Artist James Dupree fends off eminent domain effort by Philadelphia City Hall

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The Philadel­phia Rede­vel­op­ment Author­i­ty still wants to build a gro­cery store in the city’s Man­tua neigh­bor­hood, but it won’t be tak­ing James Dupree’s art stu­dio to do it.

The PRA on Thurs­day relent­ed on its quest to acquire the renowned Dupree’s stu­dio via emi­nent domain, say­ing the legal costs result­ing from Dupree’s appeal of con­dem­na­tion pro­ceed­ings made it “impos­si­ble” to con­tin­ue the pur­suit of his property.

GIVING UP: The Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority has abandoned plans to seize artist James Dupree’s studio through eminent domain.

GIVING UP: The Philadel­phia Rede­vel­op­ment Author­i­ty has aban­doned plans to seize artist James Dupree’s stu­dio through emi­nent domain.

Dupree wasn’t imme­di­ate­ly avail­able for com­ment, but Melin­da Har­ing, activism man­ag­er for the Insti­tute for Jus­tice, called it an “enor­mous vic­to­ry.” Dupree had part­nered with the insti­tute to bring aware­ness to his situation.

Dupree lost many years of his work and life fight­ing this ille­gal and uncon­sti­tu­tion­al land grab,” Har­ing said in a writ­ten state­ment. “James’ vic­to­ry puts the City of Philadel­phia on notice: The city can­not take pri­vate prop­er­ty for pri­vate devel­op­ment ever again.”

The artist’s bat­tle against the PRA began two years ago, when the author­i­ty used emi­nent domain to con­demn the three-lot prop­er­ty James bought in 2005. The plan was to clear the area for a state-sub­si­dized gro­cery store the PRA con­tend­ed was nec­es­sary to end the neighborhood’s run as a “food desert.”

In a state­ment announc­ing the end of con­dem­na­tion pro­ceed­ings, PRA Exec­u­tive Direc­tor Bri­an Aber­nathy said Dupree’s stu­dio was a “key par­cel” in meet­ing that goal.

While we have explored the poten­tial of build­ing around Mr. Dupree’s prop­er­ty, a viable project under these con­di­tions is not pos­si­ble,” Aber­nathy wrote. “In short, the inabil­i­ty to acquire Mr. Dupree’s prop­er­ty puts the prospect of bring­ing fresh food to this com­mu­ni­ty at seri­ous risk.”

Dupree’s sit­u­a­tion drew nation­al atten­tion, and he chron­i­cled the case on his web­site, where he described how he trans­formed the Haver­ford Avenue prop­er­ty into the art stu­dio it is today.

I invest­ed every­thing I own into this prop­er­ty,” Dupree once said in an Insti­tute for Jus­tice op-ed piece post­ed on

So when the PRA tried to take his stu­dio, he fought back. He paint­ed a mur­al on his build­ing with a stern warn­ing to the PRA: “HANDS OFF My Business.”

On Thurs­day, the PRA relent­ed on its land grab.

While I believe PRA has done all we could to find a fair solu­tion with Mr. Dupree — offer­ing inde­pen­dent appraisals of his prop­er­ty, find­ing and offer­ing oth­er poten­tial loca­tions for his stu­dio, and pay­ment of all relo­ca­tion costs — I know that the emo­tion­al attach­ment to prop­er­ty is real and deep,” Aber­nathy wrote. “I am dis­ap­point­ed that Mr. Dupree and PRA could not reach a res­o­lu­tion to this issue but respect his passion.”