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MOVING PICTURE: The Roots Mural is Coming Home to South Street

The Roots are officially coming home.

At a press conference last week, the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program announced The Roots Mural Project will live at 6th and South Streets in the Headhouse District where the band was founded.

The mural will tell the story of The Roots, especially Ahmir ?uestlove Thompson and Tariq Black Thought Trotter's founding of the group.

The artistic team was also announced. The Amber Design Collective team features Tatyana Fazlalizadeh, David Guinn, Ernel Martinez, Charles Barbin, Willis Humphrey and Keir Johnston. The Roots Mural will be across the street from the Mural Arts mural Mapping Courage: Honoring the Legacy of WEB Dubois and Engine 11, which was painted by Humphrey.

The design will be finalized in the spring, when mural painting will begin. The mural is expected to be dedicated in October, which is Mural Arts Month.



Courtesy of the Roots and the Mural Arts Program

Not much snow, but a revived historic lodge at Montco's Spring Mountain

A half-century ago, Schwenksville was considered a destinations for vacationers from the Delaware Valley, along with the Jersey Shore and Poconos, thanks to Spring Mountain skiing and the Perkiomen Creek. Quite a bit has changed since then, as Schwenksville isn't exactly a household name any longer. However, Rick and Gayle Buckman, co-owners of Schwenksville's Spring Mountain ski resort, are hoping to revive the area's appeal to visitors. To do this, they recently renovated and re-opened the historic Woodside Lodge, formerly known as the Woodside Inn and Woodside Manor. 

The Woodside Lodge began accepting visitors again at the end of January. According to Gayle Buckman, the inn features mostly two-room suites with fireplaces. The Buckmans are clearly proud of their lodge's legacy, which dates to 1923. In the midst of the $1.5 million renovation, "we were able to uncover some of the historical elements,” says Gayle Buckman. This includes the building's porches, which, with the exception of one, were opened up like they were decades ago. Buckman is also proud that she was able to preserve the inn's original staircase, although it had to be enclosed due to the fire code.

Spring Mountain was also able to maintain most of the wooden floors on the first level of the lodge. The Buckmans added transoms, which are wooden crosspieces separating doors from windows above them, to add to the historic mystique of the lodge. After all, transoms were prevalent before air conditioning was commonly used because they facilitated cross ventilation. For those of you visiting Spring Mountain during the summer, there's no need to fret, as the lodge is air-conditioned. 

The Buckmans believe the re-opening of Woodside means great things are in store for Spring Mountain. The lodge makes the mountain "a destination,” points out Gayle Buckman. During the winter (assuming it's cold enough), visitors can enjoy a day crammed with skiing and a night relaxing at the Woodside. During the summer, tourists can take advantage of the mountain's one-of-a-kind zip-line canopy, which Buckman says attracts people from across the country, and retire to the inn. The inn is also convenient to the Perkiomen Trail, which is popular among bicyclists.

The lodge also features the Buckman Tavern, whose chef Michael Kenney has experience as Will Smith's personal chef and as a cook at the Four Seasons Hotel. Currently, the tavern is open for dinner, and serves American comfort food. Entree prices range from $15 to $26. Along with entrees, the tavern serves soup, salads, "starters,” and sandwiches. It is generally open between 4:30 and 9 p.m., with later hours on Thursdays and weekends. Kenney also prepares breakfast for overnight guests. 

Woodside's re-opening open house in late January proved to be a big hit. Gayle Buckman says between 800 and 1,000 people showed up to christen the historic lodge. Among them were the grandson of the original architect and the co-owner of the Woodside in the 1940s, the latter of which is now in her late 90s. Needless to say, there were plenty of pictures of the inn and manor from when Schwenksville enjoyed its heyday. With the lodge re-opened, the Buckmans hope for similar pictures in the future.  

Writer: Andy Sharpe
Sources: Gayle and Rick Buckman

Camden community group believes bike/ped trails play a role in Cramer Hill's revival

The national Rails-to-Trails Conservancy held a trails forum at Rutgers Camden this past Friday in conjunction with Cooper's Ferry Partnership and the William Penn Foundation. The forum, a local byproduct of Rails-to-Trails' Urban Pathways Initiative (UPI), concentrated on the need for bicycle and pedestrian trails in Camden. The forum comes in the throes of the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission's (DVRPC's) Regional Trails Program, which awarded money to Camden in mid-December.

