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In Chestnut Hill, Germantown Avenue welcomes five new businesses

If you need a sign that Philly's retail infrastructure is getting back on track, look no further than the stretch of Germantown Avenue that runs through the northwestern neighborhood of Chestnut Hill.

In early April, the Chestnut Hill Business Association (CHBA) announced that five new shops have either recently opened on the avenue or will soon, while a sixth shop has moved into a larger location "to accommodate its rapid expansion," according to a release.
 
The avenue's latest addition, the children's boutique Villavillekula (the name is a Pippi Longstocking reference), celebrated its arrival with an opening reception at the end of March. The Chocolate Hill Candy & Fudge Shop, meanwhile, opened in December and has already proven popular with kids and grownups alike.
 
Also new for the toddler set is a youngsters-only version of the popular Greene Street consignment chain. Known as Greene Street Kids, it'll open sometime this month, as will Greenology, a gardening and organic lifestyle store across from the Chestnut Hill Hotel. Newly launched inside the hotel is Paris Bistro & Jazz Café, the third offering from Chef Al Paris, who also runs the acclaimed Heirloom and Green Soul eateries in the neighborhood. 
 
According to CHBA Executive Director Martha Sharkey, the growth of the neighborhood's retail scene owes a large debt to the organization's retail recruitment program, which launched four years ago. The neighborhood has welcomed 15 new shops and eight new restaurants in that time.  
 
"We are very lucky to have this program," says Sharkey. "For a downtown district, it's always challenging -- with malls, and with other places for people to shop -- to really create a vibrant, thriving community. The retail recruitment has really been essential to us."  
 
The retail recruiter position has recently become available; interested candidates can view the job description here.
 
Source: Martha Sharkey, Chestnut Hill Business Association
Writer: Dan Eldridge




Greensgrow Farms launches a retail gardening center in West Philly

The experimental urban agriculture organization Greensgrow Farms has been operating for nearly two decades in South Kensington where it not only runs a CSA program and a community kitchen, but also educates Philadelphians about sustainable living, and attempts to convince other communities to replicate aspects of its urban farming model.  
 
A little over a week ago, West Philadelphia became an extended member of the Greensgrow family when a gardening center, Greensgrow West, opened on the 4900 block of Baltimore Avenue at the former site of the Elena's Soul jazz club.  
 
The gardening center will remain at the Baltimore Avenue site for at least two years. They will sell plants and fruit trees, and eventually offer workshops similar to those held at the Kensington location. Greensgrow West will also be home to a farmer's market accepting SNAP and WIC Farmers' Market Nutrition Program (FMNP) benefits.
 
According to Greensgrow's Ryan Kuck, himself a 15-year West Philly resident, the organization saw the neighborhood "as really fertile ground," and an ideal location to further explore its mission of creating livable communities on underutilized urban land.

"We know we have a lot of support [in West Philly], and we know there's a market for greening," says Kuck, who adds that Greensgrow's mobile markets, which offer fresh food to underserved communities, are often based in West Philly. "It's also just a really interesting place for us to explore what Greengrow's future model might look like."
 
It's currently unclear what will happen to the site when Greensgrow's lease ends in April 2016.
 
Source:  Ryan Kuck, Greensgrow Farms
Writer: Dan Eldridge

 
Mobile Market photos by Jennifer Britton
Remaining photos by Bryn Ashburn

A commercial corridor manager brings signs of life to 52nd Street in West Philly

The intersection of 52nd and Market streets in West Philly has struggled for decades, but prior to SEPTA's reconstruction of the Market-Frankford Line, which wrecked economic havoc on the area, the 52nd Street retail corridor was better known as West Philly's Main Street -- a proud city-within-the-city where small businesses thrived.  
 
The Enterprise Center Community Development Corporation (TEC-CDC) has been working for five years to bring that vitality back. And thanks to a grant provided by the Philadelphia Local Initiative Support Corporation (LISC), they recently hired the street's first-ever commercial corridor manager, Akeem Dixon, whose job description involves returning the retail corridor to its former glory.
 
That's a tall order, to be sure, but according to Dana Hanchin of the Philadelphia LISC office, initiatives are already moving forward.
 
