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Valley Forge and the Schuylkill River Trail reunite with opening of new bridge

In August, the Circuit Trail Network got an important new link -- a piece of infrastructure vital to bikers and pedestrians. The new Sullivan’s Bridge, a 14-foot-wide, 602-foot-long bridge trail (running over the river on the west side of the Route 422 Bridge) connects the Schuylkill River Trail and the trails in Valley Forge National Historic Park. It’s an important link between Chester and Montgomery Counties, and another exciting piece of the ever-developing Circuit throughout the Greater Philadelphia region.

The project was a very long time coming, explains Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia and Circuit Trails Coalition Chair Sarah Clark Stuart. The Betzwood Bridge, a metal structure built in the 1800s, originally spanned the Schuylkill near that spot. But by 1991, it had deteriorated so much that PennDOT decided to close and eventually demolish it a few years later. Local cyclists didn’t take kindly to the plan, especially since PennDOT had no apparent plans to replace the span: The organization suggested walkers and cyclists divert three miles to cross at another point, or join the auto traffic on Route 422.

In 1993, passions ran so high that the Bicycle Coalition led a protest at the site of the closed bridge, cutting the chain link fence that had been installed at its entrance. The organization’s board president and executive director at the time were arrested and briefly jailed.

PennDOT's accommodations over the next several years failed to satisfy locals. A shuttle service sputtered and a narrow cantilever catwalk for bikers and pedestrians on the Route 422 Bridge proved too crowded to be safe.

“It was very clear that the lack of a dedicated bicycle/pedestrian bridge was hindering the flow of bike/pedestrian traffic between the Schuylkill River Trail and Valley Forge Historic Park," recalls Stuart.

The decision to build a whole new bridge coincided with the recent rehabilitation of the Route 422 Bridge. Back as far as the 1990s, "it was clearly policy that if you’re going to do any kind of work on a piece of road infrastructure, it has to be a complete project -- it has to accommodate all users…The most economic way to do that was to build a bike/pedestrian-only bridge."

In 2011, open house discussions began on a design.

The August 19 ribbon-cutting for the bridge drew supporters including PennDOT Secretary of Transportation Leslie S. Richards, U.S. Representative Brendan Boyle, Montgomery County Commissioner Val Arkoosh, and hundreds of eager cyclists.

"This is enhancing the Schuylkill River trail network throughout the Greater Philadelphia region," adds Stuart. "It’s going to make the region a stronger and more sustainable place to live and work. When you have a high-quality piece of infrastructure like this, it communicates a lot about how important trails and safe bicycling and walking is to the region at large."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Sarah Clark Stuart, the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia

Save Jewelers Row petition gains quick support in the face of proposed development

What would Jeweler’s Row look like with a brand-new 16-story mixed-use residential tower plopped onto the 700 block of Sansom Street? Philly citizens are grappling with the prospect ever since The Inquirer broke the news about the proposed Toll Brothers development. The Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia acted quickly.

To unify the voices who believe that demolishing five properties from 702-710 Sansom Street would be a loss to Philly’s historic urban fabric, the Preservation Alliance launched a Save Jewelers Row! petition, addressed to City of Philadelphia Director of Planning and Development Anne Fadullon.

Less than a week after its launch on August 11, the petition had garnered almost 3,500 signatures and many comments from concerned locals.

"It was a tool available to give the many people out there who find this proposal shocking and upsetting a voice -- to say to City officials and the developer that we, Philadelphians, don’t want this to happen on Jewelers Row," explains Paul Steinke, executive director at the Preservation Alliance.

He says that the targeted buildings on the brick-paved street are typical of the original Jewelers Row built environment: "small-scale buildings of different sizes, shapes and styles," many dating from the mid-19th century.

"Jewelers Row is the oldest diamond district or jewelry district in the U.S., and the second-largest after New York," adds Steinke, calling it "one of the most iconic retail districts in the city."

The petition’s immediate goal is saving the buildings in question, and maybe with a strong enough response from preservationists and area residents, the developer could be persuaded to build on vacant land or a parking lot.

"Gouging out these six buildings will forever alter Jewelers Row and ruin one of our city’s most iconic destinations," the petition reads.

But Steinke also hopes the petition will help bring attention to larger issues, including the neighborhood’s CMX-5 zoning code, which enabled the project in the first place. That zoning -- which is the same zoning as for buildings like the Comcast Center or Liberty Place -- is "too dense for a street like Jewelers Row," he insists.

Another issue is that Jewelers Row is not a designated local historic district. It’s recognized as "contributing to a national historic district," but is not itself protected. The trouble lies with Philly’s Historical Commission, which, according to Steinke, has not designated any new historic districts since 2010.

"I think the interest in [the petition] is really prodigious," he adds. "It sends a strong signal that Philadelphians care about their city’s historic fabric and are concerned about its potential loss at the hands of developers."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Paul Steinke, Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia

PARK(ing) Day 2016 celebrates nine years of pop-up parklets in Philly

For the ninth straight year, an international event celebrating the transformation of public space is coming to Philadelphia. PARK(ing) Day, held worldwide on the third Friday of September, invites individuals and groups to temporarily repurpose a city parking space for relaxation, play and education. The 2016 incarnation is happening citywide on Friday, September 16 from 10 a.m. - 4 p.m.

Founded by the San Francisco-based Rebar Group in 2005, PARK(ing) Day came to Philly in 2008. The next year, the local Center for Architecture and Design (CAD) took the event under its umbrella.

"It’s certainly grown," says CAD Associate Director David Bender. In 2015, there were approximately 60 participating teams, up from about 25 in 2008. A wide variety of groups create spaces with themes from local history to stormwater management to neighborhood revitalization. Some simply repurpose what is usually a parking space into a miniature day-long oasis for anyone passing by.

CAD has even instituted a special prize: the Golden Cone Award. The five categories vary by year based on what participants dream up. Last year one of the winners was a parklet created by the North 5th Street Revitalization Project -- it won for being the site furthest from Center City: about 57 blocks north.

"We’ll see if anyone gets even further than that [this] year," says Bender. "What’s great about Philadelphia in particular is that the Parking Authority has really come on board full force, and they encourage us to do this. Philadelphia sees the value in public spaces and we’ve got leadership that can see beyond their narrow mandate."

According to Bender, the major goals for the day are for the public to have fun, ro see the value of public space, and to "begin to question the way that our environment is designed, and if it’s designed in a way that best serves our community today."

PARK(ing) Day Philadelphia is presented by the CAD in partnership with the Philadelphia Parking Authority, AIA Philadelphia, the Community Design Collaborative and the Charter High School for Architecture and Design. To celebrate, there will be food and music at a PARK(ing) Day after-party and awards ceremony from 5:30-7:30 p.m. at the Center for Architecture and Design (1218 Arch Street).

The deadline to register is Wednesday, August 31. More info and the required forms are available online.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: David Bender, The Center for Architecture and Design
 

MAAG partners with Mt. Airy USA for new Germantown Avenue development

When a major community hub loses its lease, what happens next?

About a year ago, we spoke with Mt. Airy Art Garage (MAAG) leaders about moving forward after unexpectedly losing their space. It was quite a blow given the nonprofit’s investment of about $250,000 to rehab and customize the formerly vacant and unfinished property near the corner of Germantown and West Mt. Airy Avenues.

Now things are looking up thanks to a partnership with Mt. Airy USA, a local community development organization.

"I think we’ve always recognized how important the artist community is for the neighborhood," says Mt. Airy USA Executive Director Brad Copeland. He’s been working with MAAG co-founders Linda Slodki and Arleen Olshan to give their organization a home in an upcoming mixed-use redevelopment on the 6600 block of Germantown Avenue.

The targeted site is actually two different parcels: Mt. Airy USA had already acquired the property at 6651-53 and begun a rehab; the more recently purchased lot is next door at 6657-59.

The building at 6657-59 was "the most blighted building on that stretch of Germantown Avenue," explains Copeland, calling it "a high-priority property for us…we started thinking about the site as a whole -- what we could do with the combined parcels."

That was when Mt. Airy USA reached out to Slodki and Olshan about whether the new space’s potential commercial footprint of 2,500 square feet could be a good fit for MAAG. The conversation continued from there. Copeland estimates that the new building will be ready for occupancy sometime in 2018 (Mt. Airy USA will partner with a to-be-announced developer).

The organization hopes to have a plan in place for the design and construction of the property -- anchored by MAAG with residential space and perhaps some artist studios -- by this fall. A public meeting in October or November will be held so community members can offer input to the developer.

"There’s a lot of activity in the neighborhood," says Copeland. "It did make sense for us to try to find out how to be good partners."

MAAG has to vacate its current location on August 31. Until it moves into the new space, the organization will be in pop-up mode. Some events will land at 6622 Germantown Avenue; classes and artist group meetings will take place at the Philadelphia Immigrant Innovation Hub at 6700 Germantown Avenue. Patrons and members can visit MAAG at the Lutheran Theological Seminary for Philadelphia Open Studio Tour and the organization's annual Holiday Art Market later this year.

"It’s a pretty exciting project," adds Copeland. "I think the opportunities that come out of it for further kinds of collaboration are even more exciting."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Brad Copeland, Mt. Airy USA

Shift Capital's MaKen Studios brings big change to Kensington

Currently, the most profitable trend for developers is to convert Philadelphia's former industrial behemoths into residential properties. But Shift Capital leaders Brian Murray and Matthew Grande say they're resisting the advice of most brokers with their massive MaKen Studios project on I Street in Kensington. 

"The first thing this area needs is jobs," not more housing, insisted Grande, Shift’s Chief Operating Officer, during an early August presentation to local organizations including Generocity, Campus Philly, Urban Affairs CoalitionPIDC and Flying Kite.

Shift Capital, "a real estate impact group" focused on urban revitalization through "shifts in environmental, social, and economic viability," is finally ready to "start talking to the greater Philadelphia community about what we’re doing," added Founder and Principal Brian Murray.

With a poverty rate nearing 60 percent and a lack of anchor institutions -- such as universities and hospitals -- Kensington relies on the innovation and collaboration of smaller groups like Impact Services CDC and New Kensington CDC.

In Shift’s upcoming MaKen Studios, former industrial space will be available for rent to interdisciplinary artists, small businesses and manufacturers. The project includes two massive buildings in Kensington’s Harrowgate neighborhood at 3525 and 3401 I Street.

Shift purchased the building at 3525 -- dubbed "MaKen North" (home of Jomar Textiles, Inc. until 2010) -- in December 2013 and "MaKen South," the building at 3401 (which includes 8000 square feet of space for the operations and distributions of Snap Kitchen) in February of 2013. The latter building includes 25,000 square feet of south-facing open space, perfect for events overlooking the city.

The former Jomar building will house Shift Capital’s new offices (currently the company operates out of a space on Castor Avenue just south of the Erie-Torresdale stop on the Market-Frankford Line). Prospective tenants already on the docket include a woodworker, a metalworker, a photographer and a small-batch manufacturer. Grande estimates that renovations will be completed in November

Lease terms for the spaces will be flexible, he says -- they could span anywhere from one to ten years. Some makers and companies tour the half-finished spaces and want to sign on right away; others feel that they’d be ready within a few years.

Grande and Murray hope that MaKen Studios will be the perfect spot for a wide range of makers and small businesses, creating much-needed local jobs and taking advantage of the neighborhood’s accessibility to Center City: under twenty minutes on the Market-Frankford Line, and even closer to Fishtown and Northern Liberties.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Sources: Brian Murray and Matthew Grande, Shift Capital

TourPHL is an exciting new resource for lovers of the built environment

Before this year, locals and tourists who were interested in the stories of the Philadelphia's built environment had limited options. But thanks to a brainstorm from Center for Architecture and Design Associate Director David Bender, there’s a new resource in town for those who want to go beyond Independence Hall and Elfreth's Alley.

A team of partners -- including the Center for Architecture, the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia and Hidden City Philadelphia--  have joined forces for a new collaborative resource that pools listings of various tours: TourPHL.org.

"There’s an appetite out there to explore other parts of Philadelphia, but it is less economically viable," explains Hidden City Project Director Peter Woodall, comparing the offerings of an organization like Hidden City against major for-profit tourist draws like Ride the Ducks. "[This is] why you see most of the tours that are outside that Colonial center being run by nonprofits."

TourPHL partners and their offerings represent what Woodall calls areas "that the market doesn’t really service, but are really important and are valuable.”

The project was sparked by Bender in spring 2015. The partners began to bat around ideas about how they could better cooperate -- a website where all the organizations could list their tours was the top idea that emerged.

A few months ago, TourPHL launched. It’s still in its early stages and Woodall has been working to build and maintain it.

He hopes that as the site attracts more traffic, it will gain visibility for locals and tourists who want to "find all of these in-depth tours that go way beyond the Colonial Philadelphia," he says.

Hidden City (coming up on its fifth anniversary this September) is already good at reaching local fans through published stories and social media, "but if you’re just rolling into Philly for a visit, that’s a completely different marketing situation that requires a lot of work," explains Woodall. Now all the information is in one place.

Woodall points to popular Hidden City tours like one of Mt. Moriah Cemetery (which actually spans the Philadelphia city line into Yeadon); one focused on Philly’s industrial history; a bike tour with SPOKE Magazine; and a tour from Center City up into Northern Liberties and Kensington, inviting participants to "understand how you might read certain cues in the urban landscape, and extrapolate from there certain things about how the city developed."

While TourPHL.org grows, folks can follow along on Facebook for information on events like Hidden City’s August 13 Forgotten North Broad Street Tour.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Peter Woodall, Hidden City Philadelphia 

Germantown's YWCA gets another shot at redevelopment

Back in winter of 2015, Flying Kite featured voices calling for the stabilization and reuse of the old Germantown YWCA, an early 20th-century fixture of Germantown Avenue on the northwest side of Vernon Park. This summer, a new RFP is out and neighbors are excited about the future of this historic building.
 
Built in 1914 and owned by the YMCA until its 2006 purchase by Germantown Settlement, the site was an important recreational, social and cultural hub for the neighborhood. By the time the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority (PRA) acquired the building in 2013 for about $1.3 million, fires, vandalism and neglect had led to major safety and financial concerns. The PRA issued an initial RFP with options to demolish or redevelop the property in 2014.
 
That RFP yielded only one proposal, which the PRA didn't greenlight.
 
Amid avid community support for saving the building -- as well as support from Eighth District Councilwoman Cindy Bass -- the PRA applied nearly $1.6 million in Neighborhood Transformation Initiative dollars to improve the building. That work included boarding up windows, structural stabilization and installing a new roof; construction ran from August 2015 to March 2016.
 
“The building’s in much better and more stable shape now than it was previously,” says PRA Executive Director Gregory Heller. When he came on to helm PRA last April, "one of the first things I started looking at are some big, high-profile buildings and pieces of land that are really important to communities that we just need to get out there for redevelopment…and the Germantown YWCA was pretty high on that list."
 
According to the new RFP, "The proposed rehabilitation plan should take into consideration the neighborhood and provide an attractive, well-designed development that enhances the quality and physical appearance of the community." Developers should be aware of the building’s history, preserve its façade and incorporate eco-friendly design features.
 
The RFP has no option for demolition, so neighbors who wanted the structure preserved have gotten their wish. No formal subsidies are offered to potential developers, but the PRA considers the official starting bid of $69,000 to be a subsidy in itself.
  
So far, there’s been a fair amount of interest: eight firms joined an initial walk-through of the building on July 27. (The next pre-submission site visit is scheduled for August 10.)
 
All proposals are due by August 16, 2016; a selection will be finalized by September 30 and an agreement drafted on October 14. The YWCA RFP marks the first time that the PRA will able to accept electronic submissions.
 
"I’ve been getting a lot of support for this," adds Heller. "People are really excited about the potential for bringing that property back and getting it redeveloped."
 
Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Gregory Heller, Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority

U.S. Department of Transportation design event targets Vine Street

In July, a special charrette led by the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) -- one of four events nationwide -- targeted the Vine Street corridor. The goal was to brainstorm ideas for improving the quality of life along Route 676 for commuters and residents alike.

On July 14 and 15, the Chinese Christian Church & Center at 11th and Vine hosted a program packed with community outreach, tours, discussions and presentations. Partners included the Deputy Managing Director’s Office of Transportation & Infrastructure Systems (OTIS; formerly the Mayor’s Office of Transportation and Utilities), the Commerce Department, PennDOT, the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC) and the Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation.

"This exercise has been fantastic because of all these different players in the room," enthused USDOT Chief Opportunities Officer Stephanie Jones.

Before the charrette's final public session, DVRPC Associate Director of Transportation Greg Krykewycz told Flying Kite that the event had "developed an integrated set of ideas" that made it a candidate for the DVRPC Work Program, which studies proposed infrastructure improvements as a possible step toward funding and implementation.

OTIS was responsible for bringing the needs of Vine Street to the USDOT Ladders of Opportunity Every Place Counts Design Challenge. The Washington, D.C.-based Congress for New Urbanism helps USDOT enlist city planners and designers to provide their expertise at the subsquent Ladders of Opportunity charrettes. The Philly event included walking tours, visioning and design meetings, and public forums for reacting to the preliminary designs produced. Participating architects and urban designers included Cindy Zerger and Ken Ray of Toole Design Group, and independent city planner Peter Park of Denver.

According to Park, the team’s observations included Vine Street bridge crossings that are "dangerous," "uncomfortable," and "inhospitable," fast-moving cars, and difficulty in navigating the designated crossing streets. But the "gravitas" of the neighborhood’s "historic urban fabric abounds," he added, even though it’s been "interrupted in significant ways" since the Expressway cut through Chinatown half a century ago.

USDOT's Stephanie Gidigbi shared a distilled vision from designers and participating community members after the two-day session: They hope to "re-imagine community gateways for the Vine Street Corridor that create inclusive and equitable commercial and residential neighborhood connections." More specific themes included green infrastructure, the study of vacant and underutilized space, mixed-use development potential, road diets, landscaping, new crossings and redevelopment of existing surface parking lots.

All of the concepts presented to the full house were preliminary ideas which will require further community input and study. They included a bike and pedestrian bridge to connect Vine Street to the Rail Park and Franklin Square; a "buffered bikeway" on Vine Street that would narrow the roadway and place parking between cyclists and drivers; partially capped bridges; separate bike and pedestrian space in crosswalks; stormwater planters; lighting improvements; and a traffic lane exclusively for bikes and buses.

Gidigbi urged participants to take the momentum into the neighborhood and engage residents in next steps (a report from the event will be made available online). This USDOT design challenge isn’t a finishing point, she added: The goal is to "ignite the conversation."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Sources: Greg Krykewycz, DVRPC; and Ladders of Opportunity leaders and designers

LEED certification meets affordable housing in Fishtown

A new row of homes in Fishtown may represent the future of sustainable development, from both an environmental perspective and a community one. Local developer Postgreen HomesAwesometown (14 units on the 400 block of Thompson Street) is the result of a unique longterm collaboration between the company and the New Kensington CDC.

The project, which features super-insulated walls and roofs, triple pane windows, Energy Star HVAC, green roofs and roof terraces, was certified LEED Platinum in June. The three- and four-bedroom two-bath units boast 1750 to 2100 square feet, with parking for up to two cars. Postgreen Development Manager Brian Ledder says the $420,000 base price aims to be within reach for those making 90 to 110 percent of the median income for the area.

Currently, eight homes are finished and six are still under construction. They’re all sold (four with the help of financing through NKCDC). Philadelphia’s Interface Studio Architects designed the project to achieve the LEED standard; eco-friendly specialist Hybrid Construction is the builder.

According to Ledder, NKCDC held the land, but the site’s history as the former home of Pathan Chemical and a fire after the business was vacated, meant there were challenging environmental issues to resolve. NKCDC wanted to partner with a developer that could handle the remediation (including soil replacement) and that "was interested in being sympathetic to the neighborhood as it was existing...as well as keeping the income levels where they were."

Postgreen launched in 2008, "just after the economy tanked," Ledder recalls, but it turned out to be the right decision: land was cheap, subcontractors needed work and it was a good time to lay groundwork with vendors. The company began by building about three homes per year -- now it’s building 30, with its own construction arm and a sales team.

The next homes available from Postgreen will be the nine-unit Arbor House at the corner of York and Memphis Streets, built to the same green standards as Awesometown. Ledder estimates they’ll be done by early 2017, with sales opening soon.

Postgreen launched the Awesometown development with NKCDC "to prove that you could [achieve LEED certification] at the same time as maintaining affordable units," he concludes. "It didn’t have to be a compromise."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Brian Ledder, Postgreen Homes

Tacony's temporary library builds buzz on Torresdale Avenue

The new South Philadelphia Library is open on Broad Street, but it's only the first of five major renovations planned at libraries across the city. And while work is officially underway on the Tacony Library at Torresdale Avenue and Knorr Street -- it's scheduled to last 18 months -- Tacony isn’t missing a beat in the meantime.
 
"These renovations don’t mean this community should go without a library," explained Sixth District Councilman Bobby Henon at the opening of the Tacony Library and Arts Building (LAB) on June 29. While construction on the new building continues (as part of the Free Library’s Pew-funded Building Inspiration: 21st Century Libraries Initiative), a partnership between the Mural Arts Program (MAP), the Free Library and the Tacony Community Development Corporation has led to this temporary space.
 
Now open at 6918 Torresdale Avenue, LAB occupies a street-level storefront that has been vacant for almost three years. Speakers at the opening included Free Library President and Director Siobhan Reardon and Tacony CDC Director Alex Balloon. They connected the temporary space to the mission of the future library: offering support and resources for small business owners, and spurring the evolution and revitalization of Tacony's commercial corridor.
 
LAB, a "hub for learning, creativity and community engagement," according to the Free Library, will host two MAP artists-in-residence: Nick Cassway (who hopes to develop a solar-powered parklet) and Mariel Capanna (a fresco artist whose residency will focus on the neighborhood’s industrial history). LAB will also play host to public art events, storytime for kids, a computer lab and free WIFI, and a selection of books to borrow.
 
"How we bring art and literature together will be a great experiment at Tacony LAB," said Reardon.

MAP Founder and Executive Director Jane Golden described the space as active and participatory, and hopes that more like it will result from similar partnerships in the future.
 
"It’s an awesome place and something that’s going to be modeled throughout the city of Philadelphia," added Henon.
 
Tacony LAB will open from noon to 8 p.m. on Mondays and Wednesdays; 10 a.m. - 6 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays; and Fridays from 10 a.m. - 5 p.m.
 
Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Sources: Councilman Bobby Henon and other LAB speakers 

At Bartram's, Philly's only 19th century flower garden blooms again

In March, we looked in on the reopening of Bartram House after a $2.7 million renovation project that included vital exterior rehabbing and the construction of 12 geothermal wells. Then on July 14, Mayor Jim Kenney, Senator Anthony Williams, Bartram’s Garden Executive Director Maitreyi Roy and other leaders formally celebrated the restoration of the Ann Bartram Carr Garden, an important 19th century horticultural landmark. (Bartram’s Garden is in our current On the Ground neighborhood.)
 
Developed and maintained on the west side of the house by John Bartram’s granddaughter Ann Bartram Carr (1779-1858), the garden featured ten greenhouses, 1,400 native plant species and about 1,000 exotic plants. Building on the Bartram family legacy of horticultural art, collections and writings -- as well as a world-wide trade in seeds and plants -- the enterprise started in 1810 and continued until the property’s sale in 1850.
 
Buyer Andrew Eastwick preserved the property until the City of Philadelphia took over the historic site. Stewardship of the house and grounds continues to this day in partnership with the John Bartram Association, formed in 1893.
 
Now Carr’s restored 19th-century flower garden is open to the public. Bartram's hosts about 50,000 visitors per year, and the upcoming Bartram’s Mile trail will boost those numbers.
 
"This is what it feels like to steward a legacy," said Bartram's President Elizabeth Stressi-Stoppe of combing through the site’s photographic, archival and architectural history and bringing the garden back to life. "We wanted to get it right."
 
"Ann remains as important today as she did in her time," added Roy.
 
The renovation of recreation centers and gardens is "essential for investment in our neighborhoods and communities," said Mayor Kenney, calling the new Bartram’s Philly’s "living room." He pointed to the fact that all state and city funding for the project came thanks to taxpayers putting their dollars into community green space.
 
"I’m proud to be a Philadelphian today," he enthused.
 
Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell praised the site as a burgeoning destination not only for Philadelphians, but for travelers from across the country. Bressi-Stoppe called it a "nexus" for the cultural, physical and programmatic improvements happening all along the Schuylkill River.
 
Senator Williams touted the "vision, commitment and tenacity" of the Bartram’s board, staff and partners, and called his support for its funding "a simple responsibility," especially since his own father grew up nearby. He also pointed to the Bartram family’s Quaker legacy of peace, understanding and humanity.
 
"It’s much bigger than a garden to me," he continued. "Today is a statement. For all the violence, this is a place of peace."
 
Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Sources: Ann Bartram Carr Garden speakers

 
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On the Ground is made possible by the Knight Foundation, an organization that supports transformational ideas, promotes quality journalism, advances media innovation, engages communities and fosters the arts. The foundation believes that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more, visit knightfoundation.org.

Support living shorelines at a pioneering Philly park

According to a campaign from Pew Charitable Trusts, U.S. coastlines are in serious trouble: The expanding use of concrete bulkheads and seawalls is "threatening the borders of our oceans, lakes and rivers," damaging and destroying wetlands that people, plants and animals rely on. Fortunately, Philadelphia is host to one of the only sites in the region working on a real solution.

In 2012, at Lardner's Point Park in Tacony, the Delaware River City Corporation (DRCC) constructed what’s known as a "living shoreline" on the Delaware River (check out our recent look at the upcoming K&T trail on the same site). In lieu of a concrete structure between water and land, a permanent installation of rocks and native plants preserves the natural habitat and helps prevent erosion and flooding.

Now Pew is helping to spread the word as the Army Corps of Engineers is opening a public comment period on its proposal to create a unified, nationwide permitting process for the creation of living shorelines. Currently, obtaining permits to develop these coastal structures can be a lengthy and onerous process without consistent standards from state to state -- meanwhile, it’s quick and cost-effective to obtain a permit for a traditional bulkhead or seawall.

According to Laura Lightbody, project director of Pew's Flood-Prepared Communities Initiative, advancing this nature-based infrastructure solution -- which helps mitigate disasters like storms and floods -- is about "protecting people and property, and reducing the cost to the federal government," as well as preserving and restoring natural habitats.

"Part of our effort is to do education for the American public about the benefit and value of living shorelines as a way to demonstrate to the Corps a need for the nationwide permit," she says. Lightbody calls Philadelphia a "unique area to highlight, where living shorelines are in a diverse geographic region."

Lardner’s Point Park was a great site for that effort, she continues: formerly not accessible to the public, the shoreline is now something "to be incorporated with other outside recreational activities for the community."

