lot. They are neocon (please excuse my lazy label) scum.
      Please, Google search any sentence from my first (first) paragraph, and it will bring you to this same article: https://www.thestreet.com/dictionary/c/consumer-price-index

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