At a recent stakeholders meeting, TEC-CDC revealed some of the key elements of its commercial corridor work plan. It includes beautification efforts such as pop-up gardens on vacant lots, and the launch of both a corridor-specific newsletter and a business directory. A biweekly radio program covering the corridor is now airing on West Philly's community radio station, WPEB 88.1 FM, and a branding campaign is also in the works.
 
Meanwhile, Dixon continues to act as an intermediary between business owners and residents in the area -- something of an impartial ombudsman, whose top priority involves "getting everyone at the same table, and talking," as LISC Philadelphia's James Crowder puts it.
 
"I can't say that wasn't happening before," says Crowder. "But I can say it's happening in a way now that's way more efficient and productive."
 
Source:  Dana Hanchin, LISC Philadelphia
Writer: Dan Eldridge

 
Photos by Samuel Dolgin-Gardner 

Postgreen's Awesometown features both market-rate and affordable units

It's been four long years since Postgreen Homes, the sustainable development company, made public its intention to construct a contemporary 14-unit Fishtown project with the unlikely moniker of "Awesometown."
 
In late March, during a public launch party at Lloyd Whiskey Bar, Postgreen announced that the ultra energy-efficient project is finally going to happen. ISA is the architectural firm responsible for the design.
 
According to Postgreen's Chad Ludeman, the process of financing Awesometown has been a bit of a departure for the company. As the result of a partnership with the New Kensington Community Development Corporation (NKCDC), Postgreen is pricing four of the 14 customizable townhomes at a discounted rate, making them affordable for moderate-income families.
 
Unlike with most collaborations between for-profit and nonprofit developers, the funds for Awesometown -- which will sit between Thompson and Moyer Streets -- are coming entirely from private sources.

"We're just treating this like a normal project," says Ludeman, "and using the proceeds from the sales of the market-rate units to subsidize the moderate-income units." (Moderate-income residents of Awesometown will be required to have incomes below 100 percent of the city's median income rate.)    
 
Awesometown's market-rate townhomes are selling for $399,000. The company hopes to acheive LEED platinum status for the project -- each of the units will come stocked with eco-friendly appliances, an Energy Star HVAC system and triple pane windows.
 
Postgreen also worked with the Philadelphia Water Department (PWD) to develop a stormwater management plan for the site, 95 percent of which will be permeable, thanks to eco-friendly paving and green roof decks constructed atop each home.   
 
Visit the Postgreen Homes blog for more details on the project and to view an Awesometown promo video

Source: Chad Ludeman, Postgreen Homes
Writer: Dan Eldridge



A facelift could be in the works for Queen Village's historic Fabric Row

Michael Harris has been executive director of the South Street Headhouse District -- the city's second-oldest business improvement district -- for two years now. One of the first things that struck him about the historic stretch of South Fourth Street known as Fabric Row -- which runs between South and Catherine Streets -- was the dated and run-down feel of the strip.

"There are certain basic streetscape elements that are lacking down there," says Harris. "Like trash cans, pedestrian lighting, and places to sit."
 
Harris was also struck by the fact that many of the new businesses and contemporary boutiques moving into the area are investing in their own properties. Meanwhile, the public elements of Fabric Row, he says, "don't really reflect all the good things that are going on."

And so, along with the Community Design Collaborative, Headhouse District put together a conceptual design for Fabric Row that includes streetscape improvements -- park benches, planters and pedestrian-level lighting, for example. The plan also calls for building façade renovations, an aspect of the project Harris hopes to have funded via the Department of Commerce's Storefront Improvement Program.   
 
Because construction funds for the proposed improvements haven't yet been raised, there's no official timeline for the plan. At the moment, Headhouse District is still rolling it out to the street's stakeholders and attempting to gauge interest.

"There's a tremendous energy going on along Fourth Street right now," says Harris, adding that Fabric Row today has an amazing mix of businesses both brand-new and generations old. "What we're trying to do is to draw that identity out, and make it more apparent."

Source: Michael Harris, South Street Headhouse District
Writer: Dan Eldridge




Details for second Comcast tower revealed; plus, Blatstein buys waterfront lot

Philadelphia, like all cities, is in a constant state of evolution. This moment, in particular, feels charged with change -- fins, limbs, eyes are spouting all over the place.

