Nutter Won’t Oppose Family Court Site – If State Pays

Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter won’t oppose the proposed placement of a unified Family Court building at 15th and Arch streets in Center City if the state pays for the lion’s share of a building that is projected to cost at least $200 million, Nutter press secretary Doug Oliver said in an interview last week.

“In this particular case, it appears the state wants this at 15th and Arch, and funding is contingent on that, there’s very good cause to consider it,” Oliver said.

State Sen. Vincent J. Fumo, D-Philadelphia, inserted a $200 million appropriations request to fund a consolidated Family Court building at 15th and Arch streets into an omnibus amendment to the proposed 2007-08 fiscal year capital budget. No further action has been taken on the capital budget since last year.

In October, Nutter told the Philadelphia Bar Association’s Family Law section that a land-use study should be conducted to ensure that a unified Family Court location is in the best interest of the court’s constituents and that a Family Court site shouldn’t be picked behind closed doors like other Philadelphia development deals.

Oliver said Nutter still believes that comprehensive reviews of land use are important for future development in Philadelphia, but that the mayor won’t oppose the selection of a site if its funding is predominantly sourced from state coffers.

“He is a proponent for always taking a comprehensive look at what land use should be in Philadelphia, how we use the resources we have,” he said. “That’s always of importance.

In this particular case, the state’s paying for it. You can’t dictate everything else about it.”
“The judges are very excited that this might go forward … I’m glad to hear that it sounds like the mayor is committed to this, but I think it’s very important to have the players in all three branches of government as well as city and state officials on the same page,” said Lynn Marks, executive director of Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, which has advocated for an improved locale for the family court system.

Even if the proposed funding gets passed into law, it will be up to the executive branch to decide which capital projects will be financed by bonds; many more public projects are proposed in the capital budget than actually are undertaken by the Pennsylvania government.

In January, Chuck Ardo, a Gov. Edward Rendell spokesman, said the Rendell administration has not committed to supporting a specific location and wants the court system and the city of Philadelphia to help fund the project.

Oliver said that Nutter is not a big fan of hypotheticals, so Oliver deflected a query about what Nutter would do if there were calls for the city to pony up a more significant portion of Family Court cash.

“If the conversation changes about the city’s proportion of funding, we would just take that, reflect on it,” Oliver said.

David Lawrence, the First Judicial District court administrator, said there have not been any new developments on the proposed site for consolidating the Family Court’s juvenile branch at 1801 Vine St. and the domestic relations branch at 34 S. 11th St.

“We’re waiting to see what happens. We’re keeping our fingers crossed,” Lawrence said.

— Amaris Elliott-Engel, Staff Reporter

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