DRCC and Pew will hold a tour of the Lardner’s living shoreline in mid-July -- the timing is perfect to see the full potential of what was built in 2012 since it can take a few years for the vegetation to mature. Unlike a concrete shoreline structure which deteriorates, a living shoreline is an excellent infrastructure investment. They "tend to become more durable and more substantial over time," as the natural vegetation takes hold, explains Lightbody.

To find out more and comment on the Army Corps of Engineers proposal to streamline the permitting of living shorelines, click here

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Laura Lightbody, Pew Charitable Trusts

Parks on Tap now open through September

We've been watching the progress of an exciting new summer program: Parks on Tap, a mobile beer garden that will pop up in 14 different city parks for one week each through October 2. On June 29, Philadelphia Parks & Recreation Commissioner Kathryn Ott Lovell and other partners cut the Parks on Tap ribbon just south of the Walnut Street Bridge. Schuylkill Banks was the first stop (through July 4).

"It’s probably going to start here in Philadelphia and then be stolen and replicated across the country," said Ott Lovell of the program, which offers gourmet food, snacks and drinks, family-friendly games and activities, and seating for up to 200 people in chairs and hammocks.

Parks on Tap is a partnership of Parks & Rec, the Fairmount Park Conservancy, and FCM Hospitality (the company behind Philly hot spots Morgan’s Pier and Union Transfer, and the annual Waterfront Winterfest at Penn's Landing).

"When you say you want to serve beer in a public park, the first thing most people say is, 'Hell no,'" said FCM Hospitality owner Avram Hornik of the program’s innovative bent. He pointed to the family-friendly atmosphere of the pop-ups and the chance to connect with neighbors in new ways.

Unlike the suburbs, where green space is usually privately owned, parks in the city "are common space. They belong to all of us," he continued.

Interim Conservancy Executive Director Tim Clair praised Elizabeth Moselle, Conservancy Associate Director of Business Development (who spoke with Flying Kite in March about the Parks on Tap plans) for her work on making the program a reality.

Each Parks on Tap pop-up will have two concession trucks: one with regional craft beers, wine and non-alcoholic drinks, and one serving a menu developed by local chef Mitch Prensky (owner of Scratch Biscuits and Global Dish Caterers). Food on offer includes a wide variety of hot sliders, vegan and vegetarian noodles and salads, and a range of snacks and desserts.

The program will ride throughout the city for the next few months: stops include Aviator Park on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway (July 20-25), West Philly’s Clark Park (July 27-31), FDR Park at 1500 Pattison Avenue (September 1-5) and many others. (Check out Parks on Tap online for the full schedule and special events.)

Ott Lovell believes the program will be an effective way of "bringing people out to park spaces that they might not otherwise visit." She hopes Parks on Tap will endure and expand in future summer seasons.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Sources: Kathryn Ott Lovell, Fairmount Park Conservancy, and other speakers

The South Philadelphia Library opens on Broad Street

According to a study by Pew Charitable Trusts, 34 percent of Philly’s library visitors are looking up health information. The new South Philadelphia Library -- now open in the South Philadelphia Community Health and Literacy Center at Broad and Morris Streets -- features a Community Health Resource Center. It is perfectly placed to help patients coming from neighboring Health Center 2 or Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) Pediatric Primary Care Center who need further information from a reliable source.

The Health Resource Center will have a staff trained by the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Public Health Initiatives; they will direct patrons to accessible, accurate information about their health. If patrons come downstairs after a doctor visit for themselves or their children, help is right at their fingertips.

Sandy Horrocks, Vice President of External Affairs for the Free Library of Philadelphia, touts the value of customized assistance: When people try to research a diagnosis online, they’re likely to end up on corporate websites, which can have value, "but we want to make sure people aren’t getting only information from a pharmaceutical company," she says.

The new facility -- part of a revamp of five Free Library locations across the city (aka the Building Inspiration: 21st Century Libraries Initiative) -- is the city’s first new library in over 10 years. It happened thanks to a partnership with CHOP, Health Center 2, and the DiSilvestro Recreation Center. Horrocks is pleased that it’s open just in time to host summer reading programs for local school kids.

CHOP leaders sparked the collaboration when they were looking to relocate a pediatric center -- the Broad Street location was appealing. The rec center in the back needed renovations and so did the existing library.

Through a conversation with CHOP’s then-CEO Steven Altschuler, Free Library President Siobhan Reardon and City officials, stakeholders came to the decision to "bulldoze the entire block, put up this brand-new wonderful facility -- including a beautiful park -- and all work together," recalls Horrocks. "It’s been a terrific experience."

The 12,000-square-foot library space, which expects to welcome 150,000 visitors a year, includes the Community Health Resource Center, a "living room" area to encourage gatherings and host library programming, a space for teens, a "Pre-K Zone," a computer lab, and study rooms. Local community nonprofits who need meeting space are welcome. The only surviving mural by author and illustrator Maurice Sendak is on display in the Children’s Library after a five-year stint at the Rosenbach Museum.

The project was made possible thanks to dollars from the Sheller Family Foundation, the Patchwork Foundation, the Cannuscio Rader Family Foundation, Nina and Larry Chertoff, and the William Penn Foundation

"It’s meant to have the feeling of a living room," says Horrocks of the library. "We want people to interact with each other and not be so isolated."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Sandy Horrocks, the Free Library of Philadelphia 

New life for vacant lots in Southwest Philadelphia

Reclaiming a vacant lot for the health and enjoyment of a community -- as well as native wildlife -- doesn’t happen overnight, but a partnership between Audubon Pennsylvania and the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge promises to make it happen by the end of this year.
 
As Flying Kite lands in Kingsessing for our summer On the Ground residency, these two organizations are continuing a partnership with landscape architecture students at Philadelphia University focused on underutilized land throughout Southwest Philadelphia
 
Audubon and John Heinz have been collaborating for a long time; the partnership was formalized over the last 18 months.
 
"We’ve been working very closely, starting with the southwest portion of the city because of its proximity to John Heinz Wildlife Refuge," say Audubon Community Stewardship Program Manager Ryhan Grech. "[The Cobb’s Creek watershed] is also one of Audubon’s priorities. Both of us are looking to dive in with community engagement and work on the pocket park notion."

That means extensive community engagement (aided by leadership from groups like Southwest CDC, Empowered CDC and Philadelphia More Beautiful) on which lots to target for improvements and what sort of designs meet local needs.
 
A "secondary motive" for the work, adds Grech, is increasing the amount of quality habitat for the Philly area’s native birds and pollinators.
 
For their spring semester, 11 landscape architecture students from Philadelphia University participated in community meetings and surveys targeting about 30 vacant lots in southwest Philly. They learned that residents want more safe spaces for kids to play and learn, more educational areas, and more opportunities to grow food or participate in community gardens. Stormwater management was also key.
 
In March, the students presented preliminary ideas at an open community meeting, and then applied that feedback to seven designs presented at a second meeting in late April. Following that, an online survey has continued to narrow down the locations and customize the plans. By the end of the summer, they hope to have decided on a single site and distilled one tailored design reflecting community needs.
 
Which space they’ll have a right to revamp is part of the picture, too: With help from the city’s new Land Bank and support from City Councilmembers Kenyatta Johnson and Jannie Blackwell, project partners hope a local CDC will take on a lease for the chosen lot, allowing the transformation to move forward.
 
This is not just another semester-long student survey project with no action, Grech insists -- with their proximity to Philly’s major educational institutions, Southwest Philly residents have had enough surveys.
 
"In the fall, Heinz and Audubon are bringing the resources to the table to implement," she says. "We’ll start working with contractors at that point."
 
"Our intention is not to stop with one site," she adds. "We intend to keep going."
 
Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Ryhan Grech, Audubon Pennsylvania

 
Follow all our work #OnTheGroundPhilly via twitter (@flyingkitemedia) and Instagram (@flyingkite_ontheground).

On the Ground is made possible by the Knight Foundation, an organization that supports transformational ideas, promotes quality journalism, advances media innovation, engages communities and fosters the arts. The foundation believes that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more, visit knightfoundation.org.

Chester Charter School for the Arts breaks ground on new $25 million campus

The nonprofit Chester Charter School for the Arts (CCSA) has been renting space in Aston, PA, since its inception in 2012. But in June, the school broke ground on a brand-new $25 million, 11-acre campus; it should be open by fall 2017.

"There isn’t much in the way of this kind of development happening in Chester," says Keren White, executive director of the Chester Fund for Education and the Arts, CCSA’s precursor and now its development and marketing arm. "A new school hasn’t been built in Chester for several decades."

When CCSA opened, it offered kindergarten through sixth grade, and the school has expanded by one grade each year. Currently, this non-selective public school serving the Chester Upland School District has almost 500 K-9 students. For the 2017-18 school year, they will welcome 11th graders, and then 12th graders in fall 2018. At that point, the school will maintain an enrollment of about 650 students, with a maximum of 25 students per class.

"Arts Integration" is key at the school, combining rigorous core academics with dance, music, theater and visual arts classes. The model works, according to CCSA: In 2014, the school achieved the third-highest year to year improvement among 800 Philly-area public schools; it currently boasts a 96 percent attendance rate.

CCSA isn’t Chester's only charter school: there’s also the K-8 Chester Community Charter School, which currently serves around half the kids in the district (about 3,500 students). CCSA will ultimately have the capacity to serve about 10 percent of the district’s kids.

"If we can really educate 10 percent of the kids to a high standard, then potentially we’ll have a huge impact on this population," says White.

The new CCSA campus at 1200 Highland Avenue -- a three-story, 90,000-square-foot building -- will feature a gymnasium, a multi-purpose cafeteria/auditorium, music space, art studios and a kiln, science and media labs, and dance studios. Outside, there will be athletic fields, a new playground, and ample parking alongside new landscaping and trees. In a later phase of construction, which could be as early as 2018, the campus will add a 350-seat performing arts center with its own costume and set design workshops.

White says the Fund is raising $7 million of the total $25 construction budget ($3.825 million is already in place) and will finance the rest.

"We just really believe in Chester," says White. "The people in Chester are great people…and they haven’t had the opportunities that other people have had. We’ve really invested for the long term."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Keren White, The Chester Fund for Education and the Arts 

The K&T Trail is officially underway on the Delaware

The latest segment of The Circuit Trails network to break ground is the first stretch of the trail to directly connect two parks, says Delaware River City Corporation (DRCC) Executive Director Tom Branigan.

Phase One of the new K&T trail (so named because it will follow the path of the former Kensington and Tacony railroad) will be a 1.15-mile stretch connecting the Frankford Boat Launch to Lardner’s Point Park, serving visitors as well as residents of Wissinoming to the south and Tacony to the north.

Phase One of the K&T -- a 12-foot-wide asphalt trail -- has a $2.9 million budget. Directing partners Philadelphia Parks & Recreation and DRCC broke ground on June 9 and anticipate completion in 2017. The trail is part of a much bigger regional picture: It’s one more piece of the 750-mile Circuit and the 3,000-mile East Coast Greenway.

Under design since 2008, the trail will move through a riverside right-of-way owned by the City of Philadelphia. The whole length of it will have riverfront views, although the strips of land touching the river are still in the hands of adjacent property owners. And since it’s a heavily industrial area, there will be fencing installed alongside the trail.

"We’re working with the property owners to make sure everything moves smoothly," says Branigan.

Partners hope efforts to acquire the riverfront land will boost the project in the long term.

"We’ll engage various property owners and see about acquiring that small strip of land between the trail and river," he adds.
"And then [we'll] make appropriate improvements."

The trail will also span a small inlet of the river, requiring a bridge.

Currently, landscaping and other amenities include benches, interpretive signage on the wildlife and history of the area, 80 trees, 1,000 shrubs, and thousands more beautifying grasses and perennial plants.

Phase Two of K&T will launch next year, taking the trail up as far as Princeton Avenue; another piece, currently in design and slated for construction in 2018, will go as far north as Rhawn Street.

"We’ll have a good stretch of trail by the end of 2018 or early 2019 that will go from the Frankford Boat Launch all the way up to Pleasantville Park on Linden Avenue," concludes Branigan.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Tom Branigan, Delaware River City Corporation 

Stunning Free Library renovation enlivened by $50,000 art contest: Apply Now!

As part of a $36 million renovation at the Central Branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia, Philly’s Office of Arts, Culture, and the Creative Economy’s (OACCE) Percent for Art Program has announced a $50,000 competition for a site-specific artwork.

Because the Free Library’s main branch is "such a flagship building" with a central Parkway location, "we’re hopeful we’ll get a lot of interest," says Margot Berg, OACCE’s public art director. She expects up to 100 applications from artists nationwide who want to put their mark on this historic space.

The Parkway library first opened in 1927 and now serves more than one million visitors each year. The planned renovations -- part of the Library’s Building Inspiration: 21st Century Libraries Initiative -- will be designed by Safdie Architects. The remodel will focus on the north-facing rear section of the library in what is now the stacks.

According to OACCE, 35 percent of the Library is currently open to the public, with the rest reserved for staffing and storage. The plan is to open up tens of thousands of square feet across two floors, reversing the ratio of public to administrative areas.

The renovations will create four new public amenities: The Common, The Business Resource and Innovation Center (BRIC), The Marie H. and Joseph M. Field Teen Center, and a new Grand Central Staircase.

For the art installation, the Library, Percent for Art and the architects settled on a location spanning the first and second floors of the renovated space: a two-story open shelving system.

"This was the best opportunity, and something that had high visibility in the library," explains Berg. Space on the floor and the walls is at a premium, and suspended artworks can be expensive and difficult to maintain. This made an art piece targeting the shelving itself the best option.

At this point, it’s impossible to know what prospective artists might propose, but Berg says they could incorporate a series of small objects or sculptures that nest visibly within the shelves and invite viewers to discover them, or it could be some type of visual treatment to the surface of the shelving itself.

Currently, the call is in stage one: the Request for Qualifications officially closes on June 29 at 5 p.m. The competition will be tough: According to the RFQ, only about five applicants will be selected to submit full proposals, with the help of a $750 honorarium. These finalists will be notified in mid-July, with full proposals due later that month. By early October, the artist will be chosen and notified. Fabrication and installation of the artwork is slated for completion in 2017.

"This project has been a long time coming," says Berg of the renovations. "It’s all about rebuilding, continuing to have libraries be a hub for meeting and learning, and for doing business going into the next century. We’re happy to be a part of that."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Margot Berg, the Office of Arts, Culture, and the Creative Economy

Development News: PHS pop-up garden is a preview of partners' hopes for upcoming Viaduct Rail Park

This year, a Pennsylvania Horticultural Society pop-up is offering a preview of the upcoming Viaduct Rail Park. Last December, we reported on PHS' plans for an installation somewhere along the planned promenade in the Callowhill neighborhood (our recent On the Ground home) and now a new summer beer garden is open at 10th and Hamilton Streets on the north side of Viaduct.

"What’s exciting about this is it gives you a snapshot of what this will be ultimately," said Mayor Jim Kenney at an opening night party on June 10.

Walter Hood of Hood Design is behind the new space. A former gravel parking lot in the shadow of the Viaduct, the site "merges the post-industrial overhead structure with the green urban space," explains PHS Associate Director of Landscape Design Leigh Ann Campbell.

The beer garden features large, colorful boxes reminiscent of shipping containers and a performance area with metal framework repurposed from Hood's recent exhibit at the PHS Flower Show. The plants in the garden itself are those that "naturally emerged on the Viaduct after it was decommissioned," explains Campbell; these include Paulownia trees, sumacs, ferns and milkweed.

On Saturday, June 18 at 5 p.m., the pop-up will host a special opening event for a site-specific sound installation from artist Abby Sohn, which will "make use of the iron structure to create a sonic experience that explores the cultural heritage and the rail site’s creative potential," according to PHS.

The food comes from chefs Jason Chichonski (of ELA and Gaslight) and Sylva Senat (of Dos Tacos and Maison). Six taps, canned beer, wine, cocktails, sangria and more will round out the beverage offerings.

There will also be a variety of programming throughout the summer, including special themed dinners, acoustic music performances, garden workshops for containers and window-boxes, and even lessons on mixing drinks made with home-grown herbs. The Philadelphia Public History Truck will also make appearances thanks to support from the Mural Arts Program. (Here’s the full line-up of happenings.)

A variety of funders, partners and supporters made the site possible, including property owner Arts & Crafts Holdings, the Pew Center for Arts & Heritage, the Friends of the Rail Park, the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Viaduct owner Reading International, Victory Brewing Company, the Callowhill Neighborhood Association and the Land Health Institute. All proceeds from the garden will support PHS’s City Harvest.

Campbell said the pop-up isn’t just a good place to get dinner and drinks and enjoy a new slice of green in the city. The service berry bushes planted all around the park’s perimeter draw all kinds of birds to feast right along with the human city-dwellers.

"If you’ve never heard a catbird sing," she adds, come over and listen.

The Viaduct Rail Park will be open through September 30.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Leigh Ann Campbell, the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society 

Follow all our work #OnTheGroundPhilly via twitter (@flyingkitemedia) and Instagram (@flyingkite_ontheground).


On the Ground is made possible by the Knight Foundation, an organization that supports transformational ideas, promotes quality journalism, advances media innovation, engages communities and fosters the arts. The foundation believes that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more, visit knightfoundation.org.

June 5 building collapse memorial on track to begin construction this month

June 5 marked the third anniversary of the day that demolition of a vacant building at 2138 Market Street caused the collapse of the adjacent Salvation Army thrift store, killing six people. To help ensure that this tragedy is not forgotten or repeated, the City of Philadelphia and agencies including Parks & Recreation and Center City District (CCD) have teamed up with the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society to create a memorial park at the site of the collapse.

According to PHS director of landscape design David Carlson, plans for the park are now funded, approved and permitted, and they're ready for construction to commence in June, pending the completion of soil testing at the site.

In January 2014, a committee formed for the creation of a memorial park; it features representatives of CCD, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Brandywine Realty Trust, Center City Residents Association, the Philadelphia Housing Authority and many others. Since the committee is not a 501(c) 3, it made sense to partner with PHS to manage the project’s dollars and design.

In March 2014, the Salvation Army gave the land to the City of Philadelphia at no cost, with City Council approving the transfer of the 3,125-square-foot site into the City’s park system. One June 5, 2014, then-Mayor Michael Nutter dedicated the site. According to the June 5 Memorial website, the space "will provide a contemplative respite for visitors while preserving the memory of those lost -- and serve as a constant reminder that construction projects must be done safely."

In early 2015, a pro bono design team began a six-month collaboration on the final plan (with over $150,000 in design hours donated by Philly-area design professionals). The park itself was designed by architect Scott Aker, with a granite-and-glass sculptural element titled "Witness" from artist Barb Fox. The plan earned approval from the Art Commission on June 3 of last year. Fundraising for construction launched in earnest in September, with a total budget of $1.3 million now raised.

The park will feature new landscaping and stormwater management, the three-piece “Witness” sculpture that Carlson says will be made with locally-sourced stone, a 31-foot-long reflection plaza, and a 12-by-12 foot "Sacred Memorial Area." It will all be ADA-accessible.

A maintenance endowment for the park is also being established. Once construction is finished (Carlson estimates it will take about six months from the mid-June start date), Parks & Rec will maintain the site, with landscaping help from PHS.

Carlson calls the work "a testament to the City trying to make amends."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: David Carlson, Pennsylvania Horticultural Society

PHS brings new Green Resource Center to South Philly

How do you top distributing 250,000 seedlings every year to gardeners and urban farmers throughout the city? The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (PHS) is working on it.

Recently, we checked out the installation of a new solar power array in Strawberry Mansion, our current On the Ground neighborhood. PHS has been building two new Green Resource Centers (GRC) over the past eighteen months (it already has four others throughout the city): one on the Strawberry Mansion site and another in South Philadelphia on a formerly vacant lot at 2500 Reed Street. (GRCs are a part of PHS's City Harvest program.)

The South Philly site is a partnership between the lot owner (the nearby Church of the Redeemer Baptist), PHS and the Nationalities Service Center (NSC), which works with refugees resettling in Philadelphia. NSC leases about two-and-a-half acres (of the three-and-a-half acre lot) from the church, and worked with PHS to develop a large community garden there.

"It’s an entire city block and it’s right by the old rail line, so it’s really a wonderful place to have a community garden," says Nancy Kohn, Director of Garden Programs at PHS. Before NSC and PHS arrived, the long-unused site was full of debris, rubble and stones. Volunteers from Villanova University and various corporate partners pitched in to clear the land and build hundreds of raised garden beds. Now the site has its own water line, a shed and 400 beds.

Half of those are "entrepreneurial beds," according to Kohn, for people who grow and sell vegetables to nearby businesses and restaurants. The rest are community garden beds open to the public.

The opportunity to garden is important to many NSC clients.

"A lot of refugees that are coming through this program have an agricultural background," explains Kohn. "The community garden has been a wonderful place to get them more connected to their background, as well as connected to their neighbors, who are South Philly natives."

Meanwhile, the impact of the GRCs extends citywide: Through the network, volunteers and PHS staff propagate a total of 250,000 seedlings each year, to be distributed to gardens and farms all over town (with the two new GRCs completed soon, that number will grow significantly). Participating volunteers give ten hours of work to the PHS site over the season and receive the seedlings in return. Earlier this month, PHS had a mass distribution of nine different varieties of veggies, including peppers, eggplants, cucumbers, tomatoes and okra.

"The gardeners come to pick them up," says Kohn. "They take them back to their gardens, and they grow them for their communities."

Because of the landowner's evolving plan to eventually build a new church on the site, the community gardens will stay and continue to partner with PHS, but the permanent GRC will be built in another South Philly location (to be announced soon). The site will include a new greenhouse, demonstration and community garden beds for educational workshops, solar paneling for electric power, a wash station and a shade structure.

Kohn hopes the build-out on the new site will begin later this summer; the GRC should be up and running by next spring.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Nancy Kohn, Pennsylvania Horticultural Society

 

Philly's biggest green roof gets the green light at Temple

Late last month, Governor Tom Wolf confirmed a massive local green roof project that’s been five years in the making. Thanks to a partnership between Temple University and the Philadelphia Water Department, the stunning design be a reality when the school's new library opens for the fall semester in 2018.

"Temple has worked closely with the Water Department over the last five years to identify meaningful stormwater solutions that address North Philadelphia’s critical challenges with this issue," says Dozie Ibeh, associate vice president of Temple’s Project Delivery Group.

According to Temple, the new library will have one of the state’s largest green roofs (the only comparable one in the region is the PECO green roof at 23rd and Market Streets). 
 
The project will be made possible thanks to a $6,747,933 loan from the Pennsylvania Infrastructure Investment Authority (PENNVEST). With a low interest rate of approximately one percent and a 20-year term, the university projects that the PENNVEST loan will save them $4 million. Those dollars will help Temple install the green roof, permeable paving, cisterns for rainwater and stormwater piping. The space will also include a 46,000-square-foot roof garden, planting beds, and a terrace and seating area outside the new library’s fourth-floor reading room.

The international design firm Snøhetta is behind the 225,000-square-foot new library, in partnership with the local office of Stantec. Philadelphia’s Roofmeadow consulted with Temple throughout the design process, and will help maintain the completed system, alongside Temple’s grounds superintendent, and faculty from the Department of Landscape Architecture and Horticulture.
 
The space will also provide important research opportunities for students and faculty.
 
Temple hopes to receive LEED gold certification when the new library is completed in 2018 as part of a wider sustainability plan on campus; LEED gold status is already on the books for the new Science Education and Research Center, which opened in 2014.
 
Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Dozie Ibeh, Temple University 

AIA kicks off its annual conference with a day of service to rehab local rec center

The American Institute of Architects (AIA) is holding its national conference in Philadelphia this week (May 19-21), and on May 18 -- one day before the conference officially opens -- over 100 volunteers will participate in the annual "Blitz Build," a massive one-day rehab of a selected host-city building.
 
This year, the project will target the Sharswood neighborhood's Athletic Recreation Center, an arts, community and sporting center that serves hundreds of children from low-income families. The building’s brick exterior is in pretty good shape, so the project will focus on five interior areas: the lobby, the arts and crafts center, the kitchen, a performance space and a theater storage space. Renovations will include extensive reorganization, new appliances, painting, new blinds and new flooring.
 
For the last five years, the Atlanta-based non-profit AEC Cares has made these Blitz Builds possible, supported by AIA, AIA Innovation Partner CMD iSqFt and other stakeholders.
 
AEC Cares Executive Director and CMD Senior Director of Business Development Laura Marlow says that "everyone from booth staff to executives" participates in the build, which she predicts will draw about 115 volunteers. This includes out-of-towners as well as local groups like PowerCorps PHL.
 
Marlow begins her search for the AEC Cares build site by reaching out the local mayor’s office, asking for a department that can point towards a high-use community building in need of a makeover. Some cities have offered the expertise of a Department of Community Engagement, for example, but in Philly, she found herself directed to Parks & Rec.
 
"Initially I thought it was a little odd," she recalls. Marlow expected to work with an agency specializing in something like homelessness. But it turned out to be just the right resource. "Philadelphia Parks and Recreation has been an absolutely phenomenal partner."

The department nominated several City sites in need of work, and facilitated the involvement of the Community Design Collaborative, which sent a volunteer architect to assess the sites.
 
Built in 1912, the Athletic Recreation Center stood out because "while it has really good bones, it really needs a facelift," Marlow explains.
 
This winter, a volunteer team of Collaborative architects began designing, and Parks & Rec helped by prepping the site, including a total gut of the existing kitchen, which will be rebuilt in one day by volunteers.
  
Including pro bono design time, volunteer labor and materials, Marlow estimates that this year’s build will have a value of up to $280,000.
 
"It’s an emotional endeavor for many of us," she says. "We’re really excited about what we can accomplish."
 
Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Laura Marlow, AEC Cares

UArts brings a Philadelphia EcoDistrict Oasis to Spring Garden

"We’ve been taking from nature for 200-plus years at a rate that’s not sustainable," says Christopher Zelov, Philadelphia eco-activist, filmmaker and author. The founder of the Philadelphia EcoDistrict (the local chapter of a nationwide urban sustainable living movement based in Portland, Oregon), Zelov has spent the last six months teaming with University of the Arts Associate Professor Tony Guido and a group of seven undergrads on The Philadelphia EcoDistrict Oasis.

According to Zelov, the ultimate goal is "building a regenerative culture." That means not just "technologies that give back more than they take" (green roofs, cisterns, aquaponic gardens and solar arrays), but also building a social culture that supports these technologies.

For the past semester, UArts industrial design students have been collaborating with the Spring Garden Community Development Corporation to fashion portable working prototypes of their EcoDistrict Oasis concepts as a case study for future development here in Philadelphia.

On May 5, after an extensive research and engagement process, students presented their prototypes at a community barbecue at The Spring Gardens Community Garden. Their concepts included a small-scale aquaponic garden for the kitchen wall, modular ramps that easily make buildings accessible to all, sustainable composting pails, super-insulation, modular green surfaces, and more.