The Philadelphia City Planning Commission has revealed details about the buzzed-about Comcast Innovation & Technology Center, the corporation's second skyline-altering tower. Curbed Philly covered the annoucement, and compiled this list of essential facts:

- 59 floors, 1,121 ft
- 1,321,921 square feet of office space
- 242,680 square feet of hotel space (222 rooms over 12 floors)
- 3,483 square feet of retail space
- LEED Gold or Platinum certification (anticipated)
- 126-foot glass blade at top
- Concourse connection to Comcast Center and Suburban Station
- 47 total bike racks on Arch Street/Cuthbert Street
- Ground floor bike shower/changing room
- 21 total outdoor benches
- 20 percent water use reduction
- 3-story office skygardens
- 70 underground parking spaces
- Open to the public from at least 8 a.m. - 9 p.m. daily

In another exciting development, 1 percent of the total construction costs will be spent on art in public spaces. Click here for a review of the entire project.

As all this was breaking, another big deal went down. Bart Blatstein -- who is already working on a transformative project at Broad and Washington -- has purchased a large lot on the Delaware Waterfront, between Tasker and Reed Streets. In a funny narrative twist, Blatstein actually owned the property 21 years ago, before selling it to Foxwoods as a potential casino site. That plan obviously never came to fruition. From the Philadelphia Inquirer:

The Foxwoods property in South Philadelphia was once the site of a sugar refinery. As large as a city block, the property was assembled by Blatstein in 1993. At the time, he thought he would develop a big-box shopping center.

The deal fell through, but something better came along: gambling.

In 1993, influential politicians were beginning to advocate for riverboat gambling. Blatstein rode a wave of casino speculation. Operators from Las Vegas and Atlantic City were lining up outside Blatstein's door, angling for his land.

A year after spending $8.5 million to assemble the site, Blatstein flipped it for more than $64 million to a company that became Caesars Entertainment.

The profit from that transaction gave Blatstein the financial firepower to become a major developer in the city. His signature development, which Tower Investments started in 2000, was the Piazza at Schmidts rental apartments in Northern Liberties.


Alan Greenberger, deputy mayor for economic development, speculates that the land will be developed into a mix of residential and retail; Blatstein is remaining tight-lipped for the moment.

In a big potential boon for riverfront improvement efforts, the deal will transfer a 100-foot-wide strip of land along the river's edge to the Natural Lands Trust, a conservation organization, enabling the continued progress of the city's waterfront trail.

Writer: Lee Stabert
Source: Curbed Philly,
The Philadelphia Inquirer


A grand plan to increase the city's stock of affordable housing

Last week, city officials announced an ambitious new plan to increase Philadelphia's stock of affordable housing. The initiative involves using tax incentives and bond proceeds to redevelop 1,500 vacant, city-owned properties over the next two to three years. In a city with many rapidly-gentrifying neighborhoods, thoughtful planning aimed at low-to-middle income residents is crucial.

The New York Times covered the plan, lauding its utilization of novel resources:

But Ms. Poethig said the Philadelphia plan was distinctive in that it would contribute city-owned land, because there had been a “robust” analysis of the economic benefits and because the city’s construction unions had agreed to reduce their rates for the project.

“I’m most encouraged by the fact that they want to use their own land rather than just relying on federal and state resources,” Ms. Poethig said.

One thousand of the housing units in the plan would be for rent; the remainder would be for sale. Philadelphia is in a strong position to ease its shortage of affordable housing because of its large stock of about 9,000 vacant, city-owned properties, and because of its access to untapped federal tax breaks that can be used for the project, officials said.


The properties would be aimed at households whose incomes are 80 to 120 percent of the area’s median income.

"Low-income housing is in strong demand in Philadelphia, where 26.9 percent of the population of 1.5 million lives at or below the federal poverty line," adds The Times. "For every 100 households classified as extremely poor, there are only 37 affordable rental units available, and there are 110,000 families on a waiting list for public housing, according to city figures."

The recently-passed Land Bank legislation was designed to enable just this sort grand civic project. The city now has far fewer barriers when it comes to utilizing vacant land in creative ways.

For more on the plan, including some interesting questions and concerns, check out these stories in PlanPhilly and Next City.

