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


By Andrew Staub | PA Independent

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.

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.”