While there's potential for a number of new trails in Camden, DVRPC awarded $150,000 towards the design phase of the Baldwin's Run Tributary Trail, says Chris Linn, manager in DVRPC's Office of Environmental Planning. Meishka Mitchell, the Vice President of Neighborhood Initiatives at Cooper's Ferry Partnership, hopes to "daylight" the Baldwin's Run tributary, which forms from the Delaware River and runs through the Cramer Hill neighborhood of Camden. By "daylighting," Mitchell means unearthing the tributary, which was filled with dirt in the 1960s, by creating a trail out of it.

The Baldwin's Run Tributary is now the site of Von Neida Park, which is Cramer Hill's most sizeable park. Usually a park connotes positive things for a neighborhood, but things aren't always as they seem in Cramer Hill. In fact, Cooper's Ferry complains that the park is prone to flooding, illegal activity, and a lack of upkeep. Flooding is the most dire woe, as nearby homeowners are left waterlogged after many storms. The flooding stems from the filling-in of the creek, which Mitchell's CDC hopes to rectify by removing the dirt and turning the body of water into a trail and drainage area.  
Mitchell is convinced of the plentiful benefits that trails can have for impoverished Cramer Hill. While it wasn't funded during the first phase of the Regional Trails Program, she is optimistic that a trail will be built along the Cooper River. She says a trail here could generate as much as $600 million for the city, expand its tax base, and help re-develop its brownfields, of which there are many. There is currently zero public access to the Cooper River in Cramer Hill. 

The vice president is happy with how the Urban Pathways forum went. "The event has helped to raise awareness on critical missing links, economic development, and neighborhood restoration," lauds Mitchell. The forum consisted of five sessions, which discussed how trails in Camden and its older brother across the Delaware River can connect, waterfront trail facilitation, how trails promote public health, teaching youth about trails, and funding trails.   

Writer: Andy Sharpe
Sources: Meishka Mitchell, Cooper's Ferry Partnership and Chris Linn, DVRPC

Senator working to give old South Philly Armory more local control to make way for redevelopment

For the past few decades, a mammoth building has sat decomposing on South Broad St., in a neighborhood that has otherwise been a beacon for redevelopment. This building is the former Third Regiment Armory at Broad and Wharton, which was last used by the National Guard in the 1980s. Since that time, the building has lay relatively dormant, embroiled in a dispute between the state Department of General Services and the local Tolentine Community Center and Development Corporation. Yet, state Senator Larry Farnese is hoping to change this, and spur redevelopment of the building.

Farnese recently authored Senate Bill 1368, which calls on the state to give Tolentine more control over the Armory by removing onerous restrictions. Tony Mannino, chief of staff for Sen. Farnese, says that the state Department of General Services mandated that the Armory could only be used for community services and could not be sold. Thus, the state senator wants to see these restrictions removed.

According to Mannino, one of the main problems with the Armory is that Tolentine doesn't have the money to adequately fix it up. "The condition of the building is so bad," admits Mannino. This includes the floors on the Broad St.-side of the building, which have partially collapsed. Ostensibly, the state didn't even grasp how poor the condition of the building was. "The building is in a more deteriorated condition than the Department of General Services had previously understood it to be," Mannino adds. 

Still, Farnese's office says the building is structurally sound to the best of their knowledge. Tolentine Community Center has been working with the city's Department of Licenses and Inspections in recent years, and made substantial repairs to the Armory's roof in early 2011. 

While Farnese wants to clear a path to re-development for the Third Regiment Armory, there has yet to be a solid plan as to what the rebirth should look like. "We want a re-development consistent with good use for the community," says Mannino. Mannino offers a revelation when he says the parcel seems to be zoned R-10A, which means residential. So, parties will likely have to pursue a variance for anything else. 

Apparently, Farnese's office has only had preliminary meetings with the Passyunk Square Civic Association and South Broad Street Neighbors about the Armory so far. They're currently concentrating on getting SB 1368 passed in the state Senate and House, so thoughts of how specifically to redevelop the space will have to come later. The bottom line is, Farnese is "trying to balance the interests of the community, state, and Tolentine," says Mannino. Hopefully, this balance will lead to further re-development on S. Broad sooner rather than later. 

