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A neighborhood business complex -- complete with brewery -- could come to Pennsport

Flying Kite has spilled a decent amount of (virtual) ink in the last few months on the various issues surrounding the future of one of South Philadelphia's most important thoroughfares, Washington Avenue. But a recent Pennsport community meeting to discuss a proposed mini-business complex has us wondering why the wide and tree-lined Moyamensing Avenue hasn't been part of that conversation as well. (Moyamensing runs at an angle from Christian Street down to Snyder Avenue.) 
 
"There's plenty of housing in the neighborhood, but there really aren't that many amenities," says architect Alex Duller of FUSA Designs. Duller, along with Brandon Fox of MSCretail, hopes to change that. The pair presented plans at the aforementioned meeting for a small commercial complex of seven businesses on the corner of Moyamensing and Moore Streets.
 
According to Duller, talks are already underway with the owners of a coffee shop, a yoga studio, a specialty food grocer and an ice cream parlor. Duller and Fox also hope to bring in a restaurant, but for the time being, only one local business owner -- Sean Mellody of Mellody Brewing -- has signed a letter of intent.
 
Mellody hopes to offer limited onsite sales and open a tasting room inside the brewery. But, as Duller explains, none of the development plans can move forward unless the complex's buildings -- currently zoned for single-family residential use -- are rezoned as mixed commercial structures.
 
"Right now, no one's willing to sign a letter of intent based on the fact that [the space] is still zoned for single-family," he says.
 
Duller and Fox will present their plan to the Zoning Board of Adjustment at the end of July. If the re-zoning passes, groundbreaking could commence as early as spring 2015.
 
Writer: Dan Eldridge
Source:  Alex Duller, FUSA Designs

Spectacular Graduate Hospital lofts carved out of former Catholic chapel

At the intersection of Fitzwater Street and Grays Ferry Avenue in Graduate Hospital, a 125-year-old former Catholic chapel has been adapted into 30 loft-style homes and eight apartments. They are now leasing.
 
Known as Sanctuary Lofts -- and most recently occupied by the congregation of St. Matthew Baptist Church -- the structure was one of 20 Philadelphia sites that appeared on the 2011 list of endangered historical properties released by Save Our Sites, an urban preservationist group. At the time, the church's congregation feared the building would be demolished to make way for housing if it were sold.  
 
Instead, the site was purchased by Barzilay Development, a local firm specializing in the adaptive reuse of old buildings. According to Alon Barzilay, the firm's founder and CEO (and son of former Toll Brothers president and COO Zvi Barzilay), the renovated loft spaces will be rich in intricately preserved details such as exposed marble and salvaged hardwood floors. Even some of the church's pews are being repurposed.
 
"I basically give people historic buildings, but with contemporary features," say Barzilay, describing his adaptive construction philosophy, "from granite countertops to stainless steel appliances to European cabinetry."     
 
Rents start at around $1,200 for a one-bedroom loft. Many of the project's most impressive features can be seen simply by viewing the church's exterior. A 128-foot granite clock tower is the jewel of the building -- it earned its 15 minutes of fame after appearing in director M. Night Shyamalan's The Sixth Sense. Also impressive are the church's stained-glass windows and its distinctive red door; an outdoor garden courtyard with church pew seating will be completed soon.
 
A model unit is currently available for viewing; visit sanctuary-lofts.com for photos and to read about the church's history.
 
Writer: Dan Eldridge
Source: Alon Barzilay, Barzilay Development
 

Pennsport's Pier 68 will include options for play, aquatic education and even fishing

If you've ever been brave enough to undertake a shopping excursion at the South Philly Walmart Supercenter on a weekend, there's a decent chance you ended up parking your car way out in the far-eastern hinterlands of the lot, right next to the Delaware River.

Assuming you took a minute to soak up your surroundings, you may have noticed a concrete pier jutting into the Delaware, overgrown with weeds and protected by a fence topped with razor wire and sporting a "No Trespassing" sign. That's Pier 68, and it certainly doesn't look like much today.
 
But come this time next year, following a $1.7 million facelift by Studio Bryan Hanes, not only will it have become the new southern trailhead for the Central Delaware Trail, it will have been transformed into a feature-rich pier park boasting amenities ranging from a tree-shaded picnic grove to an angled lawn designed for sunbathing to a water-side walk suitable for fishing.   
 
On June 26, the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation (DWRC) publically unveiled the pier park's design at a press conference attended by Mayor Michael Nutter, Councilman Mark Squilla and other local leaders.