LEE STABERT is managing editor of Flying Kite Media and Keystone Edge.
 


UPenn's South Bank Master Plan aims to bring innovation to the Lower Schuylkill

Last week, the University of Pennsylvania made public its plans to construct a research park on 23 acres of land formerly owned by DuPont in the Lower Schuylkill section of Grays Ferry. The parcel is now being referred to as "the South Bank."
 
Flying Kite has reported extensively on the long-range development plans for the Lower Schuylkill River, but no announcement has generated as much public chatter and excitement as the recent one from Penn; it is just one small ingredient in a much larger campus development recipe known as Penn Connects 2.0, a so-called master plan "which has added nearly 3 million square feet of space to Penn’s campus since 2006," according to a release.   
 
One of the highlights of the South Bank will be a business incubator and accelerator called the Pennovation Center. (Current tenants will remain onsite after renovations begin.) That complex will feature lab space and a collaborative technology-transfer ecosystem that Penn hopes will eventually infuse the entire South Bank campus.  
 
According to Penn's Executive Director of Real Estate Ed Datz, the campus will be available to a wide range of users, from startups that grow out of university research to those without any previous university affiliation. The master plan, designed by Philadelphia-based firm WRT, creates a framework with initial development focused on light industrial and flex-use buildings. 

"The one consistent is the opportunity to let young, upstart companies have space -- at a reasonable rate -- to gather, to share ideas, and to advance their particular discipline," says Datz.

While an exact construction timeline hadn't been revealed, the multi-phase renovation work at the South Bank site may begin as early as this fall.


Writer: Dan Eldridge
Source: Ed Datz, University of Pennsylvania



Three underused lots could become Graduate Hospital's most vital intersection

Not long ago, the intersection of South 17th and Carpenter Streets in Graduate Hospital was home to a trio of underused vacant lots. All three were owned by the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority (PRA) -- it had been attempting to unload the land for a decade.      

Now that intersection is beginning to transform in a major way.
 
The sustainably-designed mixed-use project known as Carpenter Square will soon rise there. And due partly to the interest generated by that project, PRA recently released an RFP for the still-empty lot on the opposite side of 17th Street.  
 
Meanwhile, according to the South of South Neighborhood Association's (SOSNA) Andrew Dalzell, that organization is "just waiting on the weather to get good" before moving forward with its plans for Carpenter Green, a small corner park slated for the intersection's northwest corner.
 
After signing a lease with the PRA and surveying neighbors to discover which amenities would be most in demand at the parklet (trash cans, lighting, trees and seating were all popular), SOSNA now has to settle on one of three possible designs before raising funds for Carpenter Green's construction.
 
Also coming soon to the immediate area: A new vision for the playground at the Edwin M. Stanton School, which sits just two blocks north of the intersection.
 
"2014 could be a very bright year for 17th and Carpenter," says Dalzell after running down the details behind Carpenter Square, Carpenter Green, the E.M. Stanton School playground, and the potential for new construction on the remaining lot. "With just those four things, suddenly that's pretty transformative for this two-block area." 

Writer: Dan Eldridge
Source: Andrew Dalzell, SOSNA

Former Governor Ed Rendell wins Ed Bacon Prize for his promotion of smart transportation

The late Edmund Bacon, born in Philadelphia during the summer of 1910, is a man whose name is synoymous with local architecture and urban planning. Former Philadelphia mayor and Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell will speak on that very subject on February 18 at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, where he'll also be awarded with the 8th annual Edmund N. Bacon Prize from the Philadelphia Center for Architecture.
 
According to David Bender, associate director of the Center, the annual Ed Bacon Prize is awarded to a professional who has achieved a significant amount of success in urban planning, development and design. (Paul Goldberger, an architecture critic for The New Yorker, and Robert A.M. Stern, dean of the Yale School of Architecture, are both past recipients.)
 
Rendell's achievements, Bender explains, were largely transportation-related, such as his proposal to add tolls to the Pennsylvania-wide Interstate 80. Investment in transportation infrastructure, Rendell once said, is vital to America's economic competitiveness, and is "the best job creator we have for well-paying jobs and also to help American manufacturing."
 