Green surfaces aid stormwater management while also mitigating a cycle of urban heat that leads to more pollution. Aquaponics offer an accessible closed-loop water-saving system for growing veggies. Composting pails made for city kitchens reduce waste and nourish gardens. Super-insulation uses a variety of techniques to vastly reduce a building’s energy usage, effectively sealing everything from electrical outlets to windows, and using specially fabricated walls filled with cellulose -- rather than fiberglass -- to keep temperatures comfortable without extra heating or cooling.

"What we’re trying to do is bring it into the community" and make it a regular practice, explains Zelov. He’s one of the filmmakers behind Ecological Design: Inventing the Future and City21: Multiple Perspectives on Urban Futures, and their companion books. He’s working on another film, this one about the UArts EcoDistrict project titled EcoDistricts Emerging.

Guido, who’s been teaching in UArts’ Industrial Design department for 21 years, says the program takes pride in "doing great work and doing it with conscience." He hopes the prototypes will get future public showcases, perhaps during 2016's PARK(ing) Day.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Sources: Christopher Zelov, Philadelphia EcoDistrict; Tony Guido and Guiseppe Sciumbata, University of the Arts

Philly's second ADA-accessible playground planned for Kensington

East York Street's Horatio B. Hackett Elementary School just kicked off a major fundraising push that partners and supporters hope will make Kensington host to the city's second ADA-compliant playground.

Thanks to a collaboration between the School District, the Philadelphia Water Department, New Kensington CDC and the Community Design Collaborative, a stormwater-savvy revitalization plan has been underway at Hackett for about three years. With help from group Friends of Hackett, project partners hope to raise $1.4 million to transform the schoolyard.

Hackett's current yard is a giant square of concrete; the new plan includes ADA-compliant play equipment and a rainwater capture system with underground storage. Friends of Hackett board member Allison Dean says the playground plans are important because 27 percent of the school’s students use assistive devices or need an ADA-compliant play space. And only five percent of those students live in the surrounding neighborhood -- the rest are bussed in from other parts of the city, underscoring the need for more accessible play spaces everywhere.

The only other fully ADA-compliant playground is East Fairmount Park's Smith Memorial Playground, and for those without cars, it takes 45 minutes on two bus routes to get there from Kensington.

"We have a higher percentage of special education [students] and it’s important for them to have access to outdoor equipment," insists Principal Todd Kimmel.

On April 27, the school held a fundraising kick-off for friends and students, featuring representatives from Friends of Hackett, the School District’s Central East Assistant Superintendent Dr. Racquel Jones, and State Senator Christine Tartaglione. Stakeholders also unveiled a new gateway arch, funded by $25,000 from Penn Treaty Special Services District (Sugarhouse Casino’s charitable arm) and a $5,000 in-kind gift from Healy Long & Jevin Concrete.

Jana Curtis, co-chair of the Friends of Hackett capital campaign committee for the new schoolyard, says it was very fitting that the fundraising kick-off happened on April 27.

Curtis and her husband live across the street from the school, and her husband’s grandmother Florence Colduvell (who recently passed away) served as a crossing guard for 26 years at the corner of York and Sepviva Streets, next to the site of the new gateway. April 27 would have been her 90th birthday.

"At least once a month, someone knocks on my door and asks for her," says Curtis. She calls Hackett a "calm and bright" school that’s thriving and hopes the new schoolyard will serve the wider community as well as the students.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Sources: Todd Kimmel, Hackett Elementary School; Allison Dean and Jana Curtis, Friends of Hackett

On the Ground: Strawberry Mansion defines its boundaries

Strawberry Mansion, Flying Kite’s current On the Ground home, somehow manages to be both well-known and anonymous to most Philadelphians: On the one hand, "Strawberry Mansion" is one of the city's most distinctive and evocative monikers, but the neighborhood itself often lacks recognition. Now leaders of the Strawberry Mansion Neighborhood Action Center (NAC) and Community Development Corporation are launching a project -- in partnership with Flying Kite -- to help put their neighborhood on the map.
 
"Our neighborhood boundaries are pretty well set," said Strawberry Mansion CDC Board President Tonnetta Graham at an April meeting with Flying Kite. The region is north of Brewerytown and just east of East Fairmount Park, bounded by Ridge Avenue and 33rd Street to the west and W. Lehigh Avenue to the north, with a long diagonal piece of Glenwood Avenue completing the triangle.
 
For a long time, NAC and CDC members have wanted to launch a gateway project that welcomes residents and visitors to the neighborhood. (The CDC is actually housed out of the NAC facility on Diamond Street.)
 
"We’ve been trying to tie it all together so we could market it to developers," explains Graham. The organizations have been pushing to create and mount banners that would beautify Strawberry Mansion’s bordering streets and create a sense of pride and identity for the neighborhood. Graham and other local leaders hope that sponsorship dollars from local businesses or developers could help make the initiative possible.
 
Graham and NAC leader Lenora Evans-Jackson noted that besides having such clear boundaries, Strawberry Mansion has many ideal places for a welcoming touch, notably the numerous bridges that cross into the neighborhood. There are also big changes coming to nearby East Fairmount Park, where the Knight Foundation’s Reimagining the Civic Commons initiative will create the Discovery Center, remaking the site of an abandoned reservoir.

"It’s an ideal time to have something in place," insists Graham, who likes the idea of teaming with Fairmount Park or other partners for Strawberry Mansion banners bordering the park, or some other type of 33rd Street gateway.

Potential designs for the banners could include a slogan informally adopted by the CDC after a contest a few years ago: "Preserving our past, investing in our future," along with a Strawberry Mansion logo and a logo from the sponsoring organization, business, or agency.

With design and other practical support from Flying Kite, the Strawberry Mansion CDC and NAC brainstormed different phases and sponsorship packages for the project, which they hope could lead to 20 to 40 flags along the neighborhood’s iconic corridors.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Sources: Strawberry Mansion NAC and CDC leaders


Follow all our work #OnTheGroundPhilly via twitter (@flyingkitemedia) and Instagram (@flyingkite_ontheground).

On the Ground is made possible by the Knight Foundation, an organization that supports transformational ideas, promotes quality journalism, advances media innovation, engages communities and fosters the arts. The foundation believes that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more, visit knightfoundation.org.

On the Ground: Strawberry Mansion is home to PHS's first solar-powered Green Resource Center


Earlier this month, the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society’s (PHS) Strawberry Mansion Green Resource Center became the first PHS Resource Center to operate on solar power thanks to a $40,000 gift from the Green Mountain Energy Sun Club. The Center is across the road from Strawberry Mansion High School in Flying Kite’s current On the Ground neighborhood.

Originally founded through Green Mountain Energy Company in 2002, the Sun Club is now a separate nonprofit.  

"We have been a partner of PHS for a number of years," says Jason Sears, an executive for the organization. "They introduced us to the opportunity out at Strawberry Mansion High School, and we’ve been working with them on that for about a year now."

The new 10-kilowatt solar array will include over 30 panels on top of a shade structure in the site’s community garden. (The greenhouse is still under construction.) The electricity from the panels will power all kinds of appliances for the site’s plant-growing and vegetable-washing stations.

The Sun Club takes a broad view of sustainability -- it doesn’t just mean renewable power or energy efficiency. It includes community-wide factors: access to food, transportation and job-training, all of which the nonprofit wants to support.
Sears appreciates projects like the Strawberry Mansion installation because it’s putting green energy in the hands of local residents. Solar panels are durable, and with little more than a rinse every year or two, they can last for up to 30 years.

"When people understand that renewable energy isn’t this mythical ephemeral idea, it’s very real and very powerful," he says.

PHS Director of Garden Projects Nancy Kohn says power from the new panels will affect up to forty different gardening sites city-wide. PHS currently has four Green Resource Centers besides the one under construction in Strawberry Mansion which propagate seedlings for participating gardeners across Philadelphia (a sixth center is planned for South Philly). About 50,000 seedlings from the newly solar-powered facility in Strawberry Mansion will grow throughout the city each year.

The site includes community garden plots as well as educational beds for Strawberry Mansion High School students -- they grow food there and incorporate the produce into cooking and nutrition classes.

Kohn estimates that construction on the Strawberry Mansion Green Resource Center, a member site of PHS’s City Harvest, will wrap up by August.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Sources: Jason Sears, Green Mountain Energy Sun Club; Nancy Kohn, Pennsylvania Horticultural Society


Follow all our work #OnTheGroundPhilly via twitter (@flyingkitemedia) and Instagram (@flyingkite_ontheground).

On the Ground is made possible by the Knight Foundation, an organization that supports transformational ideas, promotes quality journalism, advances media innovation, engages communities and fosters the arts. The foundation believes that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more, visit knightfoundation.org.

New grant gives the Manayunk Bridge Trail its finishing touch


Thanks to $600,000 from the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC), the recently refreshed Manayunk Bridge Trail will get its finishing touch. 
 
A couple of weeks ago, Flying Kite took a look at the DVRPC Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP) dollars that will go into the corner of Chelten and Greene Avenues in Germantown, a new gateway into Vernon Park. Philly Parks & Recreation is another TAP grant recipient for improvements to the Manayunk Bridge Trail, which opened to foot and bike traffic last October. They applied for the grant in January of this year, hoping for dollars that would allow the installation of lighting and other commuter-friendly amenities. 
 
"It's a transportation amenity and recreation as well," explains Parks & Rec Preservation and Capital Projects Manager Rob Armstrong. "Lighting is the number one priority. That way we can open the bridge for more hours than it's open right now."
 
Because of the need to preserve the structure's historic look -- and the many agencies involved in a trail amenity -- Armstrong can't predict exactly when the necessary permits will be in place for construction. But the dollars do have a timeline stipulating the the work must be completed by next year.

According to DVRPC Executive Director Barry Seymour, the eleven projects funded through TAP will "enable communities to build multi-use trails, safe routes to school and pedestrian pathways, and bike lanes and bikeway projects, providing transportation for a wide variety of users throughout our region."

"I'm really pleased that [the bridge] has been so popular since it opened last fall," adds Armstrong. He uses the trail himself, and appreciates the many people who cross it for the views, to connect to other trails, or on their commute. "It links the city the suburbs, and vice versa. I'm just glad we got the funding so we can do this project and get it lit, so that more people can use it."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Rob Armstrong, Philadelphia Parks & Recreation

On the Ground: Parkside's 'North Star' mural finally gets its due with official dedication


More than two years after its completion, a mural that community members spent fifteen years planning will finally be officially dedicated. The event is coming up on April 30, presented in partnership with Flying Kite’s On the Ground program, the East Parkside Residents Association and the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program, which landed in Parkside last year.
 
Callalily Cousar, a longtime Parkside resident and founding board member of the East Parkside Residents Association, is proud of the mural. "North Star: The Journey to Freedom," by Delia King, was completed at 1100 N. 41st Street in fall 2014.

"It means unity and community," she says. "We’re hoping for it to be a legacy for our children." 
 
According to the Mural Arts, which helped create the piece, it "references African-American quilts, which would often hold directions for those escaping slavery on how to reach the free states and Canada." It’s not surprising that the North Star was a common visual theme in these quilts.
 
"It was part of our history," says Cousar of the design. "Every star was supposed to be the guiding star for freedom…It’s supposed to be a light."
 
"We’re proud of it on that wall," she continues, emphasizing that the mural’s installation was a collaborative neighborhood effort. "I personally worked on some of the stars…It was a community thing that brought a lot of joy."
 
A playground at the 41st and Poplar site was an early goal of the Residents Association and it took a dozen years to achieve after the group coalesced in 1993. Local kids didn’t have anywhere to play and used to run in the streets. Original board members Harvin Thurman, Ronald Coleman, Bertha Cranshall, Ben and Kathleen Gambrell, Naomi Smith, Dorothy Crawford, Dorothy Wilkins and Dorothy Ferguson -- many of whom had lived in the neighborhood for forty years or more -- were champions of the project. Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell also supported the project, both physically and financially.
 
"We’re proud of it. It’s a small thing to some people," says Cousar, "but it’s an important accomplishment to the Parkside neighbors."
 
The history the mural honors is crucial, too.
 
"It’s something that we wanted our children to know," she says, adding that the dedication will feature speakers, food, family activities and African drumming.

The event will take place by the mural on Saturday, April 30, from noon - 2 p.m.
 
Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Callalily Cousar, East Parkside Residents Association
 
Follow all our work #OnTheGroundPhilly via twitter (@flyingkitemedia) and Instagram (@flyingkite_ontheground).

On the Ground is made possible by the Knight Foundation, an organization that supports transformational ideas, promotes quality journalism, advances media innovation, engages communities and fosters the arts. The foundation believes that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more, visit knightfoundation.org.
 

A look at the winning Play Space designs for Waterloo, Cobbs Creek and Mill Creek


From an abandoned street to a giant stretch of grass with nothing on it, three city sites now have the tools for major makeovers. Last week, we looked in on the end of the Community Design Collaborative’s Play Space Competition, which ultimately focused nine teams on three spaces in need of a revamp for young users.

The winning design for the Waterloo Recreation Center (Philadelphia Parks & Recreation) is titled "Rebosante" and it’s from RoofmeadowStudio Ludo and Space for Childhood.
 
"Waterloo is a fascinating site that was a series of backyards: actually, a street, that had been abandoned and cobbled together as a playground," says Play Space Program Manager Alexa Bosse. "It has this very odd configuration, where it’s mostly inner blocks surrounded by houses," with low visibility from the street, leading to long-term problems with illegal activities there.

About a year-and-a-half ago, local organization Men in Motion in the Community (MIMIC) negotiated with Parks & Rec to base their all-volunteer group out of an onsite building, cleaned and painted the playground, and worked to deter the crime there.
 
MIMIC will take an important role in maintaining a redesigned site, an important detail for the Collaborative in choosing the spot.
 
The existing basketball courts and pool will stay, but an adjacent splashpark will augment the summer space. Four "wild nature areas" are in the works for the corners, incorporating hills, mounds and branches for play-time, as well as stormwater management.
 
The Free Library’s Blanche A. Nixon/Cobbs Creek Branch, another competition site, has a unique challenge: It’s a de facto childcare center, with many families using it at a safe after-school space.

"A library is not a typical space to go to for a play space, but they have a lot of interest in creating opportunities for kids to get their crazies out," explains Bosse -- as anyone who has just come from eight hours in school remembers.
 
The design, titled "Play Structure | Story Structure," came from Ground Reconsidered Landscape Architecture, Designed for Fun, Friends Select School, J R Keller LLC Creative Partnerships, Meliora Environmental Design LLC, and the Parent-Infant Center. It evolved out of on-site brainstorms from Friends Select second-graders.
 
The plan is inspired by the narrative structure of a book or story. The tri-cornered site will feature new play space in one corner, a fronting "grand plaza" in another, and a "quieter, more meditative area" for the community with plants, shade trees and stormwater management.
 
The design for the School District’s Haverford Bright Futures in Mill Creek -- dubbed "Bright Futures Chutes and Ladders" -- came from Atkin Olshin Schade Architects, Meliora Environmental Design, LLC, Viridian Landscape Studio, International Consultants, Inc. and the Parent-Infant Center.
 
"It’s an interesting site because it’s very large, and there’s a very large lawn," says Bosse. The Collaborative found a need for better community connection to the site since the school for three- and four-year-olds has a12:30 p.m. dismissal time. "The school is very open to being a place where other community members can come."
 
The winning design divides the lawn up in a Chutes and Ladders-style grid, with different play opportunities in each section, along with preserved lawn space, shade, room for adults to sit, and an amphitheater space for community gatherings in the back.
 
Each site, now with completed designs and budget plans in hand, is equipped to seek the funding to make them a reality.
 
Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Alexa Bosse, Community Design Collaborative

The Community Design Collaborative awards $30,000 to Play Space design team winners


Over the last year, we’ve had our eye on the Community Design Collaborative’s international Play Space Design Competition, a major piece of the 18-month Play Space Initiative funded by the William Penn Foundation. Last September, the Collaborative announced the three sites that participating design teams would focus on, and in March, three winners emerged: one for each site. (Infill Philadelphia: Play Space is a partnership of the Collaborative and the Delaware Valley Association for the Education of Young Children.)
 
"We’re really excited about all of them," says Play Space Program Manager Alexa Bosse. Thanks to supportive partners, the Collaborative was able to award a $10,000 prize to each of the three winning teams.
 
In all, there were forty submissions from six countries and 17 states. From the fall 2015 announcement of the sites (Parks & Rec’s Waterloo Recreation Center, the School District’s Haverford Bright Futures campus, and the Free Library’s Blanche A. Nixon/Cobbs Creek branch) to the final presentations in March, each proposal underwent a rigorous evaluation process.
 
Each submission was comprised of a 20-page packet detailing a plan to revitalize or create an eco-friendly 21st-century play space. The Collaborative assembled an expert jury featuring education, health and design professionals who judged the ideas based on cost estimates, maintenance plans, stormwater management and education strategies. The panel narrowed the field to nine finalists: three for each site.
 
Once they were announced, the Collaborative re-engaged site staffers, students, users and neighbors to vet the finalists' designs and get feedback. For about two weeks, each site had a ballot box courtesy of the Collaborative where locals could submit their votes for the plan they liked best. This yielded about 250 votes in all.
 
Finally, on March 16 at the Academy of Natural Sciences, an awards jury judged presentations from each team. The winning scores incorporated the initial expert jury’s recommendations, community members' votes, and the awards jury's decision.
 
"It’s really hard to get funding until you have a design," says Bosse of why the plans produced by the competition are so valuable for the participating sites. As part of the competition’s criteria, budgets could not exceed $1.5 million, reflecting the amount site stakeholders felt they could realistically raise.
 
And the winning plans? They include stormwater management and educational green space, a new splashpark at Waterloo Recreation Center, a Chutes and Ladders-themed lawn for Haverford Bright Futures, and a one-of-kind new play structure for the Cobbs Creek Library that emerged with the help from Philly second-graders. Stay tuned next week for a closer look at what the winning designs hope to create.
 
Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Alexa Bosse, Community Design Collaborative

Independence Beer Garden retakes the corner of 6th and Market


Remember those Connect Four battles as a kid? With the rattling vertical plastic board on the carpet or tabletop? Relive all the glory (or defeat) of four in a row over dinner and drinks in Philly’s biggest beer garden, officially open for the season on Thursday, April 21 at 6th and Market Streets.
 
Chef and restaurateur Michael Shulson's Independence Beer Garden (IBG) had a soft opening on April 16 and 17, drawing thousands of people. According to Director of Operations and General Manager Derek Gregory, the waist-high Connect Four boards -- brand-new this year -- were a big hit.
 
Larger-than-life games are appropriate for a beer garden of this size: "We’re 25,000 square feet," enthuses Gregory. "It is absolutely enormous."

That means seating and full table-service for up to 600 people at a time, plus standing room. The place can hold up to 2000 people in total, and it’s no sweat for the staff if a group of fifty walks in. Gregory insists that in peak summer season, no other Philly restaurant, bar or beer garden can come close in terms of size or people served.
 
The place also stands out because of its full-service bar (or rather, four of them), offering cocktails and liquor in addition to beer, and a menu of close to 30 food items available via table service, not standing in line at a food window.
 
Then there are the games: besides Connect Four, that includes checkers, large and small Jenga, bocce ball, shuffleboard, ping-pong and more (all brand new equipment for 2016).
 
This is IBG's third season: in 2014, its inaugural run went from mid-July to October. Last year saw an April opening and 2016 is following suit.

"We’re open til Halloween," adds Gregory.
 
He explains that attendance at IBG is a mix of visitors and residents: a lot of vacationing families grab lunch, but later in the day, Philly’s office dwellers and other professionals come out to play for a largely local evening crowd.
 
Beginning April 21 and running through the end of October, IBG’s 2016 hours are Sunday through Tuesday, 11:30 a.m. - 10 p.m.; Wednesday and Thursday, 11:30 a.m. - 11 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11:30 a.m. - midnight.
 
Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Derek Gregory, Independence Beer Garden

Habitat for Humanity's Rock the Block comes to Pottstown


Habitat for Humanity of Montgomery County, which has been holding successful Rock the Block events in Norristown -- in addition to its longtime work of building and rehabbing homes there -- is now setting its sights on Pottstown for a major neighborhood revitalization event.

In partnership with Pottstown CARES Community Cleanup Day on April 15, Habitat will bring an estimated 100 volunteers from 11 different community organizations together to perform a wide range of exterior rehab work for homes in need on six blocks (the 300 and 400 blocks of Beech, Walnut, and Chestnut Streets) in addition to a few other local projects.

The organization has already built nine homes in Pottstown.

"We saw that our homeowners really enjoyed living in the community, but there were challenges within the community that they were frustrated weren’t being addressed," says Marianne Lynch, executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Montgomery County. Problems like vacant or deteriorating buildings and trash drive down home values and quality of life. "We began to look into neighborhood revitalization as a solution not only for our homeowners, but to really help the neighbors find their voice and help them deal with the concerns in the communities where we’ve already built, and would like to continue building."

The event in Pottstown will put volunteers to work on jobs such as gutter cleaning, porch painting, trash pick-up, yard clean-up, putting up house numbers and installing smoke alarms.

The Empire Fire Company building at 76 N. Franklin Street will serve as the event’s home base; check-in for volunteers begins at 7:30 a.m. with welcoming words at 8:30 p.m. Work will start at 9 a.m.; lunch will be served from 11:30 a.m. - 12:15 p.m. Ten different local community organizations will set up tables onsite with information on a wide variety of programs for residents. The day’s work will finish around 2 p.m.

According to Lynch, Habitat will continue working actively in Pottstown for at least another two years, with larger-scale repair efforts targeting roofing, HVAC systems, and other issues "that compromise safety, security, or access in the home." Residents will help to identify occupied homes that need the help.

Participants can register on-site day-of, but Habitat recommends e-mailing cara@habitatmontco.org in advance to expedite things.

"We certainly welcome the community to come out and join us that day for volunteering, or for lunch, or both," adds Lynch.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Marianne Lynch, Habitat for Humanity of Montgomery County

Proposed low-income housing development on Wister Street sparks debate in Germantown


How does a community navigate development without the displacement and disruption of gentrification?

This was a major theme on April 6, as Germantowners convened at the Germantown Life Enrichment Center (just a few blocks north of Flying Kite’s former On the Ground digs near Chelten and Pulaski Avenues) to hear from Fishtown's Women’s Community Revitalization Project (WCRP).

A developer of rental properties primarily for low-income women and families, WCRP held the community meeting to discuss affordable housing in Germantown. Their Nicole Hines Townhouse Development -- featuring 35 new "affordable family townhomes" -- has been proposed for 417 Wister Street in East Germantown. WCRP lead organizer Christi Clark led the discussion along with WCRP community organizer Ariel Morales; a long roster of partnering groups also sponsored the gathering.

About fifty attendees broke into groups and then shared their conclusions on two key questions: “What do you love about Germantown that you want to see preserved?” and "What is the need for affordable housing in Germantown [and] parks and green space?"

Talk about Germantown’s attributes raised a wide range of praise, from its historic properties to its cultural diversity, transit hubs, and thriving artist population.

Clark offered some current statistics on the neighborhood to feed the discussion on housing: 45,000 people live in Germantown, comprising 17,500 households. The area has seen a 24 percent drop in median household income since 2000, with almost half of local households spending 30 percent or more of their budget on housing, which leads to widespread economic difficulty, as there aren’t dollars left to flow elsewhere. Germantown used to have a majority of homeowners versus renters, but now the number of renters is on the rise.

True to form, attendees -- most of them longtime residents of the neighborhood -- spoke frankly about their concerns and didn’t shy away from lobbing questions about the Wister Street project (Clark said the units would have a 15-year lifespan as rental properties, after which tenants would have the option to buy) and housing in Germantown in general.

Many participants pointed out that it’s not so easy to define "affordable" -- it means different things to different people, and can be subsidized in a variety of ways. WRCP’s target population is families who make 30 percent of the area median income. In Germantown, that means about $20,000 to $22,000 annually.

Gentrification was another major theme of the conversation.

"Sooner or later gentrification is coming," said Yvonne Haskins, a board member at Germantown United CDC. "We need to think about affordability now...You know [gentrification] after it’s happened. Germantown is very attractive."

Many attendees expressed their frustration with a seemingly endless circuit of community meetings that yield few tangible outcomes for the neighborhood, and a lack of transparency around investments that are made.

WCRP is in its second round of funding applications for the Wister Street development, and will know in June whether the necessary dollars are available. In the meantime, there will be two more meetings in Germantown on April 27 and May 25 from 6 - 8 p,m, locations TBD.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Christi Clark, Women’s Community Revitalization Project

Follow all our work #OnTheGroundPhilly via twitter (@flyingkitemedia) and Instagram (@flyingkite_ontheground).


On the Ground is made possible by the Knight Foundation, an organization that supports transformational ideas, promotes quality journalism, advances media innovation, engages communities and fosters the arts. The foundation believes that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more, visit knightfoundation.org.
 

A $740,000 revamp is coming for Germantown's Chelten-Greene Plaza


In December 2014, work was underway to redesign a busy but troubled piece of Germantown's Chelten Avenue corridor (near Flying Kite’s former On the Ground home), but there weren’t yet funds in place to implement the changes. Now, thanks to major dollars from the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC), construction could begin next year.

DVRPC is awarding a total pool of $7.6 million to 11 "Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP) projects" throughout southeastern Pennsylvania, including five Philadelphia initiatives. These include $370,000 for the Chelten-Greene Plaza Reconstruction to, in the words of DVRPC, "improve and connect a busy bus stop to Vernon Park."

“The TAP funding allows us to finalize construction documents and actually go forward with construction,” says Philadelphia City Planning Commission Northwest Philadelphia Planner Matt Wysong. There are also matching dollars from the Commerce Department in the mix, bringing the project's total budget to $740,000.

The northwest corner of Chelten Avenue and Greene Street usually hosts a crowd of SEPTA riders waiting for the many bus lines that pass through the intersection. It’s also adjacent to the southeast corner of Vernon Park, but a wrought-iron fence separates the sidewalk from the green space; a low brick wall in the middle of the un-landscaped space is also part of the original flawed design. A drop in the pavement grade between the wall and an adjacent building attracts trash and illegal activities.

Because of the building next door, that drop is an engineering problem the redesign can’t completely solve, but once the brick wall is gone, it will be possible to smooth that section of pavement so the drop is less obvious and to add landscaping features.

"We want to redesign it in a way that maximizes the space, utilizes it to its fullest, [and] allows for some sort of programming to happen there," explains Wysong. That could mean a food truck or some other type of vendor. "Right now, Vernon Park has a very unceremonious entrance along Greene Street." When the existing iron fence is removed, the plaza will be "a promenade to connect to Vernon Park."

There’s no official construction timeline yet. This month, city partners including the Streets Department and the Mayor’s Office of Transportation and Utilities will meet to iron out the details. Wysong estimates that work could begin in early 2017 and be finished within six months.

He touts the renovation as "very much a community-driven design. I’m pleasantly surprised at the enthusiasm I’m seeing now that funding was announced. The space [is] small, but it’s got a lot of meaning to a lot of people."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Matt Wysong, City Planning Commission

Bartram House reopens to the public in April after $2.7 million in renovations


While Bartram’s Garden has been gearing up for new visibility and an influx of visitors thanks to construction of the Bartram’s Mile segment of Schuylkill Banks, its historic house has been closed for renovations.