"This is about getting to the waterfront," says Deputy Mayor for Commerce and Economic Development Alan Greenberger, who pointed out that Pier 68 will merely be the latest in what is becoming a string of pier parks along the Delaware. "And this pier," he adds, "has got a very special character."
 
Along with an entrance deck, a grove of trees and a selection of native aquatic plants, the park's highlight will be a 4.5-foot cut in the pier's surface that will allow the tidal activity of the Delaware to be viewed up-close. Visitors will cross the cut atop a road-and-cable bridge.
 
For development updates, visit the DRWC's Pier 68 website

Writer: Dan Eldridge
Source: Michael Greenlee, Delaware River Waterfront Corporation

Drexel will share its expertise with the community at new Dornsife Center

Following two years of fundraising, brainstorming and community meetings, Drexel University is celebrating the grand opening of its Dornsife Center for Neighborhood Partnerships. On June 12, the school cut the ribbon on the 1.3 acre site.
 
The genesis of the three-building complex -- located at 35th and Spring Garden Streets -- was a $10 million donation from Dana and David Dornsife, an active philanthropist couple. (Dana is a Drexel alum.)

According to Lucy Kerman, the school's vice provost of university and community partnership, university extension centers -- in which the collective expertise of a school is used to solve problems and otherwise assist the local community -- have a rich history dating back to the late-19th century. The Dornsife Center has the potential to become "a place where every single college and school [at Drexel] could be engaged with the community in shared problemsolving," she says.
 
Programming has already begun. Drexel’s law school students, for example, have been fulfilling their pro bono requirements by offering free legal services at the Dornsife Center. And, as Kerman points out, "We've got folks in English who could be running a writers house. We have folks in engineering who might do weatherization. We have a wonderful set of health sciences programs, and we could be doing screenings."
 
In the meantime, a community advisory council that was formed prior to the site’s renovation is continuing to meet monthly; its input will play a role in the programs and services offered in the future.
 
"[At Drexel], there are lots of different kinds of expertise," explains Kerman. "Working together with community partners, we feel that we have an opportunity to do something really special."

Writer: Dan Eldridge
Source: Lucy Kerman, Drexel University
 

PIDC awarded $38 million in tax credits to develop distressed neighborhoods

For the third time in five years, the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation (PIDC) has been awarded a multimillion-dollar allocation in New Markets Tax Credits (NMTC) from the U.S Treasury Department’s Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFI) Fund.

PIDC received a total of $110 million in NMTC allocations in 2009 and 2012; the latest award will add an extra $38 million to the organization’s coffers.
 
Created by Congress in late 2000, the goal of the NMTC program is to bring private investment dollars to low-income and distressed neighborhoods by providing developers with federal tax credits. The application process is competitive -- only 87 organizations received allocations from the most recent round, which totaled $3.5 billion in NMTC awards.  
 
Ultimately, the hope is that the allocations will stimulate a level of private investment even greater than the initial credit. Here in Philadelphia, that goal is being met. A total of $239 million in private sector investment resulted from the $110 million previously allocated via PIDC. And that’s to say nothing of the 950 jobs created thanks to those projects.
 
The mixed-use Oxford Mills apartment-and-office facility in Fishtown, for instance -- which was the subject of a 2013 New York Times feature -- was a recipient of PIDC’s previous allocations. So too was the NewCourtland LIFE Center, a senior health and wellness center that sits on a long-vacant former brownfield site.
 
As for what will come of PIDC’s 2013 award, Marketing and Communications Director Jessica Calter says it’s a bit too early to tell.

"We do have a pipeline of projects to utilize our $38 million allocation," she says. "But at this point I can’t talk about any specifics."

Writer: Dan Eldridge
Source: Jessica Calter, PIDC

Sneak Peak: Progress at Pier 53

This past weekend, Philadelphians were offered a sneak peak of Pier 53, an ambitious waterfront renovation project at the foot of Washington Avenue. Flying Kite headed down there on Saturday to snap some pictures and take in the gorgeous views of the Delaware. 

A joint venture between the Friends of Washington Avenue Green and the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation (DRWC), the project will not only add green space to city, but also memorialize the immigration station that operated on the pier starting in 1876. At one point, Pier 53 processed up to 1,500 immigrants per day. (Click here for more on the history of the immigration station.)

After checking out the under-construction space, we walked north to check out progress at Spruce Street Harbor Park. That fabulous installation opens to the public on Friday, June 27. Barges boasting loungers and picnic tables, dozens of hammocks, and beach-like dunes are already in place -- it's a can't miss.

For more outdoor summer fun, check out The Visit Philly Beer Garden Series.