The student winners of the annual Better Philadelphia Challenge will also be honored during the event. This year's Challenge, which is held in honor of Bacon, asked design and architecture students worldwide to imagine a future Philadelphia landscape populated with the sort of self-driving vehicles currently being designed by Google. A $5,000 award will go to the first prize winner. 

Writer: Dan Eldridge
Source: David Bender, AIA Philadelphia 




Checking in with the Point Breeze CDC

The Southwest Philadelphia neighborhood of Point Breeze has been experiencing a frenzied pace of development over the past few years, with much of it arriving in the form of new construction units and rehabs from local developer Ori Feibush and his OCF Realty firm.
 
No stranger to community organization turf wars, the area has long been served by the South Philadelphia HOMES Inc.; Feibush launched his own organization, the Point Breeze CDC, in late 2013.

According to the CDC's executive director, Barbara Kelley, "[A lot of] what we're doing right now is supplementing the other agencies' services, and giving referrals to different agencies, like Diversified and Legal Aid."
 
The CDC is also working closing with the Point Breeze Avenue Business Association. And at some point "very soon," the office will install a sign featuring its new logo, which was designed by a neighborhood art student after a recent logo design contest.
 
Along with a few neighborhood music producers and area children, Kelley is also helping to develop an official Point Breeze song. The lyrics, she says, will consist of residents' thoughts and impressions about the neighborhood.

In other Point Breeze development news, OCF Realty recently broke ground on a 22 single-family home project on the 1300 block of Chadwick Street designed by YCH Architect LLC. OCF plans to donate $1,000 to Neighbors Investing in Childs Elementary (NICE) for each unit sold by an OCF Realtor.
 
"What we're noticing is that people leave the city after they have kids, and they come back when they're empty-nesters," says OCF's Alexandra Calukovic. Feibush's idea, she says, involves "donating to make a real impact in the community, instead of just donating to donate. And his thought process was that starts with schools."

Writer: Dan Eldridge
Source: Barbara Kelley, Point Breeze CDC; Alexandra Calukovic, OCF Realty

 

Washington Avenue's latest development: A year-long beautification effort

Thanks to a newly-inked contract between the Washington Avenue Property Owners Association (WAPOA) and the rehabilitative group known as Ready, Willing & Able (RWA), the mile-long western half of South Philly's Washington Avenue is about to become significantly tidier. (For more on the fate of Washington Avenue West, check out this week's lead feature.)

Along with career development and educational resources, RWA offers paid transitional work to formerly homeless and incarcerated men. That work often comes in the form of park maintenance and street cleaning. For the next 12 months, the "men in blue" (they wear distinctive blue uniforms) will transform the neighborhood's most economically crucial corridor into a much more inviting space.  

"We've know anecdotally for a long time that Washington Avenue is the dirtiest part of this neighborhood," says Andrew Dalzell of the South of South Neighborhood Organization (SOSNA). The group has even utilized something called a "litter index" to quantify the street's trash problem. The conclusion? Not good. But thanks to financial donations from WAPOA, SOSNA, PIDC, Councilman Kenyatta Johnson's office and others, the street is getting $10,000 worth of sprucing up. (The year-long contract began on Feb. 6).            

The RWA contract is especially big news for business owners and developers with a stake in the avenue's future. Various beautification efforts along the street's length have been just one of many initiatives instituted by local community organizations as they've attempted to woo development dollars and investment to the area. 

"I think the goal is [that once] we make this successful on Washington Avenue, Point Breeze Avenue takes note; Oregon Avenue takes note; Snyder Avenue takes note; South Broad takes note," says Dalzell. "The Avenue of the Arts should be hiring these guys, in my view." 

Writer: Dan Eldridge
Source: Andrew Dalzell, South of South Neighborhood Organization (SOSNA)


Is The Boyd Theatre finally ready for its close-up?

Following a months-long negotiation process with the city's Historical Commission and various preservation groups, Center City's Boyd Theatre might finally be ready to come alive again.  

Roughly two years ago, Florida-headquartered iPic-Gold Class Entertainment first showed interest in developing one of its high-end movie theaters at The Boyd, which opened in late-1928 as a silent film theatre (it closed for good in 2002). And while, in 2008, local preservationists managed to have the Boyd added to the Historical Commission's list of "protected assets," iPic has made a controversial choice: It asked for the Commission's blessing to completely gut the Boyd's auditorium, claiming the project wouldn't otherwise make financial sense. (The building's façade, its marquee and entranceway would all be restored under iPic's plan.) 