On April 1, it will be reopen with a compelling mix of old, new and new-to-us environments and programming. (This spring, our On the Ground program will land nearby in Kingsessing.)

"We’ve been fundraising since 2010," explains Bartram’s Garden Assistant Director Stephanie Phillips. With help from a $1 million state Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program grant -- which Bartram was required to match -- the budget for the revamp grew to $2.7 million. The design phase commenced in 2014, and construction took place throughout 2015. The improvements range from a new roof and interior renovations to a cutting-edge geothermal heating and cooling system – the latter quite a feature for a house dating back to 1731.

"It was a great opportunity for us," says Phillips of bringing in the geothermal system. It’s not the first area historic site to install one, but probably the largest, with four main buildings and all the site’s historic outbuildings now on green climate control.

It was a special challenge, geologically speaking, because if you go back several hundred thousand years, the area wasn’t dry land at all: It was under an ocean.

"What we didn’t know was that Bartram’s Garden was on the site of a large sand dune," explains Phillips. If you need to dig 12 wells to a depth of 500 feet each, you have quite a job on your hands once you hit that ancient sand. Ultimately, they had to line the wells with steel casing and import a specialized Canadian drill.

New programming includes a Women of Bartram’s Garden tour -- as Phillips says, "broadening how we tell our story" -- which up until now has focused mostly on farm founder John Bartram, a famous botanist and co-founder of the American Philosophical Society with Benjamin Franklin. When Bartram was traveling in search of his prized plants, his second wife Ann Mendenhall, with whom he had nine children, managed their 200-acre farm. Their son William Bartram took over the site, and after 1810, his niece and John Bartram’s granddaughter Ann Bartram Carr continued the family legacy. She added ten greenhouses to the site.

A recreation of Ann Bartram Carr’s original portico and garden, which graced the western entrance of the house in the 1800s, is still under development at the site. Carr was an extraordinary figure in the art and horticulture world. New outdoor spaces and programming will introduce the public to her story.

"[The improvements] really coincide with the arrival of the Bartram’s Mile trail," adds Phillips. They will create "a much more welcoming experience" for visitors who arrive via the new amenity. For a long time, the west side of the house has been "treated more like a public park, and now it’s going to be treated more like a botanical garden."

Watch Flying Kite for more news at Bartram’s and developments on the Bartram’s Mile trail.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Stephanie Phillips, Bartram’s Garden


Follow all our work #OnTheGroundPhilly via twitter (@flyingkitemedia) and Instagram (@flyingkite_ontheground).

On the Ground is made possible by the Knight Foundation, an organization that supports transformational ideas, promotes quality journalism, advances media innovation, engages communities and fosters the arts. The foundation believes that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more, visit knightfoundation.org.

Will the 30th Street Station District Plan reopen a subway concourse?


This spring, Philly has been buzzing about the future of 30th Street Station. On March 16, the partners in the Philadelphia 30th Street Station District Plan held their penultimate public open house in the Amtrak station’s north waiting room, soliciting feedback on a master plan that encompasses about 640 acres in the area between 22nd Street, Walnut Street, 36th Street, Spring Garden Street and the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. There will be one more public meeting later this spring; the release of a final District Plan is slated for summer.

The proposals encompass major SEPTA and Amtrak station upgrades along with revamped public space and retail/commercial development. And anyone who has exited SEPTA’s 30th Street subway station, climbed the stairs to street level, crossed 30th Street, and walked into the Amtrak or Regional Rail station to catch the next train should be particularly excited about one aspect of the plan: reestablishing an underground concourse connection between the two stations.

Public feedback has repeatedly identified this concourse as a priority for frequent station users. But according to Daniel O’Shaughnessy, a senior planner on the project with consulting architectural, design, planning, and engineering firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP (SOM), building one -- or re-opening the passage that existed until the 1980s -- has a lot of challenges.

The old concourse, little more than ten feet wide and including a 90 degree bend, presented crowding and safety issues. Today, Bridgewater’s Pub in the 30th Street Station food court stands over two disused stairwells that used to carry commuters down to the connector. Currently, a rental car parking lot resides underneath the western apron of 30th Street Station’s footprint.

The District Plan includes the ambitious combination of a wider brand new concourse with underground retail options along the way to the Market-Frankford and trolley lines, all lit with a large skylight near the corner of Market and 30th Streets.

An Amtrak representative at the open house referred Flying Kite to SEPTA for specifics on the logistics and financials of the proposed concourse, but no one from SEPTA was on hand to comment.

Planners have a lot of enthusiasm for the possibility, though the practicalities aren’t settled.

"The end result, we hope, is that the connection is easier," explains O’Shaughnessy. "Modes that seemingly should connect through 30th Street Station could connect again."

The proposed skylight would be an important part of the overall plan, he explains, though it would be a "balancing act" between west side public space, short-term parking needs and the need for light in a below-grade space. But being able to step off the Market-Frankford line underground and still see 30th Street Station through the skylight would give a whole new feel to this major Philly gateway, O’Shaughnessy added.

“It could be a real asset to see where you are," he says. "If we can achieve way-finding through the architecture, that’s a big win."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Daniel O’Shaughnessy, SOM

After Hidden City, any progress for Germantown's Town Hall?


In 2013, the Hidden City Festival built a lot of buzz by re-opening the old Germantown Town Hall to the public for the first time in over fifteen years; the building was abandoned in 1997.
 
After five weeks of programming at the neo-classical national historic landmark at Germantown Avenue and Haines Street, an avid neighborhood consortium formed. Helmed by local artist and architect Charlie McGloughlin, The Town Hall Collaborative -- along with participating groups like the Germantown Artists Roundtable and others -- sought to keep a public spotlight on the building, in hopes of finding a use for it.
 
So, has there been any progress on a new life for the iconic building constructed in the 1920s? (The site's original Town Hall was built in 1854 and demolished in 1920.)
 
Due to growing responsibilities at his day job, McGloughlin is no longer leading efforts to re-animate the building. As he told Flying Kite in a February email, "No one else really stepped forward to lead the Collaborative."
 
Meanwhile, efforts to find a buyer for the 20,000-square-foot City-owned building (dubbed surplus public property) continue, with PIDC handling the marketing and sale. The Fairmount Park Conservancy has also stepped in on the marketing side.
 
"We continue to show the property," says Senior Director of Preservation and Project Management Lucy Strackhouse. Potential buyers have mulled everything from senior or veterans' housing to artist studios, and there has been an uptick in interest since the recent recession eased.

"The dilemma is that almost everyone who sees the building says we can’t do this without some kind of public subsidy," explains Stackhouse, noting the extensive renovations needed. The challenge lies in coming up with "a use for the property that makes sense for the neighborhood, for Germantown itself, and have some funding."
 
The closure and sale of Germantown High School makes the vacancy and declining condition of the Town Hall a double punch for the corridor.
 
"The Conservancy’s been interested in the building because we’ve worked with historic properties throughout the city," says Strackhouse. "It’s such a large, iconic building just up the street from Vernon Park -- where we’ve been working with the Black Writers Museum -- so we’re very concerned that it’s just sitting there deteriorating."
 
According to Strackhouse, zoning specialist Patrick Jones from 8th District Councilwoman Cindy Bass’s staff has also been working to facilitate a sale, but Bass’s office did not return a request for comment.
 
"It’s disappointing," says Strackhouse of the current lack of progress. "We’re hoping we’re going to find that knight in shining armor that’s going to come in and rescue the building, but so far that hasn’t happened."
 
Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Lucy Strackhouse, the Fairmount Park Conservancy

 
Follow all our work #OnTheGroundPhilly via twitter (@flyingkitemedia) and Instagram (@flyingkite_ontheground).

On the Ground is made possible by the Knight Foundation, an organization that supports transformational ideas, promotes quality journalism, advances media innovation, engages communities and fosters the arts. The foundation believes that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more, visit knightfoundation.org.
 

Pop-up beer gardens coming to Philly parks this summer


This summer, there'll be one more reason to get out to local parks, large and small: The Fairmount Park Conservancy is partnering with Parks & Recreation to bring pop-up beer gardens to sites throughout the city.
 
"We think it’s a great way to engage new audiences in the city parks," says Conservancy Associate Director of Business Development Elizabeth Moselle. She hopes the beer gardens will draw visitors to "see places they otherwise wouldn’t have gone to," with some possible sites including well-known "high-traffic" parks as well as "hidden gems."
 
At this point in the vendor selection process, 18 potential sites have been identified, including Paine’s Park, Schuylkill Banks, Clark Park, Belmont Plateau, Shofuso Japanese House & Gardens, Smith Memorial Arch (near Flying Kite’s former On the Ground digs in Parkside), FDR Park, Hawthorne Park and more.
 
Moselle says this list might get narrowed down as the vendor selection process continues, but there will be a minimum of 12 locations.
 
According to its Request For Proposals (RFP), the City is hoping for "innovative reuse of outdoor space [that] invites people to experience an old Philadelphia tradition in the parks," in honor of German immigrants’ biergartens of the mid-1800s.
 
The RFP is ultimately seeking one vendor that will operate pop-ups at each site on successive weeks. These events will be for a minimum of three days and a maximum of five, with options for hours starting at noon and running no later than 11 p.m. The chosen vendor may subcontract elements like additional food services -- including food trucks -- and they’ll be responsible for needs such as lighting, security, sanitation and trash. A February meeting for interested vendors drew about 80 participants; answers to all the questions they submitted are available online through amendments to the RFP.
 
The RFP also emphasizes that access to all the pop-up sites and adjacent land and trails will be open and free to the public, like entry to any Philly park.
 
To ensure that neighbors and park groups were open to the pop-ups, picking the sites involved a "pretty robust outreach process," explains Moselle. A "stewardship team" at the Conservancy, overlapping with Parks & Rec, keeps this kind of communication going with 110 parks throughout the City. 
 
Vendor applications are due by 10:30 a.m. on March 31. Moselle says there’s no announcement yet of a timeline for selecting a vendor or opening the beer gardens, so stay tuned.
 
Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Elizabeth Moselle, Fairmount Park Conservancy 

Construction on the Museum of the American Revolution will be completed this year


Anyone passing through historic Old City these days has probably noticed a major project at the corner of 3rd and Chestnut Streets. It's the future site of The Museum of the American Revolution, and construction has been ongoing for 20 months.

The new tourist attraction is landing in Independence National Historical Park thanks to a land-swap with the National Park Service -- they gained a new parcel in Valley Forge in exchange for opening up the site to the new four-story 118,000-square foot museum. The site was long home to a Park Service visitors’ center built in the 1970s for America’s bicentennial. That closed about fifteen years ago and was demolished to make way for the new museum.

"We wanted a building that reflected classic design, to fit and honor the history of the neighborhood," says CEO Michael Quinn of engaging Robert A.M. Stern Architects for the $150 million project, currently funded at $124 million with a matching grant of $12 million underway to close the gap.

"We took an approach [to the layout] that we think is going to be really effective," continues Quinn. The site's main exhibit space will be on the second floor, with a core gallery of about 16,000 square feet integrating immersive multi-media experiences with a range of notable artifacts, including George Washington's original tent which served as both his office and sleeping quarters during the Revolutionary War.

The ground floor will feature a lobby, museum shop, 180-seat introductory theater, 5,000-square-foot gallery for temporary exhibitions, and a café that will spill out along 3rd Street.

"We wanted to contribute to the dynamism of the urban environment," says Quinn.

The lower level will offer two large classrooms and the top floor will house the museum’s offices and event space, including room to seat 180 for dinner. Out of about 85,000 "usable" square feet of space, 30,000 are dedicated to visitors, education and experiences -- a very high ratio of visitor orientation.

According to Kirsti Bracali, a project manager with consulting firm Dan Bosin Associates, the design also incorporates eco-friendly elements such as a green roof and state-of-the-art stormwater management, air-cycling, and heat-recovery systems.

The building meets and exceeds Philadelphia Water Department (PWD) stormwater requirements and is working toward LEED certification. There’s a green roof on 90 percent of the spaces over the museum -- it handles rainwater as well as deflects heat. It’ll also be a nice splash of green for taller adjacent buildings to look down on.

The museum's recovered stormwater will have year-round use in cooling towers, via a large underground cistern. With its museum-quality air requirements -- temperature and humidity control is essential for preserving the artifacts on display -- it’s notable that the site will use collected stormwater to help with climate control.

"This is the first time it’s been done in Philadelphia," says Bracali of the system, which the museum has been working with PWD to implement.

The museum’s offices should be occupied by September of this year; opening day is planned for 2017.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Sources: Michael Quinn, Museum of the American Revolution; Kirsti Bracali, Dan Bosin Associates 

 

Joynture Work Habitat comes to the Pearl Building on South Street


In autumn 2014, the former Pearl Arts & Crafts building on South Street got new life as a dance and fitness complex, but the venture was short-lived. Now, a co-working space focused on young and growing companies is set to open in May.

Joynture Work Habitat, which operates under the umbrella of software design and development company EWS, already has one location on Wall Street in New York City; it will open another in Lahore, Pakistan this year.

EWS Vice President of Business Development and Joynture co-founder Kyle Riggle says the company has been looking to expand to Philly for the last year.

"The reason we’re interested in Philly is just because the tech scene here is really starting to come alive," says Riggle. "I think that’s kind of the market we like to go after."

The hunt for a space began in Center City and then moved to Old City without turning up the right spot in terms of size, price, lease length and "a landlord willing to work with the type of business that we want to run," explains Riggle. "That’s not easy to find."

A Northern California native who came to the East Coast to attend Columbia University, Riggle lived in New York City for the past six years before buying a house in Philly’s Point Breeze neighborhood. He was strolling South Street one day late last year with his brother when he saw a sign in the Pearl building window. He met with the owner the next day for a tour.

"It had a lot of character and a lot of potential," he recalls. "Right when I saw it, I knew I could do something cool with it if I could make the numbers work."

The lease for Joynture’s new Philly location was finalized last December.

With the support of EWS, members will have access to a host of technical resources: membership benefits include big discounts from Amazon Web Services, Zipcar, UPS, B & H, and more.

The space will be a mix of private offices available for rent and co-working space. There will be an event area on the first floor and offices on the second. The 9,000-square-foot third floor can be tailored for multiple tenants looking for anything from 500 to 2,000 square feet. Startups interested in getting into the new Joynture space can e-mail joinus@joynture.com to get the ball rolling.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Kyle Riggle, Joynture Work Habitat

 

Camden tax credits spur ambitious renovation of the Ruby Match Factory


Camden, a former Flying Kite On the Ground neighborhood, is "a pretty spectacular site, in basic real estate terms," enthuses developer Jackie Buhn, principal and CEO of the Philly-based AthenianRazak LLC. Camden's burgeoning business and cultural sectors have Philadelphia right across the bridge, gorgeous views, coveted waterfront space and steep tax credits designed to anchor a range of industries there.

All those factors have led to the Ruby Match Factory project. This 1899 waterfront warehouse has been getting buzz recently with the announcement of plans to renovate it into an airy mixed-use loft-style retail and office space -- the first of its kind in contemporary Camden. When completed, the 74,500 square-foot building (with a total of 71,000 square feet of offices and a planned 3,500 square-foot restaurant and art gallery) will have a newly added second level offering views of the entire space.

"It’ll be pretty dramatic," says Buhn.

The basic design of the building's interior is complete; it features open trusses and high ceilings, and room to accommodate eventual tenants' needs.

Part of the draw for those future tenants is the Camden GROW NJ State Tax Credit Program, an element of the New Jersey Economic Opportunity Act of 2013. According to the Cooper’s Ferry Partnership, these credits "provide unprecedented incentives for businesses to bring jobs to Camden – or keep them there."

Businesses with at least 35 employees (and companies in "targeted industries" with as few as 10 workers) leasing space in the city are eligible for these credits -- they can apply for them based on the number of jobs they’ll create in the fifteen years following their application. The credits can be applied to nonprofit and for-profit ventures alike.

According to Cooper’s Ferry, the credits can be worth between $10,000 and $15,000 per employee annually for 10 years. These aren’t given in cash, but awarded against New Jersey taxes owed. In the case of a business whose tax credit exceeds their tax obligation (Buhn points to nonprofits, which may not be aware of their eligibility for the program), the credits can be sold for cash, coming to about 90 percent of the credits' value. 

So how does this factor into the price per square foot for companies paying rent in Camden? Cooper’s Ferry posits that a company with 100 employees is awarded an annual tax credit that averages to $12,500 per employee. If the profit from the sale of those credits is treated and taxed as capital gains (nonprofits are not subject to tax on the credits), that could amount to a net of $900,000 per year for 10 years -- or $9 million total. In light of that credit, if the building you’re leasing has about 175 square feet per worker, 17,500 square feet of space in Camden could mean paying just $51 per square foot in rent for 10 years.

In the case of the Ruby Match Factory's future tenants, Buhn argues that "because of the tax credits, it’s essentially free." They’ve run many different scenarios, and one came to just $4 per square foot per year for the life of the program.

"It’s a good deal, it’s a great location, and it’s a beautiful space," she adds.

Companies who want help determining their eligibility for the credits should call Cooper’s Ferry Partnership at 856-757-9154.

AthenianRazak can’t currently announce more details about the design or the tenants -- which are still being secured -- but once everything is in place, a "conservative" timeline for construction is just ten months.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Sources: Jackie Buhn,
AthenianRazak; the Cooper’s Ferry Partnership

Follow all our work #OnTheGroundPhilly via twitter (@flyingkitemedia) and Instagram (@flyingkite_ontheground).

On the Ground is made possible by the Knight Foundation, an organization that supports transformational ideas, promotes quality journalism, advances media innovation, engages communities and fosters the arts. The foundation believes that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more, visit knightfoundation.org.

The new yard at West Philly's Lea School has a lot to offer students and the community

Last week, we took a look at how city-wide cooperation between several groups and agencies laid the groundwork for a much-needed new schoolyard at West Philly’s Henry C. Lea School.

Thanks to grants from PECO and the Philadelphia Water Department Stormwater Management Incentive Program (SMIP), design was underway in spring of 2014. Then lead project designer Sara Pevaroff Schuh of SALT Design Studio learned that, in addition to Lea’s older existing play structure, the space would be getting a brand-new setup -- the School District planned to relocate one from the recently closed Alexander Wilson School.

"Since we had this SMIP grant, they were [only] going to put the new rubber surface right under the new play structure," says Julie Scott, co-chair of the Green Lea project spearheaded by the West Philly Coalition for Neighborhood Schools. "[But] we really wanted it to be a green project and be cohesive,” 

With Schuh’s help, the relocated addition was placed next to the old one, which rested on an aged and impermeable tiled surface. Funds raised by the Coalition paid for the removal of the asphalt under both sites, and new continuous permeable rubber surfacing went everywhere.

"The kids had no idea it would be like a tumbling mat for them outside," enthuses Schuh. "It’s purple, red, and blue," with a design reminiscent of ripples from a raindrop.

Other beautification and stormwater management measures include three additional rain gardens on the site along 47th Street and 19 new trees. The yard also got a new entrance on the corner of 47th and Spruce.

During one community planting day last fall, volunteers put in 1200 plants (another workday is planned for April of this year). The Philadelphia Orchard Project has gotten involved as well, adding edible plants to the yard including chokeberries and blueberries.

"It’s pretty dramatic," says Schuh. "It basically went from being a one-acre asphalt schoolyard to…[having] a little urban forest on it now -- and it’s the kind of urban forest that works in a schoolyard."

Input from the community informed the design. 

"They wanted a place for neighborhood folks to gather," she says. "For parents to be able to have a social space while they waited for their kids [or] when they came to meet with teachers."

Meanwhile, school staffers needed unobstructed sight-lines and a flexible space.

"As designers, we wanted to really create room for different sorts of activities in the landscape…that would be educational tools for teachers throughout the school day," adds Schuh.

There’s already been a major uptick in community use of the yard outside of school hours.

A few minor projects remain -- painting the basketball court, additional planting and dumpster enclosures -- but Lea’s new schoolyard is largely complete as of 2016. Scott estimates the cost of the project at $850,000, including the original design grant and volunteers' time.

"We felt like the yard was a very large signal," she says, "a way of saying to the community that this is a really great place to send your kids."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Sources: Julie Scott, West Philly Coalition for Neighborhood Schools; Sara Pevaroff Schuh, SALT Design Studio

Lights up on the next phase for Fabric Row

Last summer, we looked at the transformations taking place on South 4th Street’s Fabric Row, and now a big piece of those plans is complete. On February 8, representatives from the South Street Headhouse District (SSHD), the Commerce Department, the Streets Department and First District Councilman Mark Squilla officially brought up the lights on a major new streetscape improvement.

The corridor now has 38 LED pedestrian lights and 12 LED overhead lights between Lombard and Christian Streets. The project also includes the planting of 20 new trees, fixes for deteriorating curbs and sidewalks, and new decorative crosswalks. Made possible by NTI Commerce Department funds secured through SSHD, the renovations extend to several nearby blocks of South Street, with 130 existing lights on South between Front and 11th Streets being upgraded to LEDs.

Philly is "considered one of the best walkable cities in this country," said Streets Department Commissioner Donald Carlton at the lighting ceremony at 4th and Bainbridge Streets. This improvement was a long-needed upgrade to one of the region’s most historic commercial corridors.

SSHD Executive Director Michael Harris added that the project would have "transformative impact" on the area. Elena Brennan, SSHD Board Chair and owner of the nearby Bus Stop Boutique, agreed.

"It’s really near and dear to my heart," she said of the lighting improvement. Nine years ago when she first opened her store the lack of adequate lighting was a big problem for nighttime shoppers and shop-owners. "This street now is going to be brilliant."

"Lighting is the key to safety," explained Councilman Squilla in his remarks -- it increases visitors' comfort and foot traffic, and boosts business on a corridor.

He acknowledged some of the project's challenges, including its winter construction timeline (which may have impacted holiday sales). But with years to come of attractive well-lit walkways in good repair, the temporary inconvenience of construction will pay off for shoppers and business owners alike.

As we discovered back in summer 2015, the roster of businesses on the corridor is evolving: shifting to include a range of eclectic upscale boutiques and restaurants alongside the traditional textile stores. Councilman Squilla lauded the burgeoning intergenerational feel of Fabric Row, where legacy businesses are increasingly joined by new ones.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Sources: 4th Street Lighting and South Street Lighting Celebration speakers 

 

How West Philly's Lea School got a brand new yard for everyone

Remaking a local school space -- and erstwhile one-acre asphalt lot -- took the efforts of a citywide coalition reaching back five years. Late last year, West Philadelphia's Henry C. Lea School (which boasts about 550 students in kindergarten through eighth grade) completed the final phase of a years-long improvement project for its schoolyard at 4700 Locust Street.
 
"It was a major accomplishment to see another schoolyard in Philadelphia go from being an asphalt lot to something different, something that actually provides kids a really stimulating place," explains lead project designer Sara Pevaroff Schuh, principal at SALT Design Studio.
 
The initiative got its start through the West Philly Coalition for Neighborhood Schools, which launched in 2010. Before achieving its nonprofit status, the group applied (under the umbrella of the nearby Enterprise Center) for a design grant for the schoolyard from the Community Design Collaborative.
 
In 2011, the Coalition officially became a nonprofit organization and the Collaborative grant was awarded: Lea’s yard became part of a design project (alongside Germantown’s John B. Kelly School) culminating in a 2012 charrette that yielded a new master plan.
 
By fall of 2012, the Coalition had the Collaborative’s official report in hand. According to Julie Scott, co-chair of the Coalition’s Greening Lea project, "We did a little pilot project using the master plan as a guideline." The group took on a manageable slice of the bigger vision and informed the community (many of whom had already participated in the charrette process) of the coming change. The Coalition chose to depave and plant a section of the yard bordering Spruce Street.
 
They approached the School District with their plan, hoping to get the depaving and planting done over the course of a few weekends with help from volunteers. The District came through, handling the depaving and the installation of a new hose, while local volunteers took care of the new plantings.
 
That enabled the next big steps: a pair of grants in 2013. First came a PECO Green Region grant and then a Philadelphia Water Department Stormwater Management Incentive Programs (SMIP) grant. (The University of Pennsylvania also contributed $75,000 towards the yard's completion.) 
 
The SMIP dollars were longer in coming, but the PECO dollars -- $10,000 that was matched through community fundraising spearheaded by the Coalition -- let the group begin planning their latest landscaping and water management schematics. They put out an RFP in spring of 2013 and SALT came on the scene in early 2014.
 
"It had been a while since that plan had gone through the community process by the time we came on board, so we went through another round of community engagement," recalls Schuh. A new school principal also meant some adjustment of the vision.
 
But things began to move quickly thanks to an unexpected element in the design. The Alexander Wilson School at 46 and Woodland was among those closed by the District -- and just after community members had invested in a brand-new play structure. In the midst of planning, the District decided to relocate the Wilson structure to Lea, a sudden challenge for the designers.
 
Next week, we’ll take a look at Lea’s new landscape, which benefits students, parents and community members.
 
Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Sources: Julie Scott, West Philly Coalition for Neighborhood Schools; Sara Pevaroff Schuh, SALT Design Studio

 

West Powelton welcomes an exciting new live/work space for artists

On February 9, the People’s Emergency Center (PEC) and an enthusiastic crowd of supporters braved a snowy forecast to break ground on a new West Philadelphia housing development that has been years in the making. 4050 Apartments -- named for its location at 4050 Haverford Avenue in West Powelton -- will help lower-income artists who are longtime residents stay in a rapidly gentrifying neighborhood full of university and commercial expansion.

Kira Strong, vice president of community and economic development at PEC, says the movement behind 4050 goes back more than 10 years. Friends of 40th Street sparked the original conversation in response to concerns from residents, artists and local cultural groups that the University of Pennsylvania’s expansion north would push them out of West Powelton.

PEC got directly involved in 2006 with a study funded by the William Penn Foundation to examine the needs of locals. What emerged from the study, according to Strong, is that, "people who are already here -- who are drawn to the area for its great proximity to transit, to Center City, to the universities -- were really nervous about not being able to afford live/work space anymore."

That kicked off the planning and conceptualization process for 4050 Apartments.

All in all, the project represents a total of $7.2 million in investment from a wide variety of funders including PHFA, the Commerce Department, LISC, the PRA, and other local and state-wide banks and agencies. (This will be the sixth housing development PEC has opened since 2011, with previous developments totaling 39 new residential units.)

The three-story structure will total 24,350 square feet and include 20 rental apartments (10 one-bedrooms, five two-bedrooms and five three-bedroom units). It was designed by PZS Architects and will be built by Allied Construction.

According to PEC, Philly’s second-largest community of artist calls the neighborhood home and the construction "aims to preserve an important part of what defines the Lower Lancaster Avenue community" with affordable live/work space. The apartments will feature high ceilings, open layouts and plenty of natural light. There will also be a street-facing community room designed for workshops and exhibitions.