Writer: Andy Sharpe
Source: Tony Mannino, Sen. Farnese's Office

New Francisville condo development will offer stunning view of Center City

Francisville continues to be a hot neighborhood for development, situated between Center City and Temple University with convenient access to the Broad St. Subway. The latest construction will be a 35-unit condominium complex at 19th and Poplar by local developer Michael Loonstyn. Loonstyn received support from the Francisville Neighborhood Development Corporation (FNDC) and permission from the city’s Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA) last week, and looks to be ready to start building in May.

Loonstyn, owner of MJL Properties, will be erecting a four-story condo building along 19th St. between Poplar and Parrish Sts. According to Loonstyn, there will be a 100-seat restaurant on the first floor with indoor and outdoor seating. At this point, Loonstyn is unsure of what kind of restaurant will be put in, although he said it will likely serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner. 

The fourth level of the development will consist of roof decks, which promise an impressive view of Center City. “The property Loonstyn development is working on is at the highest point in the surrounding area,” points out Seth Trance, the design chair for FNDC’s Zoning Committee. He adds that it’s the acme of an area that includes all of Center City and much of North Philadelphia.

The developer re-assures the FNDC that the condo complex will be sustainable. It will include “green roofs, impervious pavers, and trees around,” says Loonstyn. In addition, there will only be 21 designated parking spaces for the 35 units, encouraging residents to use sustainable forms of transportation. To make up for the limited parking, Loonstyn has plans for bike storage. The new homes will also have a Route 33 bus stop right outside, which provides frequent service to Center City. Despite his interest in sustainability, the developer concedes that the condos will not be LEED-certified.

The development sits on an underdeveloped stretch of 19th St., not far from Girard Ave., Girard College, and St. Joe’s Prep. It is one of two triangles, created by the diagonal streets that set Francisville apart from other neighborhoods with grid streets, along 19th that are ripe for redevelopment. There is currently a forsaken building on the site. Loonstyn says he will have to “demolish the entire structure that currently exists.” Some reports have said the site is contaminated with lead, although the developer says he conducted a study that refutes that.

Loonstyn’s development was met with some questions about parking from FNDC members, but received an overwhelming 102 to 24 vote in favor from the community group. He expects to begin work on May 1, with construction lasting about a year. Each unit will take up 990-1,200 square feet. When the condos are ready for sale, Loonstyn anticipates a price tag in the high $100,000s or low $200,000s. 

Writer: Andy Sharpe
Source: Michael Loonstyn

Roxborough emerging from Northwest's shadows with new businesses, preservation and improvements

For decades, Manayunk and Chestnut Hill have dominated Northwest Philly’s business development scene with their vibrant commercial corridors. However, a new player is emerging as a destination for shoppers and diners: Roxborough, and the burgeoning Ridge Ave. corridor, is seeing an influx of new businesses, streetscape improvements, and historic preservation in its surrounding neighborhood.

The Roxborough Development Corporation (RDC) has played a vital role in the resurgence of Ridge Ave. James Calamia, the operations manager at the RDC, is excited about the new businesses that are slated to open this year. Most notably, the popular beer distributor and gourmet deli The Foodery just purchased the RDC’s erstwhile office on the avenue west of Green Lane. Calamia is proud to report that this will be The Foodery’s largest location yet. He says the current drawings, which are always subject to change, have fridges filled with beer wrapping around the entire store and plentiful seating.

While The Foodery won’t open until May at the earliest, a number of new businesses have opened in the past three months or will be opening shortly. Calamia says that Blackbird House Antiques at Ridge and Shawmont, Giovanni’s Child Care at Ridge and Leverington, and TD Bank at Ridge and Hermit have all opened in the past three months. Another new business, Kitch-N Collectibles, is planning on opening very shortly across from RDC’s old office. Kitch-N Collectibles is actually re-locating to Roxborough from Manayunk.

While business development is a massive part of the equation in Roxborough, the RDC points out that the neighborhood is also benefitting from historic preservation efforts. Calamia relays that the community was just awarded a $30,000 grant from the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia to rehabilitate “gothic houses” on Lyceum Ave. and Green Ln, only a block away from the Ridge corridor. This is a means to “help build and grow Roxborough’s unique persona,” says Calamia.

Roxborough is also benefiting from a $2.2 million grant from the city to make streetscape enhancements along Ridge Ave. According to Calamia, this will result in smoother sidewalks, better lighting, and new planters. He believes these improvements will lead to a “new foundation for Roxborough and the whole area.” “It will make the area more walkable and improve aesthetics,” Calamia adds. Depending on weather conditions, he anticipates the streetscape enhancements will be finished during the summer.

