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With Death of Firefighters, Philadelphia’s Blight Becomes More Urgent Issue

(The former Gretz Brewery, on Germantown Avenue, is one of about 25,000 abandoned buildings in Philadelphia.  File photo)

(The former Gretz Brewery, on Germantown Avenue, is one of about 25,000 abandoned buildings in Philadelphia. File photo)

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By Pat Loeb

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The Thomas Buck building, where the fire that killed two firefighters on Monday started, is just one of thousands of vacant properties in Philadelphia that create safety hazards in neighborhoods.

City officials and community groups are working on the issue, which is becoming more urgent in light of the firefighters’ deaths (see related stories).

Shanta Schacter, deputy director of the New Kensington Community Development Corporation, fears the Gretz Brewery (top photo), on Germantown Avenue, may be the next to go.

Officials from the city’s Department of Licenses and Inspections recently launched an aggressive program to inspect and cite substandard buildings, using new powers it gained to put liens on the owners’ personal assets.  But with a stockpile of at least 25,000 abandoned buildings, the City of Philadelphia has its hands full.

The Buck hosiery mill was similar, in many ways, to Beatty’s Mill, two blocks away — a 19th century remnant of Philadelphia’s industrial past, abandoned and blighted.

But the New Kensington CDC acquired Beatty’s Mill and turned it into the Coral Street Arts House.

coral street arts house With Death of Firefighters, Philadelphias Blight Becomes More Urgent Issue

(The Coral Street Arts House, a refurbished former warehouse. File photo by Eli Pousson, used under the Creative Commons generic license.)

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“It brought people into the neighborhood,” Schacter tells KYW Newsradio.  “It turned an eyesore into an asset.”

The city’s vacant property strategy has led to 1,300 cases against owners.  But, as the Buck building shows (see related story), the process often moves more slowly than the hazards the buildings present.

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