Writer: Lee Stabert

 

Upcoming Plenty Café in Queen Village will be the local mini-chain's largest location yet

In a city that has gone from fine-dining desert to a veritable foodie paradise in the space of a decade, building a gourmet café chain that captures the interest of the city is anything but easy.
 
And yet that's exactly what brothers Anthony and Damon Mascieri are accomplishing with Plenty Café, their quick-service sandwiches-and-coffee cafe known for its use of natural, organic and local ingredients. The majority of the menu is inspired by the brothers' international travels.  
 
After opening the original Plenty Café on East Passyunk in 2012, and then following up with a bi-level Rittenhouse Square location soon after, the Mascieris have announced the launch of a third location. Due to open in summer 2015 at South Fifth and Monroe Streets in Queen Village, the new café will feature a specialty coffee bar and rotating menu.
 
The Mascieris have made a habit of purchasing each of the buildings in which their cafes reside and then developing residential real estate on the floors above. The Queen Village location will feature nine luxury apartments that Damon's firm, Mascieri Group, will put on the market around the same time the café opens its doors.     
 
"This location is definitely going to be the biggest of the three," says Anthony. "And being that it's on a corner [lot], we're really going to take advantage of all the window space. We'll do really extensive outdoor seating, and add a lot of greenery and other things to make it a really attractive destination for lunch."     
 
Writer: Dan Eldridge
Sources: Anthony and Damon Mascieri, Plenty Café 
 

PWD commissions medallions and manhole covers to celebrate clean water infrastructure

The Philadelphia Water Department (PWD) has announced the winner of a recent design competition, Uncover the Green, in which university-level art students were challenged to develop a decorative medallion to appear near the city's green infrastructure projects. Tyler School of Art student Lauren Hoover came out on top.
 
The students were also tasked with designing a new manhole cover for the city. As with the medallions -- which will be inset into city sidewalks -- PWD hopes the eye-catching manhole covers will spotlight green infrastructure projects.          
 
The competition was developed as a visibility effort for PWD's Green City, Clean Waters plan, a $2.4 billion initiative to manage the area's watershed and control its sewer overflow for the next 25 years. 

Accoding to PWD's Tiffany Ledesma Groll, "no other city is investing in green infrastructure in the way that Philadelphia is." 

"We want to make sure the city's investments in green infrastructure are visible, because our stormwater trees look like regular trees, and our rain gardens -- they look like gardens," she explains. "We needed to figure out a way to make them stand out."

The city hopes to have the medallions fabricated and in the ground within a year -- they may eventually appear next to every green infrastructure project in the city, according to Groll. (Currently, 756 such projects have been completed or are in-progress.) Due to cost restrictions, it's unclear when the newly-designed manhole covers will be produced. 

Writer: Dan Eldridge
Source: Tiffany Ledesma Groll, Philadelphia Water Department
 

Following a years-long search, the Kensington Community Food Co-op finds a home

Persistence pays dividends -- at least that's the story of the Kensington Community Food Co-op (KCFC).

After searching for a location in the Kensington area for more than two years, the site-selection committee of the soon-to-be-built member-owned grocery store has announced an end to its quest.
 
The market will take root at the corner of Frankford and East Lehigh Avenues in East Kensington, on the site of the shuttered O'Reilly's Pub at 2672 Coral Street.  
 
According to KCFC president Lena Helen, it was the husband-and-wife team of Mike and Sue Wade -- two neighborhood investors who've since become co-op members -- who came to KCFC's aid after hearing of its inability to secure a site.

Not only did the Wades purchase the former O'Reilly's Pub and agree to lease the building at a low rate to the co-op, the Wades also included an option for co-op members to purchase the site at a future date.  
 
More exciting still is the news that the co-op has secured a license to serve beer on-site. A small in-store café offering food, beer and other non-alcoholic beverages will be included in the plans, say Helen. Take-away beer will also be sold.   
 
To learn more about becoming a co-op member -- all members will be have ownership in the store and access to the co-op's members-only discount -- visit the KCFC website.  
 
Writer: Dan Eldridge
Source: Lena Helen, Kensington Community Food Co-op
 

Vice Coffee, Tattoos and Books is Eraserhood's newest tri-cultural emporium

It would be exciting enough to learn that the Eraserhood (a.k.a. Callowhill) finally has more than one independent coffee shop. But at the new Vice Coffee, Tattoos & Books, which quietly opened its doors at 1031 Spring Garden Street on February 7, customers can order up a permanent piece of body art with their half-caff quad-shot soy latte.
 
According to Vice co-owner Charlie Collazo, who also operates a nearby craft-beer pub called The Institute Bar, it was the decade he spent as a Home Depot manager that inspired the shop.