The RDC alludes to more exciting development along Ridge Ave. in the years to come. Calamia says Planet Fitness has expressed interest in the shuttered Golden Chrysler dealership, which would be the discount gym’s first location in Northwest Philadelphia. He also says the RDC might be looking to add a park around the intersection of Ridge and Leverington Aves. Finally, the operations director intimates that the former bank at Ridge and Green Ln. might soon be re-developed. He says someone just purchased the historic building, which is known for the sculpted owls on its roof. 

Writer: Andy Sharpe
Source: James Calamia, Roxborough Development Corporation

A sip and taste of Spain comes to 13th St. as dynamic duo grows Midtown Village vision

Marcie Turney and Valerie Safran have just expanded their empire on 13th St. in Midtown Village with the opening of Jamonera, a Spanish tapas bar, this past Sunday. Jamonera, located between Chestnut and Sansom Sts., will serve small and medium-sized plates, wines, and sherries, inspired by the duo's recent travel to Southern Spain. The restaurant will be open for dinner and post-dinner patrons.  

The opening of Jamonera at 105 S. 13th St. solidifies Turney and Safran's imprint on the entire block. They began with a home and gift store called Open House at 107 S. 13th back in 2002. Since then, their passion for the street and Midtown Village has gushed forward with the opening of five other stores and restaurants. At 101, there's Grocery market and catering, while 106 houses Lolita, a Mexican dining option. 108 is home to Verde, a jewelry and gift shop, while 110 finds Barbuzzo, a Mediterranean bar.

Jamonera offers a wealth of culinary options, with all the flair you'd expect from Spain. "Guests can expect to enjoy banderillas of olives, boquerones and guindilla peppers, and crispy calasparra rice with heirloom pumpkin," says Valerie Safran. Other menu items include lamb skewers and cucina. Safran says the tapas plates run from $4 to $36, and are all meant to be shared. 

While the food options are sure to elicit salivation, the drink options are equally impressive. "We've selected a group of wines that we believe are the best expression of Spain's terroir, with earthy reds and bright, crisp whites ideally suited to sipping alongside the varied flavors of the food," describes Safran. Along with the wines, Jamonera serves an enviable selection of sherries.

Both Safran and Turney bemoan the former lack of a genuine tapas restaurant in Midtown Village. They highlight the rich flavors and relaxed atmosphere that accompany tapas restaurants. To best mimic the vibe of a Spanish tapas bar, the entrepreneurs teamed up with Urban Space Development. Together, they decided to festoon the tapas bar with Rioja-colored wood and reddish lighting. They also installed old-fashioned mirrors and intricate wood chandeliers.

The owners are proud of all the work they've done for their block of 13th St. "We love that we've helped transform 13th Street into a destination for the city," says Safran. She points out that the neighborhood was deemed far from appealing by many when she and her business partner opened their first business, but has come a long way. The entrepreneurs' love of their street is palpable on-line as well, where they run a website called "We love 13th Street," which helps link their panoply of stores and restaurants.

Writer: Andy Sharpe
Sources: Valerie Safran and Marcie Turney, Jamonera

Indy Hall's cohousing effort keeps moving along in South Kensington

Hope St. between Palmer and Cecil B. Moore in South Kensington is currently cloaked in abandonment, aside from the trash and weeds that call the block home. Yet, the street may finally live up to its name, as Independents Hall, the popular Philly coworking space, is looking to construct a sustainable cohabitation space between Hope and Howard Sts. This house, called a "K'House,” just received the blessing from the South Kensington Community Partners neighborhood group at a meeting on Thursday, and now awaits an endorsement from the local city councilwoman and the City Planning Commission.

Indy Hall has teamed up with the noted sustainable construction pioneers Postgreen Homes and the architectural firm Digsau to build the K'House. Postgreen plans to build six housing units, designed for both romantic couples and roommates. Each unit will come equipped with its own kitchen and living quarters. Yet, the real story lies in all the shared space between the units, which will be comprised of an industrial kitchen and dining area, a media center, a basement, and a roof deck with a Center City vista. 

