Governor Edward G. Rendell today announced that the state will provide up to $200 million for a new Family Court in Philadelphia, and another $20 million to transform the current Family Court building into a hotel and museum.
After years of discussion about how to address overcrowding and safety issues in Philadelphia's Family Court and its separate Domestic Relations Unit, Governor Rendell announced that the state, city and courts have reached a firm agreement that will result in state and local funds being used to build and operate a modern, safe and consolidated family court facility.
"The court identified the site for the project, the city has agreed to continue its local financial commitment to the courts and we are now releasing the funds needed to make this important project a reality," Governor Rendell said.
The Governor will release up to $200 million in Public Improvement Project funding previously allocated by the General Assembly for the new facility, which will be built at 15th and Arch streets in Center City. Construction will begin as soon as possible.
State Supreme Court Justice Ronald Castille and Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter joined Governor Rendell in making the announcement.
"When you consider that more than 80 percent of the men and women in these buildings who are seeking resolution of custody, child support or protection from abuse orders do not have lawyers, these antiquated buildings present a daunting challenge to these unrepresented citizens to navigate or even to feel safe waiting for their cases to be heard," Governor Rendell said.
The existing facility at 1801 Vine St. was built nearly 70 years ago, a time when the caseload for divorce, spousal abuse and other family issues was much lower than it is today. More than two decades ago, due to the growth in family court caseload, the Domestic Relations Division was moved 11th Street.
"Both buildings are simply too cramped and outdated to handle the number and types of cases that are taken up on a daily basis in Family Court," Governor Rendell said.
The construction of the new facility will enable the court to put all of its family court operations under one roof.
More than 2,500 family members and legal staff use the existing overcrowded and obsolete buildings every day. According to studies and media reports, battered women hide in stairways or bathrooms in fear of abusive spouses while waiting to be called to the courtroom. Family members are not permitted to accompany loved ones during troubling experiences such as divorce due to crush of cases and limited space.
The Governor's commitment to release state funds for the new court was contingent on reaching agreement with the city on the expeditious and innovative reuse of the current court site on the Parkway. The redevelopment of the 1801 Vine St. site will be the city's responsibility. The city intends to begin a competitive process in June and to identify a developer for the site by late summer/early fall. The state and city have agreed on a plan to convert the classic structure to a museum with a new luxury hotel. The commonwealth will invest $20 million of Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program funds.
"The Philadelphia Parkway's museums enrich our lives and bring tourists from nearly every country to Philadelphia. The hotel and museum on this site will be in keeping with both the architecture of Logan Circle and the Parkway and the museum character of area," Governor Rendell said. "This new building will be another terrific cultural attraction to be enjoyed by city residents and tourists who come here from around the world to see our art collections and historic sites."
Over the past decade on the Parkway, the Franklin Institute and Moore College of Art have completed major renovations; the Free Library is in the midst of a major expansion; the Museum of Art opened the new Perelman Building, and ground has been broken for the new Barnes Museum.
The current Family Court Building is located adjacent to Logan Circle, modeled after a similar circle in Paris. The Family Court Building and the Free Library design are based upon one of the finest luxury hotels in Paris, the Hotel de Crillon.