"Big-box retail is all about selection and variety," he explains. "There's a diversity of things you're able to offer the customer, so you're not relying on one source of income."
 
The neighborhood's slow-but-steady gentrification was also a motivating factor -- along with the fact that the area is low on boutique coffee. Vice is grinding beans from One Village Coffee and offering pastries from LeBus Bakery, along with a light menu of soups and sandwiches.  
 
And as for the tattoos?

"It's just an idea I had that I thought would be really cool," says Collazo. "To do a really nice, specialty tattoo studio...in a welcoming environment where you come in and you feel comfortable."  
 
It took Collazo three months to receive the approvals necessary to offer tattoos. But, because the shop offers a higher-than-average wage split to its artists, Vice is already staffed with tattooists adept at everything from portraiture and fine-line styles to old-school flash pieces.  
 
To further diversify, the shop also offers a book lending library featuring over 1,000 titles, heavy in sci-fi paperbacks and (of course) pictoral tattoo tomes. Customers can borrow books for up to three weeks at a time.

Writer: Dan Eldridge
Source: Charlie Collazo, Vice Coffee, Tattoos & Books

 

You are cordially invited to a Funeral for a Home

Here's the unfortunate news: Every year in the city of Philadelphia, some 600 homes -- most of them ruined and crumbling beyond repair -- are demolished, never to be brought back to life. It's business as usual in the residential real estate industry.

But when Temple Contemporary started investigating Philadelphia's deteriorating housing stock, the galley's director, Robert Blackson, began thinking differently about the emotional weight carried by the destruction of surplus homes. The poignant memories of a family and its internal life were being bulldozed and turned into so much dust by a demolition crew.  
 
Blackson eventually discovered the work of local artist Jacob Hellman, who had participated in housing demolition work through Mayor John Street's Neighborhood Transformation Initiative. Hellman had held a memorial service of sorts for the era's destroyed homes.

"That led me to think about making [Hellman's memorial] into a larger occasion," explains Blackson.      
 
That "larger occasion" soon became Funeral for a Home. Both an acknowledgement of the local community and an art project, the project's intention is to "celebrate the life of a single Philadelphia row house as it is razed," according to a statement on the group's website.  
 
Beginning at 11 a.m. on May 31, a two-bedroom rowhouse at 3711 Melon Street in Mantua will be laid to rest. This "funeral" will feature speeches from community members, a street procession, a gospel choir and a family-style meal, while helping participants reflect on the challenges of a city overflowing with unused housing.

"I feel [this is] definitely a project that's indicative of our human nature," says Blackson. "To have a kinship with our shelter."
 
The funeral service is free and open to the public. For more on Funeral for a Home, check out this feature from last November.  
 
Writer: Dan Eldridge
Source: Robert Blackson, Temple Contemporary

 

Ambitious Mural Arts project adds color to everyday Amtrak journeys

Philadelphia's extraordinary Mural Arts Program, currently celebrating its 30th anniversary, is known citywide for its colorful work. More than 3,600 murals have been produced since Mayor Wilson Goode hired artist Jane Golden to head the program in 1984.  
 
According to Golden, over the past five years the organization has become especially interested in "gateway projects" -- artworks situated at exit and entrance destinations, such as airports, interstates or major intersections.

"I just think it's so important that we think about what people see when they're leaving and entering Philadelphia," she explains.
 
It was that idea that led Golden and her staff to begin a three-year courtship with Katharina Grosse, the celebrated Berlin-based contemporary painter responsible for Mural Arts' latest large-scale gateway project, psychylustro, which was recently constructed along a stretch of Amtrak's Northeast Rail Corridor between 30th Street Station and North Philadelphia Station.     
 
Reminiscent of the grand outdoor projects that have turned artists like Christo and Jeanne-Claude into household names, psychylustro (pronounced psyche-LUSTRO) consists of a three-mile series of seven different color-drenched installations. There are warehouse walls, building façades and random stretches of green space, all meant to be viewed from the window of a moving train.
 
"We really want people to see what we see," says Golden, referring to the industrial, ruined, stunning sites that have been transformed by pops of Grosse's color. "We see the deterioration but we also see the beauty; we see the history; we see Philadelphia’s past."
 
Visit the Mural Arts website for a project map, details about viewing the works from various city bridges, and information about the mobile audio component that accompanies psychylustro.
 
Writer: Dan Eldridge
Source: Jane Golden, Mural Arts Project

 

Welcome to the next chapter in the ongoing saga of the Divine Lorraine

From its perch on the corner of Broad Street and Fairmount Avenue in North Philly, the ten-story Divine Lorraine -- currently crumbling, nearly in ruins -- has been watching over Philadelphia for 120 years.
 