As with other Postgreen projects, sustainability will be a guiding principle in the construction of the K'House. This means the house will include "super insulated walls, triple pane windows, Energy Star appliances, high efficiency HVAC, low-flow water fixtures, [and] low VOC [Volatile Organic Compounds] everything,” says Chad Ludeman, the president of Postgreen. Ludeman adds that the location was purposely chosen for its proximity to SEPTA's Berks El stop and walkability. Thus, along with the sustainable elements on the inside, the house will also promote sustainable transportation.

Postgreen and Indy Hall feel as though South Kensington is an ideal neighborhood for the K'House. Ludeman, who lives in the community himself, says that residents can walk to either Northern Liberties or Fishtown, or take a relatively quick train ride to Center City and University City. In addition, "this neighborhood is very much an up-and-coming fringe neighborhood that has passionate residents, both old and new,” points out Ludeman. Finally, Postgreen's president lauds South Kensington for its safety and affordability.

The developers' recent experience with the South Kensington Community Partners only served to bolster their morale in the community. Ludeman is happy to report that the preponderance of feedback from the meeting was supportive or neutral of the K'House, even though the plans call for further density with no further parking. There were some queries about street lighting and fallback plans if the K'House hits a snag, as residents wanted to see the developers' maintain a long-term presence in their neighborhood. Indy Hall's Alex Hillman says that they will continue to listen to their neighbors.

Ludeman is happy with the reaction from the Community Partners, but is already tracing the Postgreen's and Indy Hall's next steps. He says they will next pursue the support of their local councilwoman, Maria Quinones Sanchez, and the City Planning Commission. After that, he anticipates going in front of the Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA) to get a variance for type of use, a shortage on the open space requirement, and lack of parking. For those of you looking for a place to live, the good news is Indy Hall is still accepting applications to join the K'House.

Writer: Andy Sharpe
Sources: Chad Ludeman, Postgreen Homes and Alex Hillman, Independents Hall

PIDC looking for public input with Lower Schuylkill River Master Plan

Anyone who's been to Bartram's Garden or traveled through Philadelphia to get to the airport can attest that the neighborhoods around the lower Schuylkill River are quirky places. In many cases, the land doesn't comprise neighborhoods, but rather heavy industry, transportation infrastructure, and parkland. The Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation (PIDC) has begun to examine the Lower Schuylkill River area, and is looking for public feedback.

Kate McNamara, PIDC's project manager for the Lower Schuylkill Master Plan, says the study area comprises "3700 acres of historically industrial land in South and Southwest Philadelphia." The eastern boundary is the intersection of I-95 and 76, while Lindbergh Blvd. forms the western edge. The area flexes as far north as the southern rim of University City.

The PIDC begins the study with the realization that this area has challenges. McNamara laments that 68 percent of the city's poorly-used and abandoned industrial land blights the Lower Schuylkill. In addition, there's the 400-pound gorilla in the closet, which is the impending sale or closure of Sunoco's Philadelphia refinery in June. 

With the challenges in mind, the area around the Lower Schuylkill River wields considerable potential. McNamara alludes to two studies, PIDC's "Industrial Land and Market Strategy" and the City Planning Commission's "Philadelphia 2035," both of which laud the area as being ripe for economic development. The project manager rattles off a list of attributes there, which include relatively enormous parcel sizes, access to transportation infrastructure, and accessibility to the Schuylkill River.

McNamara gives a few goals for the Master Plan, although specifics won't be possible until after public input and study. She wants to see the Schuylkill River Trail extended to help link Center and University Cities with Bartram's Garden and other destinations. From a business development standpoint, McNamara wants to see the area "positioned to attract new businesses, private investment and quality jobs."

The Master Plan is currently in its infancy, with plenty of opportunity for you, the public, to comment. PIDC will be holding two open houses this week, the first of which is Wednesday evening at the Richard Allen Preparatory School, and the second of which is Thursday evening at St. Gabriel's Roman Catholic Church on Dickinson St. In addition, there is a 40-member advisory group, which has met twice thus far, says McNamara. PIDC is working on the Master Plan in conjunction with the architecture and urban design firm Chan Krieger NBBJ.

Source: Kate McNamara, Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation
Writer: Andy Sharpe Photo by Michael Weaver

South Jersey hopes to prove that an earthquake can't bring down an old opera house

Like many South Jersey cities, Woodbury used to offer a thriving Main Street, punctuated by the G.G. Green Block. Dreamed up in 1880, The G.G. Green Block was a block-long building that served as an opera house, theater, and shopping destination for the Gloucester County seat. Yet, in 2001 the store that called the Green Block home shuttered, leaving the building to collect cobwebs for the next decade. Many observers thought the final straw for the building was the earthquake this past year, which caused inspectors to deem the building unsafe. Defying the odds, city officials may have worked out a deal to save the building.