"The plan to totally restore [the Boyd] into its original state inside -- to make it either a one-screen movie theatre or a Broadway-type theatre -- those plans are all $30 to $50 million," says Kirk Dorn of Ceisler Media, which manages iPic's PR. "And you couldn't get the revenue from the theatre to produce that ."
 
On February 14, iPic will present its development plan -- two stories consisting of eight small theaters with reserved stadium seating, in-theatre dining and in-theatre waitstaff -- to the city's full commission. An onsite restaurant is also in the picture, and assuming iPic receives a "yes" vote on Valentine's Day, "We're hoping to open sometime in 2015," says iPic general counsel Paul Safron. 

"We're still willing to work with the preservation community," adds Safron. "We're happy to incorporate some of the design concepts and elements if we can."

Update: On February 12, we were informed by Kirk Dorn that the Philadelphia Historical Commission has postponed iPic's full commission hearing for one month; it's now scheduled for March 14. 

Writer: Dan Eldridge
Source: Kirk Dorn, Ceisler Media and Paul Safron, iPic Entertainment 


Coming soon to East Passyunk: A proper neighborhood entrance

If you walk the length of East Passyunk Avenue in South Philly -- and end up at the convergence of the Avenue, South Broad and McKean -- you'll see a nondescript slab of concrete that extends outward from the United Savings Bank building. The triangle points westward across Broad, as if directing pedestrians to the Philly Pretzel Factory across the street.

That will soon change. An exciting development is in the offing for that small stretch of concrete -- currently dubbed the East Passyunk Gateway project. Last week, in a small conference room at the old St. Agnes Continuing Care Center on South Broad, Sam Sherman, executive director of the Passyunk Avenue Revitalization Corporation (PARC), publicly unveiled the plans, which include a small splash fountain; concrete bench seating and chess-playing tables; various architectural lighting elements; shade trees and street-level planters; and a permanent sound system to accommodate events. The transformation will be possible thanks to a $495,000 grant from the William Penn Foundation

And those are just a small handful of the plaza's intended perks. There are also plans for a small, trellis-roofed area that the plaza's designer, landscape architect Bryan Hanes, refers to as "an iconic piece of furniture where events could happen," and where food carts or other vendors could set up shop. There is also talk of a bike-sharing station -- potentially the city's first.

The goal is to break ground on the plaza sometime this May or June. With the project's build-out estimated at six months, there's a possibility that the East Passyunk Gateway could be open for business as early as this fall. 

Writer: Dan Eldridge
Source: Sam Sherman, Passyunk Avenue Revitalization Corporation (PARC) 


As Benjamin's Desk celebrates an expansion, two new potential co-working locations are in the works

Local coworking space Benjamin's Desk recently leased an entire extra floor inside the Allman Building at 17th and Walnut. During the grand opening reception last Friday, visitors had an opportunity to check out the expanding organization in person. 

There were the expected touches -- exposed brick walls and duct work, perfectly buffed hardwood floors -- and then there were the amenities you don't always find in the coworking world: craft beers are on tap in the communal kitchen and a small outdoor roof deck that will eventually house a bar with lounge-like seating.    

According to president and CEO Michael Maher, who opened Benjamin's Desk on the building's seventh floor in October 2012, the newly-revealed eighth floor has been operational since September of last year. So why a five-months-late grand opening? 

"We had the space occupied by a company that was in stealth mode," explains Maher. "Now that the [eighth] floor is [officially] open and we're getting it occupied, we're looking to expand elsewhere in the region, including University City and the suburbs."

Maher says he and his colleagues are still "in the early stages of understanding what potential customers would want" in a University City or suburban-based shared office space, and they're being pretty hush-hush in terms of the exact locations under consideration. 

"We definitely think there is a demand in both [University City and the suburbs]," he adds. "But it took us two years to find this location. We'll wait until we find the right locations."

Writer: Dan Eldridge
Source: Michael J. Maher, Benjamin's Desk


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