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Artist Battles City Of Philadelphia To Save Property Taken By Eminent Domain

James Dupree in front of his studios at 36th and Haverford. (Credit: Cherri Gregg)

James Dupree in front of his studios at 36th and Haverford. (Credit: Cherri Gregg)

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Cherri Gregg is the community affairs reporter for KYW Newsr...
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By Cherri Gregg

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – A world-renowned artist is going head-to-head with the City of Philadelphia to save what he calls his “dream studio” in Mantua. The city condemned the property for redevelopment in 2012.

When James Dupree bought the 8,600 square foot property at 36th and Haverford nine years ago for roughly $200,000 it was condemnable.

“There was holes in the roof, the plumbing was next to nothing and the electrical was a fire waiting to happen,” he says.

But Dupree says the massive size of the property and its proximity to Drexel and the Philadelphia Art Museum, where several of his works have been on display, made it the perfect space for a studio.  So the University of Pennsylvania grad invested sweat equity and tens of thousands of dollars in renovations, including a new roof, walls for living quarters, studios, classrooms and artist rental lofts, to bring his dream to reality.

“This is a unique, monumental space that people from all over the country and all over the world have come to see,” says Dupree, who notes his lofts were voted one of the “Five Amazing Spaces You’d Never See If Not For Airbnb.”

One of the apartments in hJames Dupree's studios that he rents to artists and others from around the world. (Credit: Cherri Gregg)

One of the apartments in James Dupree’s studios that he rents to artists and others from around the world. (Credit: Cherri Gregg)

Dupree, whose work has been seen by millions at airports around the world, also has living quarters in the studio and spends hours each day creating new artwork. Many of creative accomplishments can be viewed in massive studio, which houses many of the paintings and sculptures Dupree has created over the years.

“Everything I own is in here,” says Dupree. “You can see my money in here.”

Dupree says a couple of years after he bought the property, there were rumblings that the city had plans to acquire the studio and several nearby parcels to make way for a supermarket.  When time passed and nothing happened, he says he let it go. Then in December 2012, the city used eminent domain to condemn Dupree’s studios.  He contested the measure.

“This is a very emotional situation,” says Dupree, who notes he suffered a stroke because of the stressful situation, “can you imagine someone coming in and seizing your home?”

A sample of the artwork that lines the walls of James Dupree's massive studio space. (Credit: Cherri Gregg)

A sample of the artwork that lines the walls of James Dupree’s massive studio space. (Credit: Cherri Gregg)

The Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority offered Dupree $600,000 for the parcel and $40,000 for the contents of the studio.  But Dupree says the offer is paltry.  He says the land is extremely valuable, especially since President Obama designated Mantua a promise zone.

“What’s this place worth,” he asks, “the answer is more.”

Dupree reportedly put the property on the market with a valuation at more than $2-million. He says he will not sell without a fair price.

“I should be able to see some of the value and appreciation that is coming this way,” says Dupree, “otherwise, it’s unfair, it’s unethical, it’s so corrupt and so wrong and definitely un-American.”

The law of eminent domain allows the government to seize property for public use.  The city determined Dupree’s property and several surrounding parcels were blighted and perfect for redevelopment. Redevelopment Authority spokesman Paul Chrystie says the city is in “discussions” with a developer hoping to turn the property into a supermarket.  In the meantime, they’re negotiating with Dupree.

“He has an absolute right to contest [our offer], which he is doing,” he says, “ultimately, if there’s no agreement reached it will be made by a third disinterested party.”

Dupree says he is opening his studios on April 26 to show the world what he says the city plans to tear down.

“Somebody has to fight back,” says Dupree, “somebody has to stand up because this could happen to anybody.”

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