As recently as this past autumn, all hope seemed to be lost for preserving the G.G. Green Block. City council members and code enforcement officers felt as though the building needed to be demolished because it was structurally unsafe and an eyesore. The state Department of Environmental Protection agreed, which many thought was the death knell for the historic building. However, mayor Ron Riskie says that the cost of demolition turned out to be pricey (around $1 million).

Stung by the high price of demolition, Woodbury once again looked at preserving and re-developing the Green Block. In late December, city council announced it had found an eager re-development partner in RMP Development Group. Mayor Riskie says the building could be preserved as mixed-use development. “If the current plan is followed, we would see retail space on the first floor, and living units on the second and third floors,” says an encouraged mayor. Of the new housing, 20 percent would be affordable, while the remaining 80 percent would be priced at fair market rates.

Understandably, the Woodbury community is excited by the chance to save the fabled building. “The community is overwhelmingly pleased,” reports Riskie. “We saved the ‘centerpiece’ of the City.”

While city officials and residents are hopeful that the proposed preservation and re-development comes to fruition, it’s not a guarantee. The mayor admits that funding for the re-development still needs to be settled, although he anticipates that the city would purchase the building for a dollar, and then transfer it to RMP. Unfortunately, past proposals of re-developing the building have failed, including a popular proposal just a year ago to turn G.G. Green into a performing arts center.

Source: Mayor Ron Riskie, Woodbury
Writer: Andy Sharpe

New Year's resolution: Connecting the city and its suburbs with a trail

As we stare at a new year, it looks like one of the hottest trends in recreation and transportation will continue. Yes, we're talking about a new trail. Specifically, trail advocates are looking at a labyrinth of rights-of-way through Northwest Philadelphia and southeastern Montgomery County as fertile ground for bicyclists and pedestrians. The Friends of the Cresheim Trail, which is the advocacy group behind this trail, is planning a big year.

The proposed trail begins in Mount Airy, runs along the border of Mount Airy and Chestnut Hill, and then meanders through Springfield, Cheltenham, and Whitemarsh Townships in Montgomery County, explains Susan Dannenberg, the chair of the Friends of Cresheim Trail. One of the primary hurdles to sculpting the trail is that different proposed segments are currently owned by varying entities. For example, Dannenberg confirms that the desired beginning of the trail in Mount Airy is owned by Fairmount Park, while PECO Energy has control of other parts of the route.

Dannenberg prognosticates that the eight-mile Cresheim Trail will get built one mile at a time. "Trails take a long time to get built," recognizes Dannenberg. She wants to see the Mount Airy segment go into operation first, which begins at the intersection of Allens Lane and Lincoln Drive, near the Allen Lane Train Station. Next, Dannenberg wants to see the portion along well-traveled Cresheim Valley Drive. This would provide access to Germantown Ave., the incoming Chestnut Hill Quaker meetinghouse, and the suburbs.

In order to accomplish anything, the Friends of Cresheim Trail has its work cut out for itself. Dannenberg hopes to apply for tax-exempt non-profit status this year, at which point they can start applying for grants. She would also like to throw house parties at residences near the proposed trail, which would be aimed at offsetting skepticism from trail neighbors. "There are a couple of places where people are concerned about a trail near their houses," admits Dannenberg. Much of the criticism has come from residents of Springfield and Cheltenham Townships.

On the other side of the coin, the proposed trail has an impressive array of supporters. Dannenberg says that the Chestnut Hill Rotary Club and Mt. Airy USA have been vocal supporters in the city. Local Rotarians went so far as to hold an art competition to raise money for the Cresheim Trail. Yet, the trail also has considerable support among Montgomery County institutions, including Cheltenham Township, the Springfield Township Board of Commissioners, and the School District of Springfield Township, which the trail would run through.   

