Almanac/HRI dispute with Philadelphia community leaders escalates
On October 19, 2017, a dispute escalated at one of Almanac Realty Investors’ portfolio companies, leading to the arrest of a dozen clergy and hospitality workers. They sat in the lobby of the Philadelphia aloft hotel, demanding that the aloft hotel return millions of state funding that should not have been provided to the project.
The aloft hotel is operated by and 88% owned by HRI Properties, a portfolio company of Almanac Realty Investors. Almanac has invested $200 million in HRI Properties.
A subsidiary of HRI Properties responded by filing suit against the clergy and others involved and requested a preliminary injunction. The Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas denied HRI’s request for preliminary injunction on November 1, 2017.
Those arrested included Rev. Robin Hynicka (Arch Street UMC), Rabbi Julie Greenberg (Congregation Leyv Ha-Ir), Imam Abdul-Halim Hassan (Masjidullah), Pastor Melanie DeBouse (Evangel Chapel), Rev. Michael Caine (Old First Reformed UCC), Deacon Carol Duncan (St. Martin In the Fields), UNITE HERE Local 274 President Rosslyn Wuchinich, and five hotel/food service workers from the region.
The event was organized by CCORD (Center City Organized for Responsible Development), a nonprofit coalition of congregations that has been recognized by the City of Philadelphia as the Registered Community Organization for this neighborhood.
The Philadelphia Inquirer reported: “A dozen protesters, many of them either clergy or members of the hospitality workers’ union, were issued citations Thursday evening as they massed in the lobby of the Aloft Hotel at Broad and Arch Streets, Philadelphia police said.”
The Philadelphia Tribune posted a video of the event on its website, alongside its report: ‘The group of 12 protesters that were arrested included clergy from different faiths — Christianity, Islam and Judaism — and hospitality workers from the airport and hotel industries. They sat on the floor of the hotel lobby and sang civil rights-era freedom songs, including “Victory is Mine” and “Ain’t Going to Let Nobody Turn Me Around.” After three requests from a Philadelphia civil affairs officer to leave the building, the 12 refused and continued to sing, prompting the arrests.’
The aloft opened on August 31, 2017. Its original 2013 application for state funds promised to create 170 jobs, 115 of which would be at a “destination restaurant.” The hotel opened without a restaurant or the accompanying jobs. The hotel is slated to receive $33 million dollars of public subsidy—$183,000 for each hotel room, making these the most heavily subsidized hotel rooms in Philadelphia. The subsidies include $2 million RACP from Pennsylvania, $10 million federal Historic Tax Credits, $15 million federal New Markets Tax Credit financing, and a $5.9 million city property tax abatement.
U.S. Congressman Bob Brady wrote in a June 2017 letter to U.S. Treasury Secretary that he was “deeply troubled” with this use of subsidies meant for low income communities: “This project is neither located in a low-income community, nor will its benefits accrue to the residents of the surrounding neighborhood.”