In 2014, former Mayor Michael Nutter crowed that Philadelphia was the “permanent venue” of Forbes’ 30 Under 30 Summit, beating out New York City. Forbes editor Randall Lane said Philly was chosen because it’s “a world class city.”
It was later reported that Nutter paid $1.7 million from the Mayor’s Fund for Philadelphia to play host to the summit. The relationship broke up earlier this year when Mayor Jim Kenney balked at paying $2 million to keep the event in Philadelphia. So Lane said, “Bye Philly,” and moved to Boston.
In November 2015, Nutter and Global Philadelphia Association (Global Philadelphia) crowed that Philly is now the first World Heritage City in the U.S. It was widely reported the designation was made by UNESCO. In fact, the designation was made by the Organization of World Heritage Cities (OWHC), a nonprofit based in Canada. The only eligibility requirement is a city must have an UNESCO World Heritage site. Philadelphia qualifies because Independence Hall is on the UNESCO list.
At the time, I wondered why other U.S. cities with a World Heritage site, including Charlottesville (Monticello and University of Virginia), New York City (Statute of Liberty) and San Antonio (San Antonio Missions) were not OWHC members. Well, as it turns out, OWHC membership is pay-to-play. In addition to $10,000 annual membership dues, members must pay a pro-rated share of OWHC’s expenses.
Philadelphia is the first World Heritage City in the U.S. because no other city is interested in what is effectively a pay-to-play designation.
Global Philadelphia’s conflation of UNESCO and OWHC teed me off. But what keeps me peed off is Global Philadelphia/World Heritage PHL’s silence as developers wreak havoc to the city’s historic character and cultural heritage. As guests clink glasses at this week’s “World Heritage Celebration,” Toll Brothers is poised to wreck Jewelers’ Row, America’s oldest diamond district that dates back to 1850.
If a bunch of one-percenters wants to celebrate a “brand,” hey, that’s their business. It becomes the people’s business when public funds are involved. By the way, Nutter is now a member of Global Philadelphia’s World Heritage Committee.
And get this: Nutter’s handpicked chairperson tapped the Mayor’s Fund and made a $10,000 grant to Global Philadelphia. The grant award reportedly was made over the objection of the Fund’s board of directors.
The board rejected Global Philadelphia’s $25,000 grant proposal “to market the city to the World Heritage City selection committee.” According to the minutes, the board deemed the “designation of Philadelphia as a World Heritage City is not a high priority.”
I finally got a response, albeit incomplete, to my Right-to-Know request. I now know that three City employees went to Arequipa, Peru for the meeting of the OWHC selection committee.
Of the three employees, only one submitted a Reimbursable Expense Voucher. Sylvie Gallier-Howard is on Global Philadelphia’s board of directors.
Where are the other expense vouchers? Were the employees’ airline and lodging expenses paid for with the unauthorized $10,000 grant to Global Philadelphia? The City of Philadelphia is doling out the information piecemeal but this citizen watchdog is not deterred. Instead, I’m submitting another Right-to-Know request.
Stay with me.