"We heard that from residents," says Strong of the shared space. "[They said], 'We don’t want you guys to build an enclave that’s shut off from the community…We want it to be something that the community really can have as a resource and have access to and engage with."

Strong adds that last week's groundbreaking was no ceremonial event: construction is underway and is projected for completion by this December, with residents arriving in early 2017.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Kira Strong, People’s Emergency Center

 

New funds move Germantown closer to creating a master plan

Germantown United CDC (GUCDC) is one step closer to the comprehensive neighborhood plan it’s been eyeing for years thanks to a new $25,000 civic engagement grant from the Pennsylvania Humanities Council.

The one-year grant will be split between GUCDC and a local theater-based nonprofit known as Just Act, which uses trained actor-facilitators (in teams of both youths and adults) to help spark community dialogues.

According to the two groups, the dollars will help them "map both the formal and informal networks currently contributing to community improvement efforts in Germantown." The work supported by the grant will be a "community network analysis" that ensures all of the neighborhood’s voices are "well-represented and prepared for their role as stakeholder in the larger effort to revitalize greater Germantown and the neighborhood’s shopping district and commercial sector."

"One thing we’d like to do is have a lot of these groups that may not be talking to each other right now start talking to each other," explains GUDCD Executive Director Andy Trackman.

Just Act Executive Director Lisa Jo Epstein -- who is partnering with GUCDC Corridor Manager Emaleigh Doley to spearhead the civic engagement project -- is on the same page as Trackman. The more people who participate the better, she says. "Then, when a developer comes in, there’s already going to be a new informal network that can say, 'If you’re coming in, you have to also respond to us. You have to do something for us, not for people from the outside.'"

"What I would like for this grant to do…[is] show that Germantown United is really committed to talking to all the voices in Germantown, especially as it relates to our planning of the neighborhood," adds Trackman. "I also would like to see this as a building block, as an attention-getter to get more resources into the neighborhood for this planning process."

Doley and Epstein are currently developing a series of community storytelling events; dates and locations TBA.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Sources: Andy Trackman, Germantown United CDC; Lisa Jo Epstein, Just Act

On the Ground: Melding art and sound in the shadow of the Reading Viaduct


The Reading Viaduct Rail Park is entering a transitional stage, and Dave Kyu's latest work is set to take full advantage. An artist with a socially conscious, literary bent, Kyu has been working on interviews and projects with Asian Arts Initiative’s Social Practice Lab for the last few years, including "Write Sky" and "Sign of the Times." (Asian Arts served as Flying Kite's On the Ground home through the end of January.) The former Mural Arts (MAP) project manager of the inaugural Neighborhood Time Exchange project in West Philly, he is still involved with the organization on a freelance basis.

Now Kyu is spearheading a new collaboration between the Friends of the Rail Park (FRP), MAP and the American Composers Forum. According to him, MAP is stepping outside of their usual arts purview to work on unique temporary installations of music, light and projections on the existing urban environment of the neighborhood.

Project details are still being finalized. Ultimately, the initiative will encompass a study from sound engineers as well as commissioned historical research on the neighborhood’s post-industrial history -- those elements will inspire the participating artists.

Kyu explains that this project -- a pilot for something more permanent in conjunction with Phase 1 of the Viaduct -- has its roots in MAP’s first partnership with the Composers Forum in 2014. That project paired four composers with three murals; they performed original music at the murals inspired by their visual/artistic qualities and the neighborhood history they depicted.

"What is the intersection of sound and visual art?" Kyu wonders of the current project, launching this spring. He also notes that people experiencing this work will be witnessing the current state of the Viaduct for the last time -- even though the park itself may not open until 2017, the associated construction will bring big changes before that.

Kyu likes taking advantage of what he calls a major "creative opportunity" in the "mental shift" that’s happening around the Viaduct: Philadelphians have gone from wondering if it’ll ever happen to wondering when it’ll happen, and he wants to explore the space through interdisciplinary arts in the meantime. He is also interested to see the audience for the work. Will it be mostly locals? People from greater Philadelphia? Or will the installations draw out-of-towners, as well? This is all information that will play into developing future Viaduct programming.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Dave Kyu, Mural Arts Project

Follow all our work #OnTheGroundPhilly via twitter (@flyingkitemedia) and Instagram (@flyingkite_ontheground).


On the Ground is made possible by the Knight Foundation, an organization that supports transformational ideas, promotes quality journalism, advances media innovation, engages communities and fosters the arts. The foundation believes that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more, visit knightfoundation.org.
 
 

The Bacon Brothers headline a February benefit for the new Viaduct park

On February 4, Phase 1 construction of the Viaduct Rail Park will get a boost of star power from the Bacon Brothers at a special fundraiser concert at Union TransferCenter City District (CCD) and Friends of the Rail Park (FRP) are teaming up to present the show.

"Aren’t we all separated from Kevin Bacon by just six degrees?" quips FRP leader Sarah McEneaney. "Both FRP and CCD were thinking about how we could get greater visibility for the project, and what better way to do that than engage a home-grown star who had city planning in his DNA and was involved in the realization of the High Line in NYC?"

Nancy Goldenberg, vice president of planning and development at CCD and executive director of the Center City District Foundation, knew a high school friend of Kevin Bacon, and began to network. The outreach resulted in a visit to the Viaduct for Bacon and his sister Hilda -- they were enthusiastic about the site's potential and agreed to headline a fundraiser.

The older of the two brothers, Michael, is a career musician and Emmy-winning composer. Movie fans, of course, know Kevin from roles in films like Apollo 13, Mystic River and many more. The two grew up in Philadelphia, and some of Michael’s first gigs were at the Electric Factory in the 1960s. They formed their band in 1995 and now tour across the country. The Bacon Brothers released their seventh album in fall 2014.

The show will also include a performance by Lititz, Penn., native Robe Grote (of The Districts) and other well-known local musicians.

"Proceeds from the concert will support both construction and stewardship of the first phase of the park," explains McEneaney. "But the concert is much more about raising visibility and engaging an increasing number of new supporters. We’ve had enormous support from the City, State and several foundations for the project, but now we’re turning to the folks who benefit the most: the individuals who will use it."

This all-ages benefit is taking place at Union Transfer on Thursday, February 4 at 8 p.m. (doors at 7:15 p.m.). For tickets ($35-$125), click here.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Sarah McEneaney, Friends of the Rail Park 

Follow all our work #OnTheGroundPhilly via twitter (@flyingkitemedia) and Instagram (@flyingkite_ontheground).


On the Ground is made possible by the Knight Foundation, an organization that supports transformational ideas, promotes quality journalism, advances media innovation, engages communities and fosters the arts. The foundation believes that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more, visit knightfoundation.org.
 

Working to curb illegal dumping on Philly streets

On January 20, Keep Philadelphia Beautiful (KPB) continued its push to produce the city’s first unified front on the issue of litter with a convening of officials and community stakeholders at the Municipal Services Building’s 16th floor Innovation Lab.  

Attendees were from groups as diverse as the Streets Department, the Philadelphia Water Department (PWD), the Tookany Tacony-Frankford Watershed Partnership, the Aramingo Business Association, the People's Emergency Center, the Cambodian Association of Greater Philadelphia, the North Fifth Street Revitalization Project, the Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation (PCDC), the Schuylkill Navy of Philadelphia and the South of South Neighborhood Association.

"How do we do this as a city, and how do the smaller groups work together?" asked Marian Horowitz, an environmental engineer at PWD.

Alan Robinson of the Schuylkill Navy said that when it comes to the city environment, he wishes people would get as excited about reducing and eliminating litter as they are about pop-up parks, pools and gardens.

One of four specialized break-out sessions focused specifically on the problem of illegal dumping. PCDC Deputy Director Rachel Mak led the discussion.

While litter in the streets, sidewalks and waterways is a problem in Philly, illegal dumping is a problem on a larger and much more noticeable scale. People unwilling to dispose of their household or construction trash properly leave bags and piles on public corners or strewn around City trash cans.

Mak highlighted a few sites in the Chinatown neighborhood that research has pinpointed as hot-spots for illegal dumping, including the corners at 10th and Race Streets, 10th and Cherry Streets, and 11th and Wood Streets.

One reason tracking the dumping sites is important, Mak said, is that the installation of cameras can capture illegal dumpers in the act. Printouts of the images can also be distributed throughout the neighborhood.

PCDC also partners with the Streets Department’s Streets and Walkways Education and Enforcement Program (SWEEP) to check illegally dumped material for identifying information that can be used to track down and fine the perpetrators.

Stopping illegal dumping takes a lot of groundwork, persistence, education, and "getting your hands dirty," explains Mak.

"People get used to seeing trash, so they let it go when it happens," adds Horowitz. "People think they aren’t doing anything wrong or no-one will notice.

Later, we’ll take a look at how the new KPB consortium is hoping to mobilize business owners on the issue.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Sources: Rachel Mak, PCDC; and KPB litter convening participants

Development News: High-end residential units coming to Spring Garden Street

On January 11, Interface Studio Architects (ISA) principal Brian Phillips joined Nino Cutrufello and Marcus Toconita of developer Callahan Ward to chat with Callowhill neighbors about a major new residential development.
 
The Callowhill Neighborhood Association meeting at Brick and Mortar restaurant drew a crowd of locals to view renderings and plans for the new multi-family building slated for 1314-1331 Spring Garden Street. The design features an attractive façade facing both Spring Garden and Nectarine Streets, with utilities located on the roof.  
 
"We’re excited to build on this lot," said Phillips, the project's lead architect. "It's an exciting piece of the city -- Spring Garden is a powerful urban street with some density."
 
The 20,000-square-foot development would boast 36 residential units for sale (along with 36 parking spaces). While the project will have a unified look, it will actually consist of four independent structures of nine units each, allowing for an "intimately scaled" feeling for residents, said Phillips.
 
Phillips also explained that the ground floor units are modeled as loft-style studios, with an open floor plan to appeal to residents with live/work needs. And as the developers test the local market, the design will allow for easy conversion to a ground-floor commercial space, if needed. The upper floors of each of the four segments will have two two-bedroom two-bath units.
 
The only zoning hurdle so far is an exception needed for the planned surface parking lot -- a contentious issue for a project situated in a high-density neighborhood so close to public transit. The team is hoping for approval later this year, and would like to begin phased construction in late 2016 or early 2017.
 
The architect and developers addressed locals’ questions, like whether Nectarine Street would be shut down for construction (so far, the answer is no), the location of utilities, the use of a private trash collector, and how the new development will interact with the upcoming Spring Garden Greenway.
 
And how much will these homes cost? There’s no official answer yet, but as with their other developments in Northern Liberties, Kensington and Fishtown, Callahan Ward's Cutrufello expects something "at the upper end of the market." 
 
Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Sources: Brian Phillips, ISA; Nino Cutrufello, Callahan Ward
 
Follow all our work #OnTheGroundPhilly via twitter (@flyingkitemedia) and Instagram (@flyingkite_ontheground).

On the Ground is made possible by the Knight Foundation, an organization that supports transformational ideas, promotes quality journalism, advances media innovation, engages communities and fosters the arts. The foundation believes that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more, visit knightfoundation.org.

A new community green space in Frankford embraces the atmosphere of city life

According to Ellie Devyatkin, commercial corridor manager at the Frankford Community Development Corporation, the name for Frankford Pause -- a new park coming this spring to a piece of land at Frankford Avenue and Paul Street -- came about because whenever the el rumbles by, locals know to pause their conversation.
 
It’s going to be a unique and much-needed green space for the Frankford Avenue corridor: the result of dollars from an ArtPlace America grant via the City Planning Commission, and subsequent partnerships between Frankford CDC, the Community Design Collaborative and the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (PHS).  
 
In the process of pursuing designs for what was originally envisioned as a temporary park, Frankford CDC quickly realized that to secure the necessary funding, they had to think beyond a pop-up.
 
“We realized that we would need to actually build the park," recalls Devyatkin. "With all the effort that was going into it, it made a lot more sense for it to be a permanent park than a temporary pop-up."
 
That meant going back to the drawing board, but the work has been worth it. A design grant from the Collaborative made the initial concepts possible, while Locus Partners ultimately drafted the final construction documents. Remaining ArtPlace America dollars will fund the construction --  estimated at about $240,000 -- with additional support from Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sánchez’s office.
 
The CDC calls the planned park "a new hub of community activity" and a "flexible open space" that can host a variety of gatherings and events. The design features open lawn, flexible seating, a performance stage, plantings and raised vegetable gardens.
 
The latter will be made possible through $25,000 from PHS, and Devyatkin hopes that maintenance of the plantings and gardens will continue with help from the neighborhood’s many active gardening groups.
 
Seating will consist of benches made from repurposed plastic milk crates and pressure-treated wood, and wire mesh gabion structures (pressure-treated wood, lacing wire, mesh and rocks).
 
A distinctive aspect of the space will be bright pink "loops" that surround the space with stripes painted up the sides of the adjacent building and extend over the top of the park in the form of long, durable shade cloths that can be removed in bad weather. There will also be sound-activated lighting triggered by the passing train and other city noises, bringing new awareness to the urban acoustic landscape.
 
Devyatkin predicts that the park will break ground this spring, with an official opening in June or July.
 
Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Ellie Devyatkin, Frankford CDC

What will Bridesburg's new park offer the neighborhood?

Last week, we told you about a new 10-acre park slated for the North Delaware riverfront at Orthodox Street in Bridesburg. The project is still in its early planning phase, but ideas for the exciting green space are already taking shape. The Delaware River City Corporation (DRCC) and Philadelphia Parks & Recreation are spearheading the effort, with the help from community stakeholders.

“We’re really excited about the project because it provides that neighborhood access to the river that they haven’t had before,” enthuses Stephanie K. Craighead, director of planning, preservation and property management at Parks & Rec. Bridesburg Recreation Center is nearby, so locals don’t lack for certain recreation facilities -- including a ball field, a pool, basketball and tennis courts -- "but what they don’t have is this wonderful resource at the river."

The new park will focus on more passive recreation with meadows and stormwater management, walking and biking trails, a boardwalk, places to sit quietly, and a healthy waterfront habitat that planners hope will draw birdwatchers.

"Spaces that are contemplative," is how Craighead puts it, along with an area for kids to ride bikes without worrying about car and truck traffic -- a first for the neighborhood. The park will also have raised benches offering river views or amphitheater-style seating for a performance area, along with a plaza for events like a farmers' market. Restroom facilities and parking will be included.

"We hope that a friends group will develop around this park as friends groups have developed around our other parks," she says, "and that we could work with them to schedule special events, and have the park be a very active place that supports the community."

A re-vamp of Orthodox Street will also be included in the designs -- the thoroughfate will welcome pedestrians to the park with benches, shade trees, a safe place to stroll and traffic-calming measures.

"Our North Delaware Riverfront Greenway trail is going to run right along that location," adds DRCC Executive Director Tom Branigan. "This will become a trailhead park for the Greenway."

Now that an official concept has been developed with community input, Branigan says DRCC will pursue funding for design and construction from sources like the William Penn Foundation, the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and the City of Philadelphia.

Without hard plans, the final cost is hard to estimate, but organizations estimate it at up to $7 million, with an additional $1.5 to $2 million needed for the Orthodox Street upgrades. If all goes well, official design on the park could begin this year, and Branigan estimates that construction could launch within two to three years.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Sources: Stephanie K. Craighead, Philadelphia Parks & Recreation; and Tom Branigan, Delaware River City Corporation

 

Your chance to vote on where Philly needs new transit shelters

SEPTA riders, neighborhood groups and City Council members have long been calling for more transit shelters, and late last year a platform finally launched for residents to have their say.

According to Angela Dixon, deputy director of the Mayor’s Office of Transportation and Utilities (MOTU), the City of Philadelphia has over 8,000 surface transit stops. Only 300 of those have covered transit shelters, and an effort is afoot to double that number while also replacing all existing stops. Residents are voting on where the new shelters should go.

"This network was established over 25 years ago and is well past its useful life," says Dixon. In 2014, the City kicked off a competitive RFP process for managers of a new Street Furniture Concession Agreement that will last for 20 years. Intersection was ultimately chosen and authorized to develop, install and maintain the new shelters, which will be funded by an advertising program, not taxpayers.

A public voting website to determine the placement of the new shelters was a stipulation of the Concession Agreement; it launched in late October 2015. The criteria were determined with several factors in mind: the ridership at the individual stops, requests received from a variety of public and private sources, available space, and the stops’ proximity to sites like hospitals, senior centers, shopping centers and community centers.

The website’s "add a shelter" feature also allows voters to suggest a location not currently on the map. MOTU reviews these submissions and decides, based on ridership at the site and other factors, whether they’ll be added to the official voting roster. Site users can also leave their comments.

Dixon confirms that people are interacting with site already, but it’ll get a boost early this year with a new ad campaign on buses, existing shelters and libraries.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Angela Dixon, the Mayor’s Office of Transportation and Utilities

A new park for Bridesburg on the banks of the Delaware

The first phase of the new Delaware Avenue extension officially opened in December, and it isn’t the only change coming to Bridesburg. The sole Philadelphia neighborhood that lies east of I-95, the community has long been divided from the Delaware River by the historic industrial center there. Now a proposed 10-acre riverfront park could change all that.

Over the last several months, the Delaware River City Corporation (DRCC) and Philadelphia Parks & Recreation have been engaging residents in a planning process (aided by dollars from the William Penn Foundation). Those meetings culminated in the presentation of a final concept and master plan on December 16 at American Legion Post 821.

According to land owner Parks & Rec and DRCC, the proposed space for the park is a "blighted and unused tract of former industrial land" at the end of Orthodox Street.

Stephanie K. Craighead, director of planning, preservation and property management for Parks & Rec, argues that the site has been underutilized for years.

"There are some limitations to how close to the river you could get, because of how the site was used prior to our acquiring it," she says. In particular, a lot of concrete has been dumped at the river’s edge there, which rendered it unstable for major development.

Tom Branigan, executive director of DRCC, has become very familiar with Bridesburg residents and businesses over the last five years. Throughout many community and civic meetings, "they were always frustrated that things were happening all around them, but nothing was happening in Bridesburg," he recalls.

The momentum behind the park project really began when Taucony-headquartered Dietz & Watson lost a New Jersey distribution center to fire a few years ago. The City of Philadelphia and the State of Pennsylvania worked to incentivize the company to locate its new distribution center near its headquarters across the Delaware in Philadelphia.

During that process, PIDC purchased a piece of the former Frankford Arsenal property adjacent to the Dietz & Watson headquarters. Known as the Frankford Arsenal Boat Launch, it had been scheduled for development as a shopping center, and was made available to the company to buy for its new distribution center. But that particular spot had been targeted by federal dollars for use as a recreational area, not a commercial one.

PIDC had an answer: Let Dietz & Watson develop the former Frankford Arsenal land, and transform a comparable piece of nearby riverfront into a recreation space. PIDC owned the land at the end of Bridesburg’s Orthodox Street, and transferred it to the City of Philadelphia for development as a new recreation site.

And so the groundwork for Bridesburg’s new park was ready. Next, we’ll take a look at what DRCC and Parks & Rec are planning for the space.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Sources: Stephanie K. Craighead, Philadelphia Parks & Recreation; and Tom Branigan, Delaware River City Corporation

Pennsylvania Horticultural Society Neighborhood Placemaker Grants are back

The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (PHS) is gearing up for its second round of Neighborhood Placemaker Grants. PHS Associate Director of Civic Landscapes Tammy Leigh DeMent says the organizations expects them to be even more popular than last year’s awards, which drew about 150 entrants.

The call for proposals (released on December 22) asks applicants how they plan to make their "neighborhood uniquely beautiful through horticulture."

The 2016 program has a total budget of $75,000, half of which is funded through the Philadelphia Department of Commerce, with the other half coming from PHS. Ultimately, this will be divided into two or three separate awards. PHS is hosting an information session at 5 p.m. on January 6 at its Center City headquarters (100 N. 20th Street), but attendance is not required to apply -- a summary of the Q&A will be posted on the PHS website.

The initial application process is simple in its goals but broad in scope. Because of the competitive nature of the program, PHS is not asking for full applications right out of the gate. Instead, interested groups (which could range from schools and churches to Community Development Corporations, garden clubs, park groups and more) should submit Letters of Intent that answer five short questions. According to DeMent, these include basic info on the concept, how it will impact the neighborhood and how the project aligns with the PHS mission.

"There should be some longevity within the project itself," she adds, explaining that the initiatives should not be temporary in nature, a requirement of the Commerce Department dollars. "It has to have at least a five-year lifespan."

"It’s really focused on any neighborhood in the city that has an idea for creating a new place, a green space for communities to gather,” she adds. It could be a garden, a park, a schoolyard, a neighborhood gateway or even a traffic triangle, like one developed into a new community space honoring U.S. veterans in Feltonville thanks to 2015 grantee Esperanza.

Another of last year’s grantees, the Somerset Neighbors for Better Living, launched a grassroots community planters program to beautify and unify the neighborhood. The planters and materials, offered free to residents, became a trademark of homes there, drawing interested neighbors into more conversations with each other and creating engagement with local happenings.

PHS will be accepting Letters of Intent for its Neighborhood Placemaker Grants through February 12.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Tammy Leigh DeMent, Pennsylvania Horticultural Society

 

New road means an easy ride between I-95, Bridesburg and Port Richmond is finally a reality

On December 8, Mayor Michael Nutter and other local leaders cut the ribbon on a significant first step for the Delaware Avenue Extension in Philly's Bridesburg neighborhood. According to Denise Goren, director of the Mayor’s Office of Transportation and Utilities, this waterfront project is the first entirely new road constructed in the city in the last 30 years.

The opening of this first phase of the project -- a .6-mile stretch of two-lane road (flanked by broad space for bikers and pedestrians) eventually slated to extend two miles -- is an important piece of Northeast Philly’s larger Delaware Riverfront Greenway, itself a piece of the region’s burgeoning Circuit and the East Coast Greenway.

Phase 1A of the Extension is also a vital new connection between the Bridesburg and Port Richmond neighborhoods -- it runs between the river and Richmond Street, from Lewis Street in the south to Orthodox Street in the north, and includes a new bridge over the Frankford Creek. The project has been in the works for over 15 years.

At the ribbon-cutting ceremony, Mayor Nutter called the effort "much more than just a road project."

"All users have the right to use our roadways safely," he said of the mixed-used nature of Delaware Avenue’s new stretch; in its next phase, it will reach north between Orthodox Street and Buckius Street.

Other speakers at the event included Deputy Mayor of Environmental & Community Resources Michael DiBerardinis and former U.S. Congressperson Robert Borski (founder and chair of the Delaware River City Corporation).

Tom LaCroix of the Bridesburg Business Association also spoke, expressing gratitude for the improved safety and quality of life for Bridesburg residents that the Extension promises. It gives trucks and other industrial vehicles an easy route to I-95 without rumbling through the busy Richmond Street corridor where children are often crossing the street. It’s also a big relief to the community, which has experienced terrible traffic congestion anytime a nearby accident on I-95 rerouted highway traffic through the riverfront neighborhood.

"This is just a godsend," he insisted.

Construction on Phase 1B of the Extension is scheduled to begin in 2017; the road will open the following year.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Sources: Mayor Michael Nutter and Delaware Avenue Extension speakers

 

Almost 150 new apartments and fresh retail spaces proposed for Callowhill complex

Chinatown North/Callowhill residents are considering a significant new mixed-use development in the neighborhood. Last week, architects from the Chadds Ford-based T.C. Lei Architect & Associates met with representatives of the Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation (PCDC), the 5th Republican Ward and the Callowhill Neighborhood Association to introduce their plans and take questions.

The design features four independent buildings: two seven-story apartments towers and two five-story buildings with apartments above and a total of 12 new commercial spaces fronting Callowhill on the first floor. Financing is still being worked out.

PCDC hosted the Civic Design Review, which was required by the Philadelphia City Planning Commission in light of the complex's large footprint (173,913 square feet in four buildings) and high number of proposed residential units. The meeting drew a variety of community stakeholders. Architects Michelle Kleschick and Vernon Lei of T.C. Lei joined general contractor Alex Chau in presenting plans for the facility and its construction; the property owner/developer is Wing Lee Investment, L.P.  

The proposed project will sit on a rectangular parcel of what is now a mix of warehouses and industrial space, a lumberyard and vacant lots at 900-934 Callowhill Street. The area is bounded by Carlton Street, N. 9th Street, Callowhill and Ridge Avenue, and existing structures would be razed.

All residential units (146 in total) would be market-rate two-bedroom rentals of about 880 square feet. An open-air cruciform courtyard and central elevator/stairwell tower would complete the interior of the site, which is being designed with an estimated $20 million total budget. The development would include about 14,000 square feet of commercial space and over 135,000 square feet of residential space.

The green-roofed complex would hold 90 percent of its own stormwater with the help of a filtering and retention matrix. According to Lei, the commercial storefronts are slated to be "mom and pop neighborhood-size spaces" of about 1,000 square feet, with the option for open construction that would allow stores, service providers or restaurants of up to 2,000 square feet.

Chau explained that the steel-and-concrete construction would be consistent with the look of other modern residential towers in the city, while Lei touted the potential for a "beautiful" new commercial space along Callowhill boasting an "Asian motif" on the façade.

Meeting attendees had a variety of questions for the presenters, including parking options (ample spaces are slated for a below-ground garage), the potential disruptions of construction, specifics of the façades, trash removal and target tenants.

An official City Civic Design Review hearing is pending, date TBA. If the proposal moves forward, Chau hopes to break ground in spring 2016, with total time to completion of three to four years.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Sources: T.C. Lei & Associates and partners


Follow all our work #OnTheGroundPhilly via twitter (@flyingkitemedia) and Instagram (@flyingkite_ontheground).

On the Ground is made possible by the Knight Foundation, an organization that supports transformational ideas, promotes quality journalism, advances media innovation, engages communities and fosters the arts. The foundation believes that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more, visit knightfoundation.org.

 

Neighborhood Time Exchange challenges plans for Lancaster Avenue storefront

In March, Flying Kite took you to an innovative new part of the local creative economy. Lancaster Avenue’s Neighborhood Time Exchange (NTE) paired three different cohorts of artists with studio space, a stipend and a roster of community-driven improvement projects in nearby Belmont, Mantua, West Powelton, Mill Creek and Saunders Park. In April, we checked back in with program and its projects, which included a revamped classroom for special-needs kids, a civil rights documentary and new cultural and historical explorations of the area.

NTE is a partnership of the Mural Arts Program (MAP), the Ontario-based Broken City Lab, the People’s Emergency Center (PEC) and the City’s Office of Arts, Culture, and the Creative Economy.

The inaugural cycles of NTE residencies wrapped up in September, and in November Flying Kite stopped by the storefront at 4017 Lancaster Avenue -- also our former On the Ground home -- where an exhibition of participating artists' work is on display. (There’s still time to check it out before a free closing reception on Friday, December 11 from 6 - 9 p.m.)