Source: Susan Dannenberg, Friends of Cresheim Trail
Writer: Andy Sharpe

Kensington Community Food Co-op working hard to expand influence of co-ops around Philadelphia

Food and energy cooperatives have certainly gained steam in the Delaware Valley in the past few years. Odds are you’ve heard of Weaver’s Way Co-op in Northwest Philadelphia, and you may have even heard of Mariposa and the Energy Co-op. Yet, there’s one you may not have heard of that’s working with federal and city lawmakers to pump up the clout of local co-ops. This co-op is the Kensington Community Food Co-op (KCFC), which was founded in 2008.

One of KCFC’s top priorities is to get the United States House of Representatives to pass the National Cooperative Development Act, according to Peter Frank, the vice president of KCFC and the campaign coordinator of the movement to pass the act. While this is national legislation, Frank is unequivocal that the passage would be a great thing for the Philadelphia-area. “Philadelphia also has a good 'co-op infrastructure' in place to support further co-op development,” says Frank.

This would explain the November launch of the Philadelphia-area Cooperative Alliance (PACA). Along with KCFC, the Alliance counts members from Weaver’s Way, Mariposa, the Energy Co-op, and credit unions. Frank says PACA is orchestrating a cooperative conference at Drexel University in June, which is being organized by the grandson of former mayor Richardson Dilworth on Drexel’s behalf. One of PACA’s first tasks will be to work with Philadelphia City Council to pass a resolution recognizing the social and economic windfalls of cooperatives in the city. 

KCFC’s Vice President is so passionate about the National Cooperative Development Act and PACA because of the positive impact they can have on Kensington. For one thing, KCFC has been looking to open up its own grocery store for some time now, but has not had the funds to do so. The proposed bill could turn the key for this grocery store. Going beyond just KCFC, Frank lauds cooperatives as a chance for decent jobs, vital grocery and banking services, and a means of keeping money in and around Kensington.  

The myriad local benefits of cooperatives justifies why local representative Chaka Fattah wrote the Act, while fellow local Reps. Allyson Schwartz and Bob Brady co-sponsored. Specifically, the bill would provide capital funding for co-ops, along with free technical assistance and training, says Frank. The bill was officially introduced to the U.S. House as H.R. 3677 a couple of weeks ago. No word on when it will go up for vote.

Source: Peter Frank, Kensington Community Food Co-op
Writer: Andy Sharpe

Public space, variety of development in University City expected to continue in 2012

University City continued to distinguish itself as a viable office and residential alternative to Center City in 2011. In fact, there were a number of exciting groundbreakings and announcements that dealt with new public space, high-rise development, and corridor enhancement between 29th and 43rd Sts, with the promise of more to come in the new year.
The past 12 months were especially noteworthy for all the new public spaces in University City. Rail commuters and pedestrians at 30th St. Station got The Porch, which is an outdoor promenade that featured yoga, a farmer's market, life-sized puppets during the month of November. The University of Pennsylvania opened up a new park to help bridge the wedge between University and Center Cities, which offers walking paths and athletic facilities. Finally, the city experimented with a "parklet" in front of the Green Line Café at 43rd and Baltimore, which meant replacing a few parking spots with outdoor seating.
University City also found itself in the throes of interesting high-rise development and corridor beautification efforts. University Place Associates finally got the anchor tenant it needed to announce groundbreaking for 2.0 University Place at 41st and Filbert, which is envisioned to be the city's first LEED pre-certified building. Also, public art flourished on Lancaster Ave. from 35th to 40th Sts. as a means to draw attention to the continued re-development of that corridor.
If you like what you're hearing, University City District's Prema Gupta should make you hopeful for 2012. Gupta reveals that the University City District received two grants from the city for pedestrian plazas. She says that her group is considering using them at the intersection of Baltimore Ave, Florence Ave., and 48th St., as well as on the University of the Sciences campus at 42nd and Woodland. 

Sources: Prema Gupta, University City District, and all the 2011 Development news-makers in University City 
Writer: Andy Sharpe

Welcome back to Brewerytown: Lots of new options for living, business and vitality in 2012