Recently, the latest chapter in the life of this gorgeous relic was made public: A New Jersey-based real estate mogul with an impressive record of rescuing stalled development projects has agreed to lend just over $31 million to the building's current owner, Eric Blumenfeld, who purchased the building in late 2012 but underestimated renovation costs. So, after sitting empty for the past 15 years, a bit of optimism is in the air.    
 
"It seems my entire career, I came in to finish things other people couldn't get done," says Billy Procida, the lender who's now working with Blumenfeld on the building's renovation. The Lorraine may become a high-end apartment building, Procida says, or perhaps a hotel.
 
Either option will include 21,000 square feet of commercial space -- likely a mix of restaurants, lounges and retail, according to Procida, who feels that a highly visible boutique hotel could turn the neighborhood's fortunes around almost immediately. "I've just got to see if we can find an operator who can move fast enough," he adds.  
 
Procida and Blumenfeld are also exploring a 50-50 option for the building -- turning half of it into apartments and the other half into a hotel. But when it comes to the Lorraine's crucial status in North Philly, Procida has few doubts.

"If this building was finished, that neighborhood would be on fire right now," he says. "The one thing holding that neighborhood back is that building. It's that simple."

Writer: Dan Eldridge
Source: Billy Procida, Procida Funding & Advisors

 

Saxbys Coffee preps new cafe and corporate headquarters in Philadelphia

In a world where coffee snobs are more interested in small-batch roasting houses like Blue Bottle and Intelligentsia than international chains, there's no longer a lot of street cred to be gained by wandering around town with a cardboard Starbucks cup. But if you're the type who's more concerned with showing off your hometown Philly pride, you might want to consider developing a Saxbys Coffee habit.
 
The chain was founded in Atlanta in 2005, but relocated two years later to Delaware County. Saxbys has now plans to move its corporate headquarters once again, this time to Philadelphia proper. And while Saxbys is keeping mum about the date of its upcoming move -- and hasn't yet closed on a location -- those details should be made public this summer.

According to president and CEO Nick Bayer, the company also has tentative plans to open eight new cafes throughout the Mid-Atlantic region this year. Locally, a lease has been signed on a 1,700-square-foot location the company is calling Saxbys Wash West. Scheduled to open on the southwest corner of 11th and Locust this summer, it'll be their sixth location in the city.

"We're also looking at a couple other pieces of real estate in Philly that may deliver this year," says Bayer, who adds that he's also been working for the past 18 months on a deal with Drexel University. "We can't announce exactly where it is just yet," he says of the Drexel cafe, "but it's going to be something very unique; it's going to be much more than just a traditional neighborhood coffee shop."
 
Stay tuned to Flying Kite for more details as the deals develop.
 
Writer: Dan Eldridge
Source: Nick Bayer, Saxbys Coffee 

Manayunk's Lower Venice Island Park and Performance Center gears up for grand opening

Way back in April 2011, Flying Kite brought you the story of Manayunk's Venice Island -- which sits between the Manayunk Canal and the Schuylkill River -- and its nearly ruined Venice Island Recreation Center.

At the time, the rec center was preparing to undergo a $45 million rehab that would include athletic fields, a park, a small spray pool, a multi-use building and a 250-seat performing arts center. The Philadelphia Water Department (PWD) helped arrange the capital funds as a compromise after announcing that an EPA-mandated sewage overflow tank was being constructed in the area.
 
Some three years later -- and eight years after the project's planning and preparation stage first kicked off -- Manayunk's community development organizations are finally ready to announce the upcoming grand opening of what has been dubbed the Lower Venice Island Park and Performance Center.
 
"What's really interesting about the site is that it's in the center of a lot of options for outdoor recreation," says Kay Sykora of Destination Schuylkill River, adding that in conjunction with the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the park and performance center (which will probably happen sometime in September), an outdoor recreation event called Play Manayunk will be hosted for the general public.
 
The "adventure for city dwellers" organization known as Discover Outdoors will be on hand during Play Manayunk, and opportunities for both kayaking and dragon boating should be on offer, according to Sykora, who also hopes to make bicycles available for those who'd like to ride on the Schuylkill River Trail. A geocaching event is also being scheduled, along with an attempt at earning a Guinness World Records entry, possibly by way of a sit-up competition.
 
A concrete date for both Play Manayunk and the Venice Island ribbon cutting ceremony should be available come mid-summer; stay tuned to Flying Kite for more details.     

Writer: Dan Eldridge
Source: Kay Sykora, Destination Schuylkill River

 
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