Dave Kyu, a MAP project manager for the initiative, has plenty to say about the ways NTE has affected the future of the formerly vacant storefront.

After the program had been running for a while, he noticed something shift. When they first launched, he recognized everyone coming in the door at open studio hours: an arts crowd familiar with the project and the artists. But about halfway through, he saw new faces. Word about the project had gotten out, and curious members of the community were coming to see for themselves.

PEC owns the building and offers longterm low-income transitional housing above the street-level storefront. The influx of people into the space is opening up some new lines of thinking about the fate of the commercial space.

"They’ve been trying to figure out what to do with this storefront," says Kyu. (He’s seeing the first NTE through, but recently left MAP to pursue a long-simmering book about the communities of our national parks that will be published by Head and the Hand Press.)

For a long time, there was hope of attracting a place for residents to get dinner. There’s not too many sit-down restaurants on that stretch of Lancaster and with the right tenant, the space could become a social and economic anchor for the neighborhood.

But NTE’s success in drawing new crowds in connection with the artist residencies has organizers thinking: Could it have a life as an arts space instead? Already, the Black Quantum Futurism Collective, an NTE cohort, has scheduled a performance there for December 17, which will be a fundraiser for victims of domestic abuse.

Moving forward, Kyu says PEC would like to continue an incarnation of NTE in the area, while MAP also wants to expand. Look out for new cohorts of NTE coming to Taucony and the Southeast by Southeast project, a formerly vacant property at 8th and Snyder Streets offering a full roster of programs for refugees from Bhutan, Burma and Nepal living in South Philly.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Dave Kyu, Neighborhood Time Exchange

Parkside finally welcomes centennial village, a major new mixed-use development

Flying Kite may have left our On the Ground home in Parkside for our next stint in Callowhill, but we still have our eye on the news for 52nd Street, and the latest is a long-awaited cluster of major developments on and around the triangle of Parkside Avenue, 52nd Street, and Columbia Avenue. Mayor Michael Nutter, Councilman Curtis Jones, and others were on hand for a December 1st groundbreaking, with construction commencing this spring.
 
Centennial Village, a combination of mixed-use apartment buildings, single family homes, and new commercial spaces in West Parkside (planned since 2006), is going up thanks to a partnership with non-profit developer Community Ventures, the City of Philadelphia, and Parkside Association of Philadelphia.
 
Community Ventures program director Troy Hannigan says the project will include 52 long-term housing units, some of which will accommodate seniors and special-needs citizens, whose income is 20 to 60 percent of the neighborhood median level.
 
There will be a 30-unit apartment building on the west side of 52nd Street, which will also include the largest of four commercial spaces, which will range in size from about 800 square feet to 4500. The Parkside Association will occupy one of these spaces as its new office, and no tenants have been secured yet for the others, but Hannigan is optimistic.
 
“We’re hoping for a restaurant on the corner of 52nd and Parkside,” he says.
 
On the east side of 52nd Street, there will be another mixed-use building: six apartments above and two commercial spaces below, as well as several new single-family homes nearby.
 
All in all, Hannigan says, Centennial Village will encompass two revamped park spaces, six rehabbed buildings, and three new constructions, with a total budget of about $21 million. Construction will last an estimated 12-16 months.
 
Hannigan notes that Mayor Nutter has been especially devoted to this development in his own former Councilmanic district.
 
Centennial Village’s primary financing source is through the low income housing tax credits program of PHFA, but there is also funding from City agencies, and dollars from the West Philadelphia Empowerment Zone for the development of the commercial units, along with investor PNC bank.
 
“It’s an example [for] mixed-use development throughout Philadelphia,” Hannigan says.
 
Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Troy Hannigan, Community Ventures
 
Follow all our work #OnTheGroundPhilly via twitter (@flyingkitemedia) and Instagram (@flyingkite_ontheground).

On the Ground is made possible by the Knight Foundation, an organization that supports transformational ideas, promotes quality journalism, advances media innovation, engages communities and fosters the arts. The foundation believes that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more, visit knightfoundation.org.

As winter approaches, a Philly company makes programming the thermostat easier than ever

Energy-saving systems in large commercial buildings are already commonplace -- albeit expensive to install -- and many single-family homes have power-conserving programmable thermostats. But according to StratIS CEO Felicite Moorman, over 90 percent of homeowners who install those thermostats don’t maximize their savings by actually programming them. 

The East Falls-based StratIS was founded in 2013 as an offshoot of BuLogics, which Moorman also helms. With a focus on multi-family buildings, hotels and campus residences, the energy-saving software company wants to take the intimidation out of programming a greener, more cost-effective usage schedule, and put an easy version of the technology in the hands of owners, managers and their tenants.

“In the last four months, we’ve installed [in] 40,000 apartments," says Moorman; this includes clients in 40 states. The company’s largest single deployment to date is 65,000 wireless devices in 2,700 rooms in Las Vegas’s Wynn Hotel and Casino.

"[It's] an energy efficiency, energy management and energy control app that was specifically created for multi-family and campus communities," she explains. That means a range of wireless devices connected to things like lamps, thermostats, HVAC systems and even door locks that property owners, managers, and residents can control with a simple app.

In the case of individual apartments, renters can use the StratIS technology to customize their at-home power needs. This can be done either on a timed schedule through the app (with residents programming reduced power usage during office hours, for example), or the app can connect to a door lock device which activates a power-down mode synced to the moment a resident steps out the door. You'll never leave a light on again.

Meanwhile, property managers can remotely power up or down any individual unit in the building, as in the case of empty units or an apartment they’re getting ready to show.

Hotel, campus, and multi-family complex owners and managers pay as little as $100 for the installation of a StratIS-enabled thermostat, with a fee of $1 per month per device (this flexible in the case of low-income housing due to the company’s social and environmental mission).

Moorman says the "future-proofed" StratIS system -- meaning the hardware can be easily updated as technology changes or advances -- can save users up to 20 percent on their energy bills. That’s a big selling point since many leases include electricity costs in a flat rental payment.  

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Felicite Moorman, StratIS

Big News: In 2016, PHS will pop-up in Callowhill, celebrating the new Viaduct park

To kick off our On the Ground stay in Callowhill, Flying Kite toured the site of the upcoming Philadelphia Rail Park, one of five "Reimagining the Civic Commons" projects launching this year. Now word is out that the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society’s (PHS) next pop-up and beer garden will appear somewhere in the neighborhood, connecting with the new energy surrounding the Reading Viaduct.

Julianne Schrader Ortega, chief of programs at PHS, says the exact location is to be determined, but they’re currently looking at a few possibilities with strong connections to the site.

PHS has been running its pop-up program since 2011, when it took over a vacant lot at 20th and Market Streets for a vegetable garden that drew 5,000 visitors during the spring and summer season. Since then, partnering organizations and revenue from the Philadelphia Flower Show have supported the program, with 2015 marking the first year with two locations: one at 15th and South Streets, and a second at 9th and Wharton Streets. 

Last year, those gardens drew about 75,000 visitors with programming as diverse as the Bearded LadiesBitter Homes and Gardens performances, concerts, gardening workshops and yoga.

The 2016 Viaduct pop-up will mark another exciting first for PHS: The project is being funded by a single $360,000 grant from the Pew Center for Arts and Heritage

Those dollars will let PHS “blend in horticulture with art and history, and raise awareness and support for the rail park along the Viaduct, and have people connect with this historic rail line," explains Ortega. The Pew-funded pop-up "really has to be an interpretation of the Reading Viaduct, and it’s a different type of pop-up garden experience."

To that end, PHS will be working with artist Abby Sohn, who will create special installations along the rail line that recall the industrial history and culture of the area. In addition, landscape designer Walter Hood is incorporating the Viaduct’s history into plans for the site, which will be constructed in the spring of next year. Friends of the Rail Park and the Historical Society of Pennsylvania are also important partners.

According to Ortega, PHS's pop-ups "inspire people to rethink what our vacant spaces could be in the city, and bring people together in a beautiful garden."

Follow along for news on where the garden will appear and what programming and design elements to expect.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Julianne Schrader Ortega, Pennsylvania Horticultural Society


Follow all our work #OnTheGroundPhilly via twitter (@flyingkitemedia) and Instagram (@flyingkite_ontheground).

On the Ground is made possible by the Knight Foundation, an organization that supports transformational ideas, promotes quality journalism, advances media innovation, engages communities and fosters the arts. The foundation believes that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more, visit knightfoundation.org.

The art of paper is alive with an exciting new studio space in West Philly

In February 2016, West Philly's Soapbox Community Print Shop and Zine Library will triple its space. The organization launched the STEP UP FOR THE SOAPBOX crowdfunding campaign on November 16, hoping to raise $15,000 toward the customization of its new home in Kingsessing. (Flying Kite will be landing in the neighborhood in 2016 as part of our On the Ground program.)

The Soapbox got its start in 2010 thanks to founders Charlene Kwon and Mary Tasillo, and held its first event in early 2011. With strong backgrounds in bookmaking and letter-press printmaking, the two wanted to launch an organization that would keep those crafts alive and accessible in the community, beyond a university setting. They purchased a rowhome on 51st Street just south of Baltimore Avenue for their venture. Residential tenants live on the second floor and the Soapbox occupies the first floor and basement.

In addition to accessing the organization’s extensive zine library and archives, Soapbox member artists can practice skills such as silkscreen, bookbinding and papermaking.

To extend those services, Kwon and Tasillo are moving to a Furness and Evans church currently undergoing extensive renovations at 4700 Kingsessing Avenue, just two blocks west of Clark Park.

Surprised the space was scheduled for a makeover, Tasillo first toured it last June.

"I had been walking past that church for years, watching trees grow out of it," she recalls.

They signed the lease in late October. Other tenants will include a community preschool and a daycare upstairs, with the Soapbox occupying 4,500 square feet on the lower level.

The rehab will feature new bathrooms, plumbing and electric work, but Soapbox will be getting "a fairly raw space" with plenty of special touches still needed -- including new drywall and doors to create four individual artist and writer studio spaces, and an enclosed sound-protected room for noisy machines such as the paper-pulp beater and the pressure-washer used for screenprinting.

The finished headquarters will offer tools for a range of historic and contemporary printing techniques, from papermaking to offset lithography. It will also house Philly’s biggest independent zine library, with over 2,000 handmade zines and chapbooks. These will be available for the public to enjoy during open studio hours.

"There are a lot of young people interested in this," enthuses Tasillo. "I think that there’s a real need and urge to connect with something that’s handmade and not digital, and that engages the senses in a more compelling way." Digital and handmade arts are both important, she adds, but "the handmade can reach places that the digital cannot."

On December 5, a Soapbox event will kick off the Step Up for The Soapbox fundraising campaign. A short zine reading will begin promptly at 7:30 p.m., followed by a dance party at 8:00. Tickets available here; $10 in advance, $12 at the door.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Mary Tasillo, the Soapbox 

Welcoming Winterfest back to the waterfront

Thanksgiving is right around the corner, and that means one of Philly's best new winter traditions is on the way. The Blue Cross RiverRink Winterfest is entering its third season as a full-fledged waterfront wonderland -- it opens to the public on November 27 and runs through February 28, 2016. 

Favorite elements of the festive haven, created by Groundswell Design Group, are returning, including the Lodge Restaurant and Bar, live trees full of lights, fire pits and of course the skating rink, now in its 22nd year. New this time around are five "winter warming cottages," rustic three-sided lodges furnished with electric fireplaces, infrared heating, chandeliers made of antlers, and homey armchairs and loveseats. A boardwalk, repurposed from summertime's Spruce Street Harbor Park, will connect the cottages to the Lodge.

According to Delaware River Waterfront Corporation Vice President of Operations Joe Forkin, last season was "super-successful," drawing about 80,000 skaters and more than twice as many people to the other amenities. That said, they are incorporating visitor feedback into the latest incarnation.

One suggestion was more lighting, so, as Forkin puts it, they’ll be "lighting the heck out of the site" with about 100,000 individual LED bulbs, including over 40,000 PECO-sponsored twinkles on the 45-foot holiday tree coming in from Westchester (slated for a free public lighting ceremony on December 4).

Winterfest will also boast even more food and beverage options. Garces Group will be back with rotating burger specials (including a house-made veggie burger), fries topped with short ribs and queso fresco, Frohman’s grilled sausages and hot dogs, Bavarian pretzels, and grilled cheese and tomato soup.

Distrito Taco Stand will operate in the Lodge on weekends, serving traditional Mexican street tacos. A variety of craft brews and specialty winter cocktails will be for sale, too. And for the sweeter side of things, Franklin Fountain is teaming up with Shane Confectionery’s Chocolate Café to create the Franklin Fountain Confectionery Cabin. You can order an ice cream waffle sandwich (choose your waffle: Belgian, chocolate or gingerbread spice), custom ice cream flavors such as cinnamon and eggnog, s’mores kits, hot chocolate, apple cider and more.

Forkin likes the "little bit of wilderness" in an urban setting: "You can come down and experience this lodge-like, forest-like feel in the city, where people probably don’t have a lot of opportunities in this setting to sit near a fire pit, or roast a marshmallow.”

A wide variety of programming will include family-friendly 12 Days of Christmas Movie Nights from December 14 through December 25; titles include Elf, Miracle on 34th Street and Charlie Brown Christmas. For the slightly older set, Fridays and Saturdays will feature DJs for dancing and skating.

Entrance to Winterfest is free, and food and drinks are available for purchase; skating admission is $3 (free for all Independence Blue Cross cardholders and employees) and skate rentals are $10. The fest will be open seven days a week, including holidays, with extended hours December 19 through January 3.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Joe Forkin, Delaware River Waterfront Corporation

Before Market Street Bridge is rebuilt, it gets a makeover for pedestrians

Thanks to a partnership between the Schuylkill River Development Corporation (SRDC), University City District (UCD), Center City District (CCD) and Groundswell Design, the Market Street Bridge over the Schuylkill River -- connecting Center City with the eastern edge of University City -- has gotten a quick but important revamp.

The makeover for the century-old bridge took just ten weeks. According to UCD Director of Planning and Design Nate Hommel, UCD got the go-ahead in mid-July thanks to funding from the William Penn Foundation and the Joanna McNeil Trust. Initially, the goal was completing improvements in time for next summer’s Democratic National Convention, but then the idea came up: "How about the Pope?"

Things began to move quickly.

SRDC helped to gain the cooperation of PennDOT, owner of the bridge. Groundswell, the team behind recent improvements to The Porch at 30th Street Station, worked speedily to design improvements including new greenery in 120 custom-made planters, bleacher seating for great Schuylkill views, and four large gateway pergolas at the bridge's eastern and western edges.

For the fabrication of the new temporary elements, Groundswell and UCD turned to a local Kensington shop called Frank’s Kitchen, which began making the planters on its assembly line in early August.

"It was pretty impressive to see the fabrication process," recalls Hommel. "It’s good to see the local maker economy in Philly able to handle something like this."

Once the planters and other elements were finished, they took about four days to install. The improved pedestrian experience on the bridge (which over 6,000 people cross each day on foot) was ready a week before Pope Francis arrived.

Groundswell faced some challenges due to the age and structure of the bridge. PennDOT stipulated that the "dead load" of the bridge’s pedestrian redesign could not exceed 100 pounds per square foot. (The weight bridges bear is split into live loads, meaning the traffic that moves across it, and dead loads, meaning objects or infrastructure that sit on it permanently.)

"Groundswell was really great in figuring out ways to do that," says Hommel. The planters were specially designed with soft wood to reduce their weight, as well as false bottoms. And while they’re about three feet high, they contain only about a foot of soil.

The idea of "reversible elements," in the parlance of civil infrastructure, is important. Agencies that own major assets like bridges -- particularly aging ones -- are much less leery of improvement projects whose pieces can be easily removed, without any permanent alteration or compromise of the structure. The Market Street Bridge itself is due for an overhaul within the next few years, so the redone walkways will be in place at least through the end of next summer. After that, UCD hopes that better awareness of pedestrian needs will be an integral part of the new span's overall planning.

CCD is performing maintenance such as cleaning and graffiti removal, while UCD manages the horticulture side through a staff from its West Philadelphia Skills Initiative.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Nate Hommel, University City District

An extra year of fundraising has Chinatown's Eastern Tower poised for construction

About a year ago, we looked in on Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation’s (PCDC) planned Eastern Tower, a 20-story mixed-use residential/retail/community services building at the northwest corner of 10th and Vine Streets. (Yup, that's in the heart of our next On the Ground neighborhood.) This was just after the organization had nabbed a $3.7 million Pennsylvania Economic Initiative grant, which PCDC Capacity and Projects Manager Sarah Yeung says helped to kick off some excellent financial and community momentum for the development.

"We had initially thought that we wanted to break ground in the beginning of [2015], but we actually spent the bulk of this year strengthening our position financially," explains Yeung. The last several months have brought significant contributions from PECO and Comcast, as major public and private funders took notice of the project’s traction.

After funding from the William Penn Foundation allowed the nonprofit PCDC to set up a regional center for project investors, the foundation gave an additional grant of $700,000 towards outfitting the community center portion of the building, which brought foundation gifts to a total of $900,000 in just the last quarter. The Philadelphia Suns -- who will be the primary users of the Eastern Tower community center -- raised $15,000 at their latest banquet. The CDC also received a $500,000 grant from the Commerce Department late last year.

All in all, the projected budget for the new center now stands at $77 million.

Eastern Tower has been a long time coming. The vision for the massive new Vine Street hub got started in 2004. Fundraising started in earnest in 2011. The complex (from the architects at Studio Agoos Lovera) aims to house the city’s most diverse range of community offerings under one roof: residential units, a daycare center, a community center, a pharmacy, a restaurant, a doctor’s office and more.

"From an outsider’s perspective, it looks like we threw the kitchen sink in, but this is a very strategic project for us," says Yeung of targeting much-needed services in the area. "It’s about equitable development in Chinatown North/Callowhill," a neighborhood with plenty of private development bumping up against ongoing issues of poverty, blight and lack of services for the local immigrant community.

Yeung says final closing on all the project’s financing will be accomplished by next month, and the contract for construction manager Hunter Roberts is ready to go. Funding is at 100 percent and construction should commence early next year.

"We’re as ready as can be," she enthuses. "We can’t be more ready. It’s a really exciting time for us. It’s been a long process and a huge team effort...on a city level, it’s going to be quite a significant project."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Sarah Leung, Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation

Follow all our work #OnTheGroundPhilly via twitter (@flyingkitemedia) and Instagram (@flyingkite_ontheground).


On the Ground is made possible by the Knight Foundation, an organization that supports transformational ideas, promotes quality journalism, advances media innovation, engages communities and fosters the arts. The foundation believes that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more, visit knightfoundation.org.
 

3.0 University Place will rise one block away from 40th Street Portal

University Place Associates (UPA), the developer behind University Place 2.0 at 30 N. 41st Street, has an even more ambitious green office building in the works. The plans for University Place 3.0 -- slated to rise at the corner of 41st and Market, just a block from the 40th Street SEPTA transit hub -- were announced in mid-October.

UPA founder Scott Mazo touts the building’s bonafides: According to UPA, it’s the world’s first commercial office building to get a platinum precertification by the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) program before it’s even broken ground.

On October 15, a launch ceremony for 3.0 held at 2.0 University Place featured words from Mazo, U.S. Green Building Council President Roger Platt, Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell and Pennsylvania State Senator Vince Hughes.

The five-story building, which UPA ultimately hopes will draw one to three anchor office tenants, and retail and restaurant tenants for the ground floor, will feature the latest in green technology, from fresh-air circulation and filtration systems to energy-saving glass to cutting-edge heating and cooling systems, not to mention a WIFI-enabled green roof open to all workers.

"I realize that 3.0 is not going to be for everybody," says Mazo. "But what we really want is a company that’s trying to say not just to the world but to its future tenants and employees…'We’re living it, we want to make a statement, [an] impact to the environment, and we’re making a statement with our actions.'"

3.0 will ultimately offer almost 190,000 square feet of space, and incorporate stormwater management with a modular green roof system and rooftop garden, and common area power derived from solar and wind energy. Once completed, the building will form part of what UPA hopes will be an entire "platinum corridor" of eco-friendly Market Street buildings; its exterior will feature electrochromic SageGlass.

Embedded with tiny low-voltage electrical wires, SageGlass can respond to the rays of the sun and shift its tint to block glare while preserving or deflecting the sun's heat, depending on the season. This results in significant energy savings and plenty of natural light for the people working inside, without the help of blinds or shades.

It also means that from the outside, the building will change its shade and hue throughout the day.

"I thought that was such a cool feature that will make this building stand out," enthuses Mazo, "an iconic symbol of the transformation that we’re trying to make on Market Street."

And the timeline for construction?

Hard to pinpoint right now, says Mazo. It depends on when they can secure an anchor office tenant. That could be one tenant for all four floors, or one tenant to occupy about 100,000 square feet (three floors), with one or two more tenants using the remaining space. If plans for a full-building user don’t immediately materialize, one tenant renting 100,000 square feet would be enough to move forward with the groundbreaking. Mazo estimates that construction on 3.0 could take a year to 18 months, and it’s possible they could have shovels in the dirt by April 2016.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Scott Mazo, University Place Associates

 

A tour of Callowhill's Reading Viaduct Park as the first phase of construction approaches

Painter Sarah McEneaney -- who has lived in a house on Hamilton street since 1979 -- is a co-founder and current board president of the Callowhill Neighborhood Association (CNA). As Flying Kite heads to Callowhill for our next On the Ground stint, McEneaney offered an insightful introduction to the area.

"This neighborhood that we’re in does not have any green space," she says, noting not only the lack of a formal park, but the fact that most residences don’t even have a yard or garden. That’s one reason the ramp to the old Reading Viaduct, rising between Broad and 11th Streets, already looms large in the neighborhood. Fundraising is still underway for Phase 1 of the new rail park, one of the targets of the Reimagining the Civic Commons initiative (which we’ve seen at work in Parkside’s Centennial Commons).  

The gentle slope of the former two-track quarter-mile stretch rises from ground level about a half-block north of Callowhill Street near Broad and Noble. It was built in the 1890s for locomotives to chug up to the tracks that originally curved north to the Reading Viaduct, and coincidentally, its grade matches that for federally mandated ADA accessibility.

These days, despite a series of chain barriers and gates, it’s clear a lot of people are using the old railway ramp.

"That section is already the de facto neighborhood park," says McEneaney of the area slated for Civic Commons Phase 1 plans (budgeted at $9 million); she took Flying Kite on a walk through the site.

Grasses and wildflowers are thick on either side of the old elevated trail, along with Paulownia trees, which McEneaney explains are common beside old railways in the eastern United States -- the trees’ seeds were used as packing material by Chinese exporters in the early 1800s. When packages burst or leaked along the tracks, the trees sprouted. There’s a weedy path of sharp gray stones down the middle of the planned park.

According to McEneaney, neighborhood volunteers and CNA members already give their time to maintaining the area and picking up trash. The existing trail is littered with plenty of debris, including a welter of smashed beer cans. People stroll here and walk their dogs.

The history of modern efforts around reclaiming this space -- and the owners, groups and funders involved -- gets complicated. The Viaduct Project got started almost 15 years ago, and a similar group, Friends of the Rail Park, got started in 2009, focusing on the old railway where it runs west of Broad Street and up the northeast side of Fairmount Park. In 2013, the two groups merged into one entity: Friends of the Rail Park.

The Phase 1 ramp area is now owned by SEPTA, which will be turning it over to Center City District to manage construction. After buildout, the site will be officially owned by the City of Philadelphia, which will maintain the 25,000-square-foot linear park space with the help of Friends of the Rail Park. Design is underway with Studio Bryan Hanes.

Fundraising efforts, spearheaded by Center City District and aided by $1 million from the Knight and William Penn Foundation Civic Commons dollars, have raised about $5 million. With $4 million to go, McEneaney says stakeholders are waiting to hear how much of that may come from a state Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program grant, and how much will come from grassroots fundraising and additional civic dollars. She hopes to see a groundbreaking in 2016.

Keep up with Flying Kite on the ground for more about plans for the space.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Sarah McEneaney, Friends of the Rail Park and the Callowhill Neighborhood Association

An ambitious Block Build helps eight homeowners in a single day

A day-long project to repair and weatherproof eight homes on one block of North Philly’s Eastern North neighborhood might seem simple, but the benefits reach deep and wide.

Rebuilding Together Philadelphia (RTP), the organizer of October 16's Block Build, is one of 150 local independent affiliates of a national program. According to Executive Director Stefanie Seldin, RTP staffers and volunteers -- who have helped to rehabilitate 1,369 homes since the group's 1988 creation by Wharton grad students -- are based out of an office in Frankford but work all over the city.

RTP usually does a few Block Builds per year, often in West Philly.

"We rely on community-based groups to say, ‘This is the block that really could use some TLC,'" says Seldin. "They go and recruit the homeowners for us, too."

The latest build relied on a partnership with Asociación Puertorriqueños en Marcha, a local community development corporation.

About 100 volunteers pitched in for the October 16 event, including a mix of professional trade and corporate volunteers, and students from nearby schools with vocational programs such as A. Philip Randolph Career & Technical High School and Thomas Alva Edison High School and John C. Fariera Skills Center. Workers also included students from Project WOW, an organization that offers construction training to young adults without high school diplomas.

The homeowners were mostly elderly, low-income, longtime residents feeling the squeeze of property values that have doubled since 2010. Repairs included drywall and plaster repair, the installation of new vinyl flooring and front door locksets, cleaning, HVAC maintenance, caulking, painting and window replacement to better insulate homes and reduce energy costs.

Seldin appreciates the chance to lower utility bills for Block Build homeowners, many of whom "have so much counting on their very limited income. Our homeowners are often forced to choose between repairing their homes, medical treatment or food."

According to RTP, older adults make up almost 18 percent of the city’s population -- the largest percentage of older adults in America’s 10 largest cities -- and one in five of these elderly Philadelphians live in poverty. Combine that with the fact that 90 percent of Philly’s homes were built before 1980, and the need for work like this is clear.

In addition to the cosmetic and structural upgrades, RTP works with a dedicated occupational therapist who evaluates the' homes and recommends improvements for health and safety: things like grab bars, proper lighting, level flooring and extensions for light-bulb switches (so homeowners don’t have to climb stools).

But it’s not just about the safety and comfort of individuals. As housing values have risen in the last few years, the percentage of homeowners in Philly has dropped from over 59 percent in 2000 to 51 percent.

RTP's work, especially in the 19122 zip code of North Philly where developers are circling on the outskirts of Temple University, "is helping to stop that decline in homeownership," adds Seldin. "[We help] longterm lower-income homeowners stay in a neighborhood where more and more of those homeowners are forced out."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Stefanie Seldin, Rebuilding Together Philadelphia   

 

ArtPlace America honors the Fairmount Park Conservancy with $3 million grant

On October 22, leaders and community members gathered at the Please Touch Museum in Fairmount Park for a Community Development Investments public forum. The focus was a $3 million grant from ArtPlace America to the Fairmount Park Conservancy, announced in August by President Obama.

