School Board changes its mind; votes yes on Hilco refinery redevelopment tax break

The Philadelphia school board unanimously authorized a proposal to extend tax breaks to the company who plans to redevelop the massive former South Philadelphia refinery site into a distribution and commercial hub.

Hilco Redevelopment Partners bought the 1,300-acre former Philadelphia Energy Solutions site out of bankruptcy in June for $225.5 million. The Chicago-based company said the extension of the Keystone Opportunity Zone designation, which exempt businesses from most state and local taxes, is crucial to completing a multibillion-dollar development that could create an estimate of 13,000 jobs during the construction and over 19,000 permanent jobs.

With seven votes in favor, zero against, and one abstention, the board consented to abate all real estate taxes imposed on six of the 17 parcels of the site, if and when the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania approves a 10-year extension of their Keystone Opportunity Zone designation. Board member Lee Huang abstained because his firm, Econsult Solutions, is a consultant with Hilco.

The proposal, backed by Mayor Jim Kenney, South Philly Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson, and City Council, was rejected by the school board during a previous vote in August.

Board member Angela McIver voted in favor of the extension Thursday after previously voting in opposition. She said her mind was changed after Hilco promised jobs for graduates of Philadelphia schools.

“I believe Hilco presented a plan that would benefit our graduates and implore the district to put in place a department that will hold Hilco to these commitments,” McIver said.

McIver said that in the weeks since the last vote, Hilco met with district officials to discuss opportunities for recent graduates to access jobs at the sprawling industrial site without being blocked by unions.

“It is well documented that Philadelphia trade unions function as private clubs in the city. Our unions are gatekeepers for entry into these high paying union jobs and reject our Black and brown citizens for a membership,” McIver said.

Keystone Opportunity Zones are designated by the state as an incentive for developers to invest in abandoned or underutilized sites. The program allows tax to be greatly reduced or even zeroed out for up to 10 years.

Jasmine Sessoms, senior vice president of corporate affairs at Hilco Redevelopment Partners and a Point Breeze native, said the company was “humbled by the Philadelphia School Board’s faith in this project.”

She said the company “is excited to champion the work of the School District of Philadelphia and City to build out a Career Connected Learning system.” That initiative, she said, will build “direct pipelines to permanent employment in partnership with post-secondary education and training institutions.”

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