In the 24 years since the last brewery shut down in Brewerytown, the neighborhood has struggled with poverty and crime. Yet, for a neighborhood that so many people wrote off years ago, Brewerytown is making a comeback. This is evident in the development efforts underway on and north of Girard Ave. that Flying Kite wrote about in 2011.
MM Partners has been at the forefront of much of the development in Brewerytown. The exclusively-Brewerytown developer had a busy year trying to attract new residents and businesses to the neighborhood.
On the residential side, MM Partners set up a blog called Brewerytown Living in May to highlight noteworthy happenings for residents throughout the neighborhood. This blog appears to still be thriving with four posts this month about Amazulu, a holiday pop-up shop, Mugshots Café and Coffeehouse, and a toy drive. Also, MM Partners made progress on constructing a new condominium complex at 28th and Thompson Sts., called North 28.
MM Partners and Brewerytown also had a decent year for business development along Girard Ave. A new Bottom Dollar food market at 31st and Girard is on its way to reality, with a groundbreaking planned for early March and an opening scheduled for next autumn. In addition, the developer negotiated to get a taqueria to agree to locate along Girard Ave., with an opening date in late winter or spring of the coming year.
In the midst of all this development, Brewerytown leaders kept an eye on sustainability. MM Partners quickly adopted Olin Studios’ and Interface Design’s internationally renowned Patch/Work ideas for sustainability. According to MM’s Aaron Smith, Brewerytown might be able to implement some of the bold solar energy and guerilla gardening ideas in as little as six to eight months. Also, Marathon Grill opened an urban farm at 27th and Master to provide food for their restaurants. 
Rebecca Johnson, the executive director of the Fairmount CDC, outlined further sustainability efforts in 2011, and beyond. She lauded businesses along Girard Ave. for taking part in a Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation (PIDC) program providing rebates for energy-efficient buildings. She also highlighted some guerilla gardening, where residents or organizations turned abandoned lots into community gardens. She predicted guerilla gardening would remain a trend in 2012, and recommended anyone interested look up abandoned lots on the city Board of Revision of Taxes website.    

Sources: Aaron Smith, MM Partners and Rebecca Johnson, Fairmount CDC
Writer:  Andy Sharpe

Onion Flats hopes to connect the Schuylkill Trail with East Falls through mixed-use development

Onion Flats is looking to capitalize on East Falls' proximity to the Schuylkill River Trail and Fairmount Park by redeveloping the former Rivage catering hall between Kelly Dr. and Ridge Ave. The Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority just gave Onion Flats the go-ahead to design a sustainable residential and retail complex called The Ridge. Given the property's accessibility and visibility by bike, bus, and car, there's considerable buzz surrounding this redevelopment in East Falls.

The Norris Square-based developer proposes a 5-story 128,440 sq. ft. development for The Ridge. According to Tim McDonald, president of Onion Flats, this will consist of 126 one- and two-bedroom apartments and 8,700 sq. ft. of retail space. McDonald gives some hints as to what kind of retail will be included by saying "ours will be small-scale retail, cafe, restaurant, etc." He adds that The Ridge has the potential to be a retail "gateway" into East Falls, and a complement to existing businesses on Ridge Ave.

Like their previous development in Fishtown and Northern Liberties, including Rag Flats, Jack Hammer, and Thin Flats, sustainability is going to be a distinguishing feature of The Ridge. McDonald hopes the East Falls development will "become Philadelphia's first Passive House Certified and Net-Zero-Energy mixed-use residential/retail community as well as the country's largest." In simpler language, this means all energy needed for water, HVAC, and lighting will be produced locally using solar energy. Onion Flats also aims to emit net zero carbon dioxide at The Ridge.

As it is proposed, The Ridge will also live and die off of a sense of community. In this vein, McDonald doesn't want to see any in-door hallways, but instead out-door passageways that facilitate interaction between neighbors. Also, the second level of The Ridge is modeled to include a community garden space, which will be visible on upper floors through public viewing spaces. For residents, this community garden will act as a doormat, as the second floor is proposed as the main residential entrance. 

The redevelopment of the Rivage by Onion Flats appears to have the initial blessing of East Falls community groups. Unlike previous controversial proposals involving the police department's Special Victims Unit and a high school for troubled youth, neighborhood groups seem to see The Ridge as a development meant to foster community and put an exclamation point on East Falls' propinquity to Fairmount Park. This is not to say that every element of McDonald's plan will meet with community approval, but in general local residents are excited about the redevelopment. 

The Redevelopment Authority's decision to choose Onion Flats for the Rivage property is just the start of an extended process that includes "community meetings, building permits, closing on financing," and other aspects, says McDonald. Should neighborhood groups offer an endorsement, McDonald expects groundbreaking to commence in early 2013. He expects to offer a final design in six months, including all the sustainability and community elements that have so far been proposed. 

Source: Tim McDonald, Onion Flats
Writer: Andy Sharpe
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