The Conservancy is one of just six organizations nationwide to receive this grant, which will disburse $1 million per year for three years for new creative placemaking initiatives in Philly’s parks, incorporating artistic and cultural works into infrastructure and programming (focus sites and projects TBD).

Leading the forum, Conservancy Executive Director Kathryn Ott Lovell said the conversation was at the "nexus of arts, culture, and parks."

"This opportunity comes at a critical juncture" for the Conservancy, she continued. Projects sponsored by the grant will help to make individuals’ experience of Philly’s parks more meaningful.

Mayor Michael Nutter, also on hand to speak, expressed pride that the Conservancy was recognized by the White House. He pointed out that it’s the only city park conservancy in the country that manages not just a single centralized park site, but many across the city. Parks aren’t only about playgrounds, grass and trees, he added, "[They’re] really about equity, really about bringing people together."

Other speakers included Michael DiBerardinis, deputy mayor and commissioner of Philadelphia Parks & Recreation.

"We’re doing it right. We’re getting it right," he said of the message the ArtPlace grant sends to Philly’s park system. Upgrading our public spaces with art projects "is not just for a handful of people…but for every single citizen of every neighborhood."

Laura Sparks, executive director of the William Penn Foundation, said the organization was "thrilled, but not surprised" by the Conservancy’s selection. She touted Philadelphia's "incredible public spaces" as the number-one asset that has been raising the city's global profile, from the recent New York Times nod as a top destination to September’s papal visit.

The session concluded with a panel moderated by Knight Foundation Vice President of Community and National Initiatives Carol Coletta, and statements from three national leaders in creative placemaking.

ArtPlace Executive Director Jamie Bennett explained the concept of placemaking as "community development that is local, specific to a place, and is comprehensive," engaging local citizens in its planning. And if you want to understand the "creative" prefix to that, it means bringing artists in on the ground floor of planning for public spaces' infrastructure, design and programming.

Village of Arts and Humanities co-founder and former executive director Lily Yeh (now of Barefoot Artists, which she founded in 2002) gave a short presentation on the history of her work at the North Philly site, which has been a model of repurposed and revitalized spaces for almost 20 years, as well as her work designing a Rugerero memorial to victims of the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

"Through creative actions, we reclaim our lives," she insisted.

Scott Kratz, director of the 11th Street Bridge Park project in D.C. -- which imagines a new public space spanning the Anacostia river; slated to open a mile and a half from Capitol Hill in 2019 -- also spoke about the importance of spaces like those managed by the Conservancy.

"Increasingly, cities are being defined by civic spaces," he said.

Lyz Crane, deputy director of ArtPlace America, explained that the organization is a national consortium of eight federal agencies, six banks and fifteen foundations, including the William Penn and Knight Foundations. "Strategic project development" for the Conservancy grant will get underway this coming winter and spring, she said, and projects may begin to manifest by summer 2016.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Sources: Mayor Michael Nutter and Fairmount Park Conservancy panel speakers 

The new Pier 68 waterfront park boasts fishing, seating and more

On October 1, the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation (DRWC) and Mayor Michael Nutter formally opened DRWC's third permanent pier park. Pier 68 -- located at the end of Pier 70 Boulevard -- offers an exciting new place for Philly’s fishing enthusiasts to cast a line into the Delaware (just be sure to get your PA fishing license). Designed by Studio Bryan Hanes, the firm behind the Civic Commons plans in Parkside, the half-acre Pennsport pier joins the Race Street Pier (2011) and Washington Avenue Pier (2014). 

Construction on the new park began last winter; the recreational fishing component was very important to the neighborhood.
 
"There is a very big demand for fishing along the river," explains DRWC President Thomas Corcoran. Until recently, people who wanted to drop their hooks "had to walk out on dilapidated piers which were not at all that safe, some of which were privately owned."

Pier 68 remedies that, with a third of the structure dedicated exclusively to fishing.
 
The pier also includes a feature similar to a popular one on the Washington Avenue pier: an "Aquatic Cut" -- a four-and-half-foot deep cut into the pier surface that lets visitors see into the tidal world. A "microcosm of the Delaware River’s pre-industrial ecology," according to DRWC, the cut will let students and visitors view a wide assortment of native aquatic plants be covered and then revealed by the tide every day.
 
Other features include an entrance deck that spotlights repurposed maritime bollards.
 
What’s a bollard?
 
"It’s what the ships tie up to," says Corcoran of the salvaged wood’s origins on piers of the past.
 
The new space also boasts a tree canopy that shields the pier from the parking lot and traffic to the west, and picnic tables on the pier’s southern edge.
 
Pier 68 is another milestone in the regional Circuit trail project, with the Washington Avenue Pier and Pier 68 serving as bookends to the southern part of the developing Delaware River Trail. Ultimately, it’ll be a part of the Spring Garden Greenway and the greater East Coast Greenway.
 
Two years ago, DRWC built a demonstration section of what the finished Delaware River trail would look like at Spring Garden and Columbus -- a 28-foot-wide bi-directional bike path separated from a pedestrian path, with landscaping on both the road and river sides featuring cutting-edge stormwater management.
  
The pier project was the result of a major public/private collaboration between DRWC, several design teams, Bittenbender ConstructionHydro Marine Construction, the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, the William Penn Foundation, and a Wells Fargo Environmental Solutions for Communities Grant, administered through the National Fish and Wildlife Service.
 
Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Thomas Corcoran, Delaware River Waterfront Corporation

 

DesignPhiladelphia spotlights North Chinatown's Pearl Street Passage

Since last spring, the Philadelphia Center for Architecture has been working with its partners in Chinatown North and Callowhill on a special four-day public event spotlighting the possibilities of neglected alleyways. Part of the DesignPhiladelphia festival (October 8-16), Pearl Street Passage -- a pop-up exhibition located along the 1100 block of Pearl Street -- is one chapter of a bigger story. The Pearl Street Project, with partners including the Center for Architecture, Asian Arts Initiative and Friends of the Rail Park, has long-term plans to develop and revitalize this piece of the city.

On Saturday, October 10, Pearl Street Project will host its third annual block party. According to Rebecca Johnson, president of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) Philadelphia (which has its headquarters at the Center for Architecture), the party was what originally gave DesignPhiladelphia organizers the idea of spotlighting Pearl Street. The often overlooked alley runs behind Asian Arts Initiative’s building and extends for four blocks through Chinatown North and Callowhill. The buildings and organizations around it include luxury lofts, social service agencies, churches, schools, a homeless shelter and more. (The neighborhood will also be the second home for this year's On the Ground program.)

"It’s all about creative placemaking," explains Johnson. "How can they use it? We partnered because we wanted to use the slightly broader spotlight of DesignPhiladelphia to focus on what’s happening there as well as connect it with Friends of the Rail Park."

The all-ages block party will feature tours of Rail Park: a guided walk from the Center for Architecture through North Chinatown spotlighting Pearl Street Project’s long-term plans, and a chance to visit the ten installations that are coming to life inside Pearl Street Passage, going through the tunnel created by the intersection of the Reading Viaduct (itself the site of major impending upgrades through Reimagining the Civic Commons).

The ten teams have been working on plans for their diverse exhibits since last spring. The works include "Savage Salvage," which turns mixing bowls rescued from the TastyKake Factory into a gateway of planters, along with many other interactive and interdisciplinary displays.

The exhibition is open to the public from 10 a.m. - 10 p.m. October 8 - 10, and 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. on Sunday, October 11. The first three evenings will feature live music and dance performances, and on Sunday a drumline will close out the exhibition.

Though it’s only four days, there’s a bigger vision in place. Pearl Street Passage, funded through an ArtPlace America grant to Asian Arts Initiative, was the perfect opportunity to "talk about how we demonstrate the power of design to people, and one of the ways we do that is with these public festivals that are outside and not just in studios," explains Johnson. It’s a chance to expose people who might not look twice at a neglected little city passage -- which Pearl Street Passage designers cleared of trash, overgrown vegetation and dirt piles -- and get them to "think about how to use an alley, and it not be a gross place to be, but a beautiful, cool place to be."

Johnson hopes DesignPhiladelphia can keep participating in this kind of project in years to come.

"We want to have something public like this every year," she enthuses. "It’s engaged us in a way that we haven’t been before."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Rebecca Johnson, AIA Philadelphia and the Center for Architecture

 

On the Ground: What about the kids? New play spaces in Centennial Commons

Last week, we got the latest news on the Parkside Edge component of the Centennial Commons upgrades in Parkside, a space geared toward quiet recreation for grown-up locals. But space for the kids is coming, too, slated for groundbreaking shortly after Parkside Edge gets underway in spring 2016.

A name for the new play spaces hasn’t yet been finalized, but Fairmount Park Conservancy staffers and designers from partnering firm Studio Bryan Hanes have been calling it the "Tweens" or "Youth" Area for now. It will offer fun and exercise for toddlers up to early-to-mid teens.

According to Conservancy Project Manager Chris Dougherty, the versatile area will be constructed in the region between the Please Touch Museum, Smith Memorial Arch and the Avenue of the Republic.

"There’s going to be a whole series of interesting topographical features," he explains. The ground will be built up into a series of rises and falls -- "modulation of the landscape" that encourages activity and play. Wet and dry meadows will offer natural features with an educational ecology component.

Conservancy Senior Director of Civic Initiatives Jennifer Mahar says there are plans for a hot-weather sprayground as well as "unique climbing structures." Instead of "primary-color plastic-coated stuff you see everywhere, we really wanted to have unique play that you have to use your body and your mind [for]," she explains. Parks like this shouldn’t be limited to Center City. "They should be out in the community as well.”

And this won't be only a three-season space: The engineering is still in the works, but designers hope to include a skating "ribbon" as opposed to a traditional rink. On a winding path that could be a walkway in fair weather, the icy track would wend through existing trees and create an exciting outdoor experience.

As Mahar notes, Kelly Pool is already a summertime fixture for locals. A planned concession building in that area is long overdue, and will help extend seasonal use of the space beyond the weeks that the pool is open.

"There is no public restroom in 800 acres of park, so we know we have to do that," she says. The new structure will offer those basic amenities such as bathrooms and drinking fountains. And while there aren’t plans for a full-blown café, she hopes there will be a vendor selling pre-packaged snacks and drinks. Along with the new bathrooms, this will be a huge boon for anyone planning a long afternoon in the park.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Sources: Jennifer Mahar and Chris Dougherty, the Fairmount Park Conservancy 

Follow all our work #OnTheGroundPhilly via twitter (@flyingkitemedia) and Instagram (@flyingkite_ontheground).


On the Ground is made possible by the Knight Foundation, an organization that supports transformational ideas, promotes quality journalism, advances media innovation, engages communities and fosters the arts. The foundation believes that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more, visit knightfoundation.org.
 

Biking just got a lot better in Camden thanks to a new greenway

With the installation of Indego bike share stations across the city and a growing network of bike lanes and trails, Philadelphia’s cycling culture is firmly established, but just across the river in Camden, a brand-new 4.3-mile greenway is big news for the city’s burgeoning two-wheeled community.

On September 24 at the Salvation Army’s Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center, Camden Mayor Dana L. Redd and Freeholder Jeff Nash officially cut the ribbon on Camden’s own portion of the planned 750-mile Circuit of southeastern Pennsylvania and New Jersey (about 300 miles of the trails have already been completed). The new greenway was funded by the William Penn Foundation.

John Boyle, research director for the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, says that though there are plenty of cyclists in Camden, "they don’t have an organized movement on the local level like Philadelphia does. It really hasn’t caught on to the degree it has in Center City Philadelphia, but I also think it’s a lack of infrastructure. This is a great start to reverse that."

Boyle and Camden collaborators -- such as Coopers Ferry Partnership -- hope that new space for bikes on north Camden roadways will increase the accessibility of sites like the Kroc Center, as well as local green spaces that have been the target of recent upgrades, including Pyne Poynt Park and Von Nieda Park.

The main spine of the new bike lanes is a buffered zone parallel to the waterfront on Jersey Joe Walcott Avenue, which then curves into the newly revitalized Erie Street, and heads across the historic State Street Bridge over the Cooper River.

Here, bikers and pedestrians have a choice: There’s a new bridge for cars from the New Jersey Department of Transportation (which boasts bike lanes), and next to it, the old bridge, which is now reserved exclusively for walkers and cyclists. The greenway's lanes then travel along Harrison Avenue past the Kroc Center.

Now that there’s a new artery from below the Ben Franklin Bridge up to the Kroc Center, will Camden keep adding bike lanes? Boyle hopes so.

"I think it really has to, because you need a complete network to provide true access to people," he says. "There’s still a lot of neighborhoods that don’t have bike lanes in Camden, and they’re going to have to fill those gaps."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: John Boyle, the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia

It's Happening: Breaking ground at the Divine Lorraine

What does it take to redevelop a massive, beautiful and long-vacant Philadelphia landmark? Sixteen years of financial and political wrangling, a welter of speeches from some of the city’s top politicians and developers, and no less than six very shiny ceremonial shovels.

On September 16, a large crowd gathered at Broad and Fairmount to celebrate an event many Philadelphians thought would never actually materialize: the redevelopment of the 10-story Divine Lorraine Hotel.

Designed by noted Victorian-era architect Willis Hale -- many of whose Philly buildings were later reviled for their ornate "Philadelphia grotesque" style and demolished -- the Divine Lorraine was completed in 1894 at a time when city buildings without elevators rarely reached more than three or four stories high. It’s an architectural landmark as well as an economic and cultural one, serving first as apartments and then as a hotel for Philly’s richest denizens in the manufacturing boom of the early 1900s. Later in 1948, it was purchased by controversial religious leader and social reformer Reverent Major Jealous Divine and became the city’s first racially integrated hotel.

The site was closed and abandoned in 1999, gutted of its furnishings and left looming over North Broad with more graffiti than windowpanes. Developer Eric Blumenfeld of EB Realty Management Corporation purchased the site in 2012. A few years later, thanks to another $44 million in financing through partnerships with real estate lender Billy Procida, the PRA, the State of Pennsylvania and PIDC, construction is finally commencing on a new mixed-use incarnation.

The 21st century Divine Lorraine will feature 109 apartments and 20,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space. As Mayor Michael Nutter noted in his remarks at the groundbreaking, developer Robert Levine is also building two new apartment towers and a supermarket on the plot behind the old hotel.

Both Mayor Nutter and Deputy Mayor of Economic Development Alan Greenberger -- who also spoke -- called the projects a major "tipping point" in the revitalization of North Broad Street as a whole.

Greenberger described the groundbreaking as a historic day in the city’s life, dubbing the project was "one of Philadelphia’s most transformative developments."

"We’re all in this together…I’m the luckiest guy in the world, because this building has a mystique and a spirit unlike any other project I’ve seen," enthused Blumenfeld. "This building is an organism. It’s alive. It has a heartbeat."

Nedia Ralston, director of Governor Wolf’s Southeast Regional Office, expressed the Governor’s office's enthusiasm for the new Divine Lorraine, which will maintain its historic exterior.

"We can renew a part of history and renew economic opportunities for a community who needs it," she added.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Sources: Mayor Michael Nutter; Deputy Mayor for Economic Development Alan Greenberger; Eric Blumenfeld, EB Realty Management Corporation; Nedia Ralston, the Governor’s Southeast Regional Office. 

 

On the Ground: Parkside Edge caters to those who want quiet and good company just steps from home

The Centennial Commons project is so large that even its first part is broken into Phase 1A and 1B. And while there are a lot of exciting things on tap for local youth in Phase 1B, 1A will focus on a new recreational space geared towards adults who want a peaceful place to watch the world go by.

Final plans for the area dubbed "Parkside Edge" are still undergoing some work, but residents can expect to see rectangular "outdoor rooms" fashioned from benches, low walls and maybe even some wooden flooring that will add to the inviting feel. 

The Fairmount Park Conservancy estimates that they'll break ground on the space this coming spring. Conservancy Senior Director of Civic Initiatives Jennifer Mahar says that this piece of the project has required some extra groundwork, leading to a partnership with the Philadelphia Water Department for new Green Stormwater Infrastructure.

Managing stormwater at Parkside Edge “requires a lot more engineering that we didn’t anticipate, but is the right thing to do,” explains Mahar, even if it set the timeline back a little.

"I think we were conscious that this was going to be a zone that we wanted to be a natural extension of the neighborhood," adds Conservancy Project Manager Chris Dougherty. Some might term it a "passive space," but that’s just to distinguish it from areas like a playground or a baseball field that invite noisy play.

"One thing we’re trying to do in a lot of our parks, or should be thinking of more, is this idea of age-friendliness," he continues. The whole point of Parkside Edge is a relaxing space "that isn’t very far from the neighborhood and isn’t very deep into the park, but also gives you a sense of seclusion."

Fostering friendly interactions with neighbors is another piece, which is why the plans for "rooms" in the Parkside Edge design will reflect the look of the residential porches across the street. Special swings will add to the welcoming feel.

"You can imagine taking your shoes off; having that sort of interior experience," says Dougherty. Designers are also playing with the idea of special outdoor floor-lamps to light the spaces.

The area will also benefit from a natural kind of security: Thanks to the raised porches across the street -- where neighbors already congregate -- there will be a clear line of sight into the park. Dougherty calls it a form of "informal surveillance that I think makes great spaces."

Once Parkside Edge is complete, it will provide room for activities like quiet reflection, reading, chatting with neighbors, or portable leisure activities such as sewing, knitting, crocheting or other types of arts.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Chris Dougherty, Fairmount Park Conservancy 

Follow all our work #OnTheGroundPhilly via twitter (@flyingkitemedia) and Instagram (@flyingkite_ontheground).


On the Ground is made possible by the Knight Foundation, an organization that supports transformational ideas, promotes quality journalism, advances media innovation, engages communities and fosters the arts. The foundation believes that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more, visit knightfoundation.org.

Three local sites announced for Play Space design competition

This summer, Flying Kite took a look at the kick-off of the Community Design Collaborative's Infill Philadelphia Play Space program, a special exhibition of innovative play space concepts (running through September 25). Now the organization has launched the second major piece of its 18-month Play Space Initiative (funded by the William Penn Foundation): a design competition focusing on three city sites that were announced on September 9.

Registration for the design teams will open on September 30, and their work on the three spaces will further the Infill mission to "find solutions to key community development challenges in Philadelphia and other cities." The results of an extensive community engagement process will be shared with registered designers once the competition opens.
 
Participating teams will be able to pick which site they want to focus on for the competition, which will run through March of next year. The trio of projects selected by the Collaborative are the Blanch A. Nixon Cobbs Creek Library branch at 5800 Cobbs Creek Parkway in West Philly; the Waterloo Recreation Center at 2501 Waterloo Avenue in North Philadelphia; and Mantua’s Haverford Center Comprehensive Day School at 4600 Haverford Avenue.

According to Alexa Bosse, program manager for the Play Space Design Initiative, choosing the sites happened with the help of geospacial software and analysis firm Azavea. In identifying spaces to target for the competition, they looked at factors such as high concentrations of kids and low-to-moderate income families, vacancy rates and geographical diversity.

The resulting map highlighted 100 likely sites, which the Collaborative narrowed down to fifteen, then six, each of which Play Space organizers visited: two schools, two libraries and two parks.

"We wanted them all to be different from one another," says Bosse of the final cut.

The school site -- which is nearly two acres -- is notable because it’s a large grassy area without any existing play infrastructure. By contrast, the Waterloo site is completely paved, though it does have some equipment. And the library is interesting because it’s a triangular patch of ground with three bordering streets.

"All designers love a challenge, and that’ll be great," enthuses Bosse. "It’ll cause invention.”

She hopes the competition’s winning design and the groundwork laid through the Collaborative’s program will ultimately help line up the funding to make the new plans a reality.

"Another real benefit to this is that the sites are different enough that they can act as prototypes for more sites across the city," she adds. "And they’ll raise awareness that this is something we should be investing in for our children."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Alexa Bosse, Community Design Collaborative

On the Ground: Restoring the Centennial Commons' History, Papal Edition

As Philly gears up for a 21st century turn on the international stage with September’s papal visit, it’s worth looking back. The new Reimagining the Civic Commons is making efforts to preserve and revitalize the Centennial Commons' history while reimagining the area for new generations.
 
"One of the most important things that we’re trying to do as we make these investments is to be very conscious of the existing cultural and historic fabric of the places," explains Fairmount Park Conservancy Project Manager Christopher Dougherty.
 
That means honoring the new Centennial Commons as site of the 1876 Centennial Exhibition, which celebrated the United States’ 100th birthday with a massive event that lasted from May to November of that year.
 
Post-Civil War America had "its first foray into being on the international stage, and that’s not an unimportant moment in the history of the country," insists Dougherty. The Centennial Exhibition, which boasted about 200 buildings at the time, was formally named the International Exhibition of Arts, Manufactures and Products of the Soil and Mine. It was an exploration of everything from arts to horticulture to the latest technology, and even boasted the first international exhibition dedicated to the work and inventions of women.
 
“We want to be cognizant and respectful of that, and wherever possible, elevate some of the resources that are there, and make them more legible and understandable,” says Dougherty.
 
That means focusing part of the Centennial Commons upgrade on improvements to the few remaining structures from the 1876 event, and an important piece of the site's early 20th-century landscape: the Smith Memorial Arch, built in 1912, on the Avenue of the Republic, just west of where it meets Lansdowne Drive and 41st Street in a traffic circle. Cleaning, repointing, landscaping and new lighting could all be on the agenda for the monument to Civil War soldiers.
 
Though the Centennial was a massive event in its time -- drawing about 10 million people to Philadelphia during the months it was open -- many locals aren’t aware of its significance.

"There was a temporary quality to the exhibition that made it kind of ephemeral," explains Dougherty. "It’s very difficult for people [today] to envision this space."
 
Outside of remaining buildings like Memorial Hall (which housed the Centennial’s art exhibition, was the original seed of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and now hosts the Please Touch Museum) or the Ohio House, the event featured temporary pavilions and wooden and glass structures that weren’t meant to stand the test of time; they were repurposed and then demolished within a decade or two. One of the longest-lasting -- the original Horticultural Hall -- was demolished in the 1950s. All we have now are pictures and other documents to help us imagine the scene.
 
Is there a parallel today as we gear up for the pope? According to Dougherty, yes.
 
"On the front of it, there was a certain degree of civic booster[ism] that preceded the Centennial," he says of the intensive fundraising and Congressional lobbying that brought the event to Philly. "It resembles some of the efforts of the Nutter administration to try and show that we’re ready for the world stage."
 
While the Centennial drew a much wider, larger swath of the American and international public than Pope Francis will, Dougherty believes "the objectives are somewhat similar in the sense that the city is [experiencing] a Renaissance of sorts."
 
Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Christopher Dougherty, Fairmount Park Conservancy

On the Ground is made possible by the Knight Foundation, an organization that supports transformational ideas, promotes quality journalism, advances media innovation, engages communities and fosters the arts. The foundation believes that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more, visit knightfoundation.org.

 

Big News: UCity Square will transform West Philadelphia

The University City Science Center has embarked on a major expansion that, over the next 10 to 15 years, will add 10 new buildings, remap West Philadelphia and create what Science Center President Stephen S. Tang calls a "community of ingenuity where bright minds can flourish and thrive."
 
The recently announced uCity Square will be a vast mixed-use development featuring residential, lab and office buildings, maker space, retail offerings and green space. The so-called "Innovation District," surrounded by universities, research institutions, hospitals and a concentration of highly skilled workers, will be a magnet for thinkers and doers.
 
Dignitaries including Mayor Michael Nutter gathered last week on the roof of a Market Street parking garage overlooking what was once University City High School. The now-cleared, 14-acre site is at the heart of uCity Square, which will ultimately range roughly from Ludlow Street (just south of Market) north to Lancaster and Powelton Avenues and from 34th to 38th streets.
 
A partnership between the Science Center and Wexford Science + Technology, the megadevelopment will add 10 new buildings totaling four million square feet to the Science Center’s existing 17 buildings, bringing the campus to a total of 6.5 million square feet. The parking garage where the announcement was made, 3665 Market, will be replaced with a new lab and low-rise residential building.
 
The new project will also redraw the map of University City by reintroducing the original street grid. Notably, the long missing-in-action 37th Street will be reinstated from Market to Lancaster and several east-west streets will also be brought back. The idea is to provide easy pedestrian access between communities such as Powelton Village and Mantua to the Science Center and University of Pennsylvania, and from Drexel University to the east. On a larger scale, the new complex will also leverage the continuing westward movement of the city’s commercial heart beyond Center City.
 
"Today, uCity Square is home to the Science Center, our programs, and our vast ecosystem of scientists, entrepreneurs and innovators," enthuses Tang. "Tomorrow, uCity Square will be a true mixed-use community comprised of office and lab space for companies of all sizes, while adding more amenities and services for residents and neighbors to the mix, such as shopping, dining and housing. It will also be a linchpin that connects the neighborhoods to our north and west to the rest of University City."

Writer: Elise Vider
Source: University City Science Center


 

On the Ground: All eyes on the Centennial Commons gateway in Parkside

In August, we began our look at plans for the new park at Philly's historic Centennial Commons, part of the Fairmount Park Conservancy’s Reimagining the Civic Commons initiative.

Jennifer Mahar, senior director of civic initiatives at the Conservancy, says that with so much community outreach going on --including door-to-door questionnaires and months of pre-construction in-park surveys for neighbors -- "lots of components to the project are changing by the day and by the week."

One of the most important components is a fresh approach to the park's long-neglected entrance near the School of the Future.

According to Mahar, right now "the most critical [element] design-wise is the gateway right where Parkside Avenue and Girard meet." Envisioned as the "Centennial district gateway," it’s currently a triangular piece of concrete opposite a vacant lot below an iconic mural; neighbors insist that any design for the gateway not obscure the mural.

"Eventually we’d like to put a piece of artwork or a sign, something interesting that welcomes people to the neighborhood and to the park," adds Maher.

According to a roundup of feedback from Callowhill-based design partner Studio|Bryan Hanes, this is in line with neighbors' hopes for interpretative signage to celebrate the area's history.

The spot is a bit of a high-speed transit hub year-round -- it boasts a Girard Avenue trolley stop frequented by kids riding to Kelly Pool -- and lacks proper traffic safeguards. That’s why the Planning Commission has been in the the loop on this project from the start. A fix to the area's traffic dangers will also incorporate an extension of the Mantua Greenway, a bike lane into West Fairmount Park.
  
Keep an eye out here for details on another piece of Centennial Commons’ Phase I: Parkside Edge, a relaxing new recreational space slated to border Parkside Avenue.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Jennifer Mahar, Fairmount Park Conservancy

On the Ground is made possible by the Knight Foundation, an organization that supports transformational ideas, promotes quality journalism, advances media innovation, engages communities and fosters the arts. The foundation believes that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more, visit knightfoundation.org.

 

Mt. Airy Art Garage must find a new home

This summer after six years and close to a quarter million dollars invested in rent and renovations, Mt. Airy Art Garage learned that they only had a year left in their current location.

When they originally rented the space near the corner of Germantown and West Mt. Airy Avenues, the original MAAG leaders -- including president and co-founder Linda Slodki, her co-founder Arleen Olshan, architect Donna Globus and founding board member Solomon Levy -- spearheaded an astonishing overhaul of the long-neglected warehouse. Under a five-year original lease, a building featuring trenches in the floor, no lights, heating, plumbing or emergency exits was transformed into a vibrant hub for social change and exchange through the arts. But building owner Greg Bushu has decided to remove MAAG's option to renew the one-year lease they received this summer. According to organization leaders, he’s refused to meet with them or discuss the change, despite their model record as tenants and status as an anchor institution on the Mt. Airy business corridor.

"It’s a blow," explains Slodki, but they’re not going to fight the owner. After investing so much in the space, they did have high hopes of gaining ownership, "but the asking price was exorbitant."

"We came back several times to the table to ask about the price he was asking," she says. MAAG had their own appraisal of the property completed last year, and according to Slodki, Bushu’s asking price was almost double the building’s appraised value. "We can’t get a mortgage based on a price like that."

So what’s next?

MAAG is launching a major fundraising and search campaign, along with a series of community meetings to garner ideas and support for their next phase. The first took place on August 20; the second was on August 30. Watch MAAG’s website for details on these and other events.

Whatever happens, Slodki says neighborhood support has been overwhelming, and she’s hoping MAAG can find a new home somewhere in Northwest Philadelphia.

"I don’t know where we’ll be a year from now," she muses. "Maybe we’ll be smaller. Maybe we won’t have such a large rent that we have to meet. Maybe we won’t have resident artist studios. Maybe we’ll have a gallery on one floor and offices on the second floor. If this place is as important to you as you all say it is, why would we give up?"

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Linda Slodki, Mt. Airy Art Garage

 

The Bicycle Coalition takes new action for a safer Washington Avenue

In July, the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia decided it was time to take action on a plan that has long been in the works. The goal is to make a stretch of Washington Avenue, the site of over 1500 crashes in the last five years, a safer ride.

In spring 2014, after a lengthy process, the Planning Commission proposed a new pavement marking plan, but nothing further has been accomplished. Sarah Clark Stuart, deputy director of the Bicycle Coalition, offers some background on the problem, what residents and city officials have done to tackle it so far, and why action on the current plan seems stymied.

To begin with, "the pavement markings have long been faded out," she explains. The 2.9-mile Washington Avenue corridor "is a major arterial for the city…it has a lot of very different uses," including driving, parking, loading zones, walking and biking, "and some of those uses conflict with each other."

According to Stuart, there’s also a big gap in the bike lanes on Washington between 7th and 11th Streets, and the pavement markings from 16th Street to 25th Street and from 13th Street to 4th Street have almost disappeared.

According to a July 21 blog post from the Coalition (which requested data from PennDOT and the Police Department), between 2010 and 2014, there were 1,425 non-reportable crashes (between all kinds of vehicles, including bikes) and 212 reportable ones, resulting in the injuries for 234 people and the deaths of four. That means a total of 1,637 Washington Avenue crashes in a five-year period, averaging out to 327 crashes per year.

The difference between a non-reportable and reportable crash is that the latter requires an ambulance for the victim(s) or a vehicle to be towed away. In these types of incidents, the Police Department files an additional report for PennDOT. Comparatively minor run-ins such as fenders-benders -- which may get a police filing but let those involved walk, drive or ride away -- aren’t reported to PennDOT.

With so many crashes happening on this multi-use strip of South Philly, why has it taken so long to address the problem?
According to Stuart, the city had plans to simply re-stripe Washington Avenue a number of years ago, but the Planning Commission saw the opportunity for a traffic study and an associated community outreach process to determine if rethinking the thoroughfare could make things safer for everyone.

A consultant and numerous steering committee and advisory meetings happened over the next few years, culminating in the current Washington Avenue Transportation & Parking Study, and "that’s where things got complicated," says Stuart.

The new plan proposed a road diet and changes to parking and parking regulations, but these couldn’t be implemented without new ordinances from City Council, and the plan has languished since last year. So on July 17, the Coalition launched an e-mail campaign to help Washington Avenue users tell City Council members, Deputy Commissioner Michael Carroll and Mayor Michael Nutter that it’s time to move forward with the plans. As of mid-August, the page has garnered over 370 e-mails to city officials.

The goal is simple: "What we think the City should do is re-stripe a safer Washington Avenue by the end of [2015’s] paving season," explains Stuart. That is when the temperature dips below 40 degrees. "We want to make it safer. What we want to avoid is just the status quo."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Sarah Clark Stuart, The Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia

On the Ground: A new life for Philly's Centennial Commons

On March 16, Mayor Michael Nutter and other local officials announced the $11 million Reimagining the Civic Commons initiative. The project is being run by the Fairmount Park Conservancy and partners, with major support from the Knight Foundation and the William Penn Foundation. Since the announcement, we’ve taken a closer look at plans for one of the five major developments: an overhaul of the Bartram’s Mile walkway. And now that Flying Kite has landed in Parkside with On the Ground, it’s the perfect time to take a peek at the new Centennial Commons.

According to Jennifer Mahar, senior director of civic initiatives at the Conservancy, conversations with local leaders and stakeholders began in winter of 2013. It was an eye-opening process. From block associations and block captains to business owners and religious leaders, the community dove into a long series of meetings and planning activities. What did locals really want for the massive historic space, the erstwhile hub of Philly’s famous 1876 Centennial Exhibition?

The first meeting was in West Parkside, and that was a lesson all on its own.

"I didn’t know about the distinction between East and West Parkside," admits Maher. "There was a lot of work that we had to do to spend more time on the East Side." That included connecting with the Parkside Historic District Coalition and the Viola Street Residents Association. Many of those meetings took place at the Christ Community Baptist Church on 41st Street between Parkside and Girard.

"This project is a little bit different than most other ones I’ve had in my time as far as community engagement," explains Mahar. "The project came online and then we reached out the community; usually projects run the other way."

In another surprise, Conservancy staffers and surveyors learned that residents had good reason to be wary of news that a major rehab was coming to the Commons.

"The Parkside community has gone through 26 plans in the last 20 years, and has seen very little implemented," says Mahar. These plans have included everything from healthy eating initiatives to economic corridor boosts, along with traffic and transit upgrades, "but so little has happened that I don’t think people actually believe us that we're building a park."

But a park is coming: The $12 million renovation of an 800-acre space will encompass four main projects in multiple phases. The Conservancy has already raised $6.5 million towards Phase 1.

Those four areas include the "gateway" to the park and the whole neighborhood, where Girard and Parkside Avenues meet. Now, "it’s just a slab of broken concrete where people drive super-fast," explains Mahar. With the help of the Planning Commission, work is afoot to transform this into a welcoming and accessible space that is safer for drivers, pedestrians and trolley-riders alike.

Other phases of the plan -- created in partnership with Philadelphia Parks & Recreation -- will include a new Youth Area near the existing Kelly Pool geared to kids ages 5 to 12, a "B’tweens Area" for teens and the "Parkside Edge," a mellower area that will turn a neglected stretch of Parkside Avenue into an inviting green space boasting seating, shade and gathering spaces.

Stay tuned to Flying Kite for more details as the spring 2016 groundbreaking approaches.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Jennifer Mahar, The Fairmount Park Conservancy

On the Ground is made possible by the Knight Foundation, an organization that supports transformational ideas, promotes quality journalism, advances media innovation, engages communities and fosters the arts. The foundation believes that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more, visit knightfoundation.org.


 

Trolley routes back on track after 2015's successful Trolley Tunnel Blitz

After a little over two weeks of no service in the SEPTA trolley tunnel between 13th Street and the 40th Street Portal, this underground artery to West and Southwest Philly is back on track.

It’s the third year for the "Trolley Tunnel Blitz," explained SEPTA spokesperson Heather Redfern. In 2013, SEPTA closed the tunnel from August 2 to August 12 for maintenance and repairs.

"They were able to accomplish so much, and they knew that if they had an extra week, it would help even more," she explains.

So in 2014, the blitz was expanded to 16 days, with a closure of the same length repeated this year. Trolleys have been running again since 4 a.m. Monday morning. 

While the Trolley Tunnel Blitz is an undeniable headache for many who have to divert to the Market-Frankford Line and then head to the 40th Street Portal to reach points on the 10, 11, 13, 34 and 36 trolleys, Redfern says a well-warned public is mostly understanding.

The work is more complicated than repairs on regional rail lines, which shut down for a certain number of hours every night, while the trolleys run 24 hours a day.

"It’s a good time for our crews to get in there and just knock it out," says Redfern, mentioning the even more unpleasant alternative of shutting down service on nights and weekends for a longer period of time to get the same amount of work done. "When people realize what we’re doing benefits them…they’re a little bit more understanding of what it takes to get done."

In-house SEPTA crews have been working around the clock for the duration of the closure. These weeks in August were chosen because trolley ridership is typically at its lowest, with many vacationers and students out of town.

This year’s upgrades included almost 7,500 feet of new track on the westbound side of the tunnel between 22nd and 40th Streets, and repairs on the eastbound side to the system attaching the trolleys’ overhead wire to the tunnel ceiling. More visible improvements include the continued replacement of old fluorescent lighting with energy-efficient LEDs, and upgraded stairs and platforms at the 13th and 19th street stations (13th Street also has new LED lighting within the track area). Other work included repairing and clearing track drains to reduce standing water in the tunnels, heavy cleaning, graffiti removal and tile repair, fresh painting, and tests of emergency generators and lighting throughout the tunnel.

"It’s stuff that people will be able to see…but then it’s also stuff that will help the trolleys run more efficiently," says Redfern. "Something you won’t see, but it’ll help your trip."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Heather Redfern, SEPTA

Innovation Plaza slated to open this fall in University City

In June, the University City Science Center broke ground on an inviting new public space. The Innovation Plaza, under construction right next to International House at 37th and Chestnut, will run between Market and Chestnut Streets.

Recently, Flying Kite took a look at the Science Center’s second call for nominees for its Innovators Walk of Fame, a key piece of the plaza that will feature specially designed concrete blocks with metal plaques honoring science visionaries. The first call for nominees went out when the project was first announced in 2013; this second "class" of nominees focused on women in the sciences. According to Science Center spokesperson Jeanne Mell, this call -- which closed in June -- drew 68 suggestions. In July, a selection committee finalized a group of five honorees; they will be announced at the Center’s Nucleus 2015 event on October 15.

"We realized that just putting them on this pretty pedestrian-looking walkway wasn’t going to do them justice," says Mell says of the plan to develop the whole plaza space, which will be open to the public by this fall.

In addition to the Walk of Fame, the plaza will feature a café seating area where people can meet, collaborate, eat and work; there’ll be free public WIFI -- the Science Center hopes visitors will use it for more than just a place to have lunch. With plenty of food offerings already in the neighborhood, there aren’t any plans for a permanent café, but with the help of ex;it design firm, the spot will be very food-truck friendly.

There will also be a versatile space sponsored by the University of Pennsylvania with seating 150 to 200 people that could be used for all kinds of outdoor entertainment, from movie screenings to concerts to theatrical performances. Landscape design firm Andropogon will create attractive green elements. 

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Sources: Jeanne Mell and Monica Cawvey, the Science Center

 

University City builds its biggest parklet yet

Flying Kite recently took a look at University City District’s (UCD) study "The Case for Parklets: Measuring the Impact on Sidewalk Vitality and Neighborhood Businesses," and since then the parklet movement has only gotten bigger. 

A parklet is created when a business replaces parking or other adjacent public space with a small, landscaped seating and socializing area. Past and current participants have partnered with UCD for the building and upkeep of the spaces, which typically have a single "host" business, explains UCD Capital Projects Manager Nate Hommel.

But this summer, the social and financial benefits outlined in the UCD study convinced four businesses to partner for the development, installation and maintenance of the city’s biggest parklet yet.

It’s all happening at 125 S. 40th Street (near 40th and Sansom) outside of a newly developed stretch of casual restaurants: Hai Street Kitchen (check out our look at their move to University City here), Jake’s Sandwich Board, Zesto Pizza & Grill and Dunkin’ Donuts. The parklet, installed in the restaurants’ former loading zone and buffered from the street by attractive plantings, is over 60 feet long.

“You basically have the perfect situation for a parklet,” says Hommel -- it's what he told representatives of Hai Street Kitchen when they approached UCD about ideas for livening up their new location. Ultimately, each business was so enthusiastic about the plan that the four hosts paid for the entirety of the design, construction and installation of the new outdoor amenity. No formal study has been done on the parklet’s usage yet, but UCD staffers say the new stretch of seating is attracting lots of customers and passersby.

Shift_Design -- which also collaborated on this summer’s Porch at 30th Street -- designed and fabricated the parklet elements this spring and summer. It was installed on July 10. Working with local manufacturers, the company specializes in repetitive modular design pieces that can be built in its shop and then installed on site. (Watch a time-lapse video of the July 10 installation here.)

According to UCD, this parklet is also forging new ground with a bit of programming: Jake’s Sandwich Board has a jazz trio playing outside every Wednesday night -- all users can enjoy the music. The space will stay open all the way through November.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Nate Hommel, University City District

A pop-up pool in Francisville jazzes up summer

When Philadelphia Parks & Recreation deputy of programs Leo Dignam first heard that the Francisville Recreation Center was in the running for a Knight Cities Challenge grant for a pop-up pool, he was confused.

"At first I was like, what do you mean, a pop-up pool?" he recalls. "A pool’s a pool. That pool’s been there for 30 years. What do you mean by that?"

Benjamin Bryant, director of planning and design at Group Melvin Design, actually came up with idea of a pop-up pool project and submitted the proposal to the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. When Bryant found out his idea was in the running for a grant out of the $5 million Knight Cities Challenge pot, he contacted Parks & Rec to find out if they were interested.

They were. The Francisville Pop-Up Pool Project took a formerly bare urban space and transformed it with a custom-designed lounge deck, canopies, new landscaping, an outdoor play space adjacent to the pool, and weekly aqua yoga and Zumba classes.

The idea ultimately received a $297,000 grant from Knight -- this year’s pop-up is a pilot (completed with the help of the Sikora Wells Appel landscape architecture firm as well as Group Melvin Design) -- and the money will fund two more city pop-up pools over the next two years, in addition to the Francisville space.

"It turned out to be an eye-opener for me," explains Dignam. The first consideration at a pool is safety for the kids, he explains, which can mean plain pool decks and a rather "sterile" environment without a lot of appeal outside of the water. The improvements to the space brought in more adults to the park (meaning better supervision for the youngsters, a plus for everyone).

"This seems to be a step in the right direction," enthuses Dignam. "I’ve been in the department for 34 years and it’s neat to see the pools being used by everybody.”

He thinks that as other neighborhoods get a look at the project, they’ll become interested in the possibilities for their own pools. The Francisville pop-up pool will be open through August 22.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Leo Dignam, Philadelphia Parks and Recreation

Designing the spaces of the future for Philly's kids

Many of us give little thought to how the built environment can benefit children's growth and play, but the latest iteration of the Community Design Collaborative’s InFill Philadelphia design initiative, launched in 2007, is focusing on the cutting edge in playgrounds.

Previous InFill programs have focused on repurposing industrial sites, improving food access, building commercial corridors and stormwater management (via a Philadelphia Water Department partnership called Soak It Up). According to the Collaborative, their latest program -- dubbed Play Space and funded through the William Penn Foundation -- will "promote dialogue between designers, child care providers, child care families, educators and community members" on the important role of play space design in early childhood learning.

"How We Play," a special exhibition of top playspace concepts from across the world will kick off the initiative. A display of international best practices in the design of temporary and permanent outdoor play spaces for children, the show is happening in partnership with the Delaware Valley Association for the Education of Young Children. Featuring over forty concepts, the exhibition is currently being installed and will run from August 5 through September 25 at the Collaborative’s Arch Street headquarters.

"There are other ways of thinking about a playspace beyond the normal playground equipment," explains Collaborative program manager for Play Space Alexa Bosse, and the U.S. has some catching up to do on this concept.

As Bosse puts it, playgrounds don’t need to just be about slides and swings: They can feature moveable parts, boxes and even scrap material for building.

"The act of building and creating is just as much a part of play as the actual structure itself," she continues. "A lot of what these exhibits show is that play is larger than we typically think, because it’s the process as well as the activity."

Kids who experience these types of interdisciplinary spaces aren’t just getting some exercise -- they’re gaining valuable social and physical development skills, including hand-eye coordination, prioritization of tasks, and even math and science.

Bosse references a new worldwide movement called "adventure playgrounds" -- a few can be found in the U.S., but most are overseas. In the United Kingdom, for example, you can earn a degree or certificate as a "playworker" or official supervisor of these spaces, to guard kids’ safety as well as help them navigate playground offerings.

The Place Space programming will have a variety of events in the coming months. Bosse is particularly excited about two August 12 sessions geared toward educators but open to members of the general public. In the afternoon, there will be a special three-hour panel, led in part by U.K.-based playworker Morgan Leichter-Saxby, on the basics of adventure playgrounds, followed by an evening screening of The Land, a documentary about a Welsh adventure playground, and then a panel discussion on balancing the risks and benefits of non-traditional playspaces that can feature activities such as hammers and nails and even lighting fires.

Stay tuned for more from Flying Kite about another Play Space project: an international playspace design competition for three local spaces -- a library, a Parks and Recreation site and a schoolyard. This will launch in September and run through March 2016.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Alexa Bosse, Community Design Collaborative

 

West Philly gets its own Nesting House, haven for sustainability-minded parents

Five years ago, Germantown couple Jen and Chris Kinka opened their first Nesting House at the corner of Carpenter Lane and Greene Street in Mt. Airy, completing what Chris Kinka calls a "holy trinity" for parents: a stop-in grocery store (Weavers Way Co-op), a caffeine peddler (the High Point Café) and a boutique-style consignment store featuring used kids’ clothes at great prices. The shop also offers top-of-the-line new products for environmentally and socially-conscious parents.

Their unique combination of quality second-hand goods and organic environmentally safe products -- including bedding, bottles and cups, toys and other family necessities -- is a way of tying the environmental and the economic together.

"Raising children can be very expensive, but it doesn’t have to be," insists Chris. The Kinkas have three kids, aged eight, six, and three, and their business has been expanding at almost the same pace as their family. They opened a second Nesting House in Collingswood, N.J., two years ago, and doubled the size of their original Mt. Airy location. Now, they’re poised to open a third shop, just off West Philly’s Clark Park.

They’ve had their eye on the area for a while.

"West Philly has been wildly supportive of us since we opened," explains Chris. On Saturdays, the busiest days in the Northwest store, "West Philly is coming up to Mt. Airy to shop at the Nesting House…It’s about time we gave them their own store."

Family-friendly Clark Park is an ideal hub of clientele. By networking with the local businesses and community organizations, the Kinkas heard about a vacant space opening up at 4501 Baltimore Avenue, right across the street from the West Philly location of Milk and Honey Market and not far from Mariposa co-op.

In a strip of five vacant storefronts, The Nesting House is leasing two to create a 1200-square-foot space. This time around, they’re able to put more thought and energy into the branding and look of the shop.

"Up until now, we have not been in a place economically or even mentally to consider more of the aesthetic nature of our spaces," says Chris. "This is the first space where we’re trying to determine what we want to be our branded look."

As of mid-July, the space is gutted and ready for construction; a beautiful exposed stone wall will add to the urban flair.

Things are moving quickly: Chris says they’re on track to open by mid-August, capturing that vital back-to-school clothing market.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Chris Kinka, The Nesting House 

Stenton Park poised to become a new community hub

A long-crumbling park and community center just northeast of Wayne Junction is getting a major revamp over the next year thanks to a $2.8 million infusion from the City of Philadelphia. That includes $15,000 for a public art installation through the Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy’s Percent for Art Program.

Stenton Park, located at 4600 N. 16th Street, covers over six acres near Germantown; it currently features a playground and community center that both need major upgrades. The site is also adjacent to the historic Stenton House (built in 1725), home of Philadelphia statesman James Logan.

Percent for Art project manager Jacque Liu explains that the existing Stenton Park community center building was constructed in two parts: an original piece in the 1955 and an addition in 1982. The older portion has been closed down because of damage to its roof and flooding from broken pipes. The nearby playground equipment is outdated and noncompliant with modern standards. It’s also hard to access because of a large fence, and the fact that the grounds cover multiple elevations.

Many major improvements are planned. The older portion of the rec center will be demolished along with part of the other building, and a completely new rec center -- featuring classroom space -- will go up. A total redesign and landscape upgrade will open up the space. New equipment, including park benches, game tables, picnic tables and even a new spray-ground, will be installed.

The other major component of the project is an installation from artist Karyn Olivier, a teacher at Temple's Tyler School of Art who splits her time between New York City and Philadelphia. As per the process of Percent for Art (which allocates up to one percent of development budgets on land acquired and assembled by the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority to public art), a nationwide request for qualifications went out. An expert panel -- that included local community members -- narrowed the field down to about five artists who made full proposals for the space.

"Often public art is just plopped in there," says Liu, but "in this particular case, it’s very integrated into the site."

Olivier is creating a site-specific installation called "School is Out." It will feature a giant blackboard on one exterior wall of the new rec center, equipped with chalk for everyone -- it can serve as an extension of the inside classroom. There will also be engraved pavers featuring quotations from historic and contemporary Philadelphia thinkers, including Logan.

Olivier says the piece will provide "a place for individual reflection," encouraging debate and conversation in the communal space.

Liu estimates that all work at Stenton Park will be done by summer 2016; a single dedication will be held for all the park’s new features.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Jacque Liu, Percent for Art Program

Uptown Beer Garden shakes up summer on JFK

Right before scheduled publication, Uptown Beer Garden was shut down by L&I. It has since reopened. The space has been restructured and table service added. Read on for more on this exciting contribution to the Center City business district.

This month, Chestnut Street’s BRU Craft & Wurst expanded to activate a formerly barren piece of Center City. Starting July 1, the 9,000-square-foot Uptown Beer Garden, helmed by BRU owner Teddy Sourias, took over the courtyard of the PNY Mellon Building at 1735 John F. Kennedy Boulevard.
 
"I was adamant about that area," explains Souria. "I didn’t want to go Old City or South Philly, because those things had been done before.”

Sourias nabbed the unexpected spot in the business district during the first week of June, which meant a wild scramble to get the space ready. He had a broker helping him search for a year before he found out the Mellon Building plaza could work.
 
"It happened so fast," he says of what came next: the paperwork, the purchase of a food cart, and the design and development of the space. "We literally didn’t sleep. My whole staff pulled through."
 
The space includes trees and 2,000-pound granite benches, some of which Uptown removed and more than a dozen of which they kept. There are also large communal picnic tables (the staff stained them themselves), tree slabs made into high-top tables and a 35-foot bar. A lot of Pennsylvania reclaimed wood went into the construction, lending a rustic note to the formerly quiet stretch of concrete.
 
So far Sourias’s hunch about the location has paid off: 3,500 people showed up on beer garden's first day.

And they're not showing up just for the drinks. The menu includes bratwurst brought from the kitchen at BRU, Bavarian-style warm pretzels, guacamole and chips, a BBQ summer tofu roll, and pulled duck, beef short rib, and seared tuna sliders. There’s also ice cream and cocoa cookies for dessert.
 
The bar menu includes frozen margaritas, various sangrias, and a wide range of cans and beer on tap, including special seasonal selections.

And you can feel good about sipping those suds: The Philadelphia Animal Welfare Association (PAWS) is close to Sourias’s heart, and Uptown is partnering with the rescue organization to donate proceeds throughout the season. During "Yappy Hour" -- details TBA -- a portion of the till will go to PAWS; and a special sangria on the menu will put a dollar toward the charity every time someone orders it.
 
Sourias is so optimistic about the location that he’s hoping to stay open for Uptown’s own Oktoberfest, and, if they can get the clearance, to stay open through the Pope's visit in late September.
 
"We’re in the best worst location for that," Sourias quips of their proximity to the Parkway. "The best because it’s right across the street; the worst because it’s right across the street."
 
Uptown Beer Garden’s opening hours are Monday, Tuesday and Thursday 5 - 10 p.m., Wednesday from 4 p.m. to midnight, and Friday and Saturday from 2 p.m. - midnight (closed Sundays).
 
Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Teddy Sourias, Uptown Beer Garden

Rethinking the Rowhome: An architect lets in the light in Queen Village

In this city of rowhomes, thoughtful design can have a huge impact. One local designer transformed her Fabric Row space into a showcase for bringing light and flexibility to Philadelphia's signature structure.

Juliet Whelan, owner of award-winning architecture firm Jibe Design, lives with her husband live on the second and third floors above an office they rent out. The recently renovated home is stunning. Natural light floods the space and the minimalist furniture was designed by the homeowner herself. There are tons of unique features including a steel parapet hook chandelier over the custom dining table, a raw steel grating stair and a steel "curtain" guardrail from the 3rd floor to the roof.

This is actually the second renovation on the home, which sits on the 800 block of South 4th Street in Queen Village. The project cost $150,000 and included an addition to the rear of the building, a roof deck and a garden.

In fact, there are no traditional closets -- just a custom pantry in the kitchen for storing food and cleaning supplies, and a string curtain surrounding open shelves for clothes and shoes in the master suite. 

"We're pretty tidy people, so I opted for closets as furniture," explains Whelan. "I like to stand in my bedroom, where there's a lot of natural light, and pick out my clothes for the day."

Helping to capitalize on that natural light pouring in through large windows on the upper level and coming down from the light box on the roof are two sliding doors on the bedrooms. They can be left open to let the light play throughout the space or closed to provide privacy when the couple has guests.

The home's new furniture was designed by Whelan and built with the help of several friends and craftspeople. There's the bed that looks like a double-wide chaise lounge made from wood, which sits atop a black and white rug from Millésimé. She also designed the dining table; above it hangs the chandelier made from parapet hooks, which have a connection to the house's history.

"For the last seven years I've had these metal hooks I found in the basement," she says. "We thought maybe it was a Jewish deli and these were meat hooks. We hung them above my table and then found out they're parapet hooks, used to do work on the exterior of a building. Someone who lived here before us must have been a mason or something."

Writer: Rosella LaFevre
Source: Juliet Whelan, Jibe Design

Pennsylvania Horticultural Society funds public spaces with $25,000 Placemaker Grants

When the El rumbles overhead in Frankford, people stop mid-conversation and wait for the noise to pass. Residents call this the "Frankford Pause." Now, that iconic local phrase will become the name of a new vacant property-turned-public park in the neighborhood, designed with help from the Community Design Collaborative.

Spearheaded by the Frankford Community Development Corporation and the City Planning Commission, the project will be funded through multiple sources, including the Neighborhood Placemaker Grant, awarded for the first time this year by the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (PHS). The Frankford CDC is one of three winners of these grants -- they provide $25,000 to projects aimed at improving the look and environmental sustainability of communities through public spaces. The other two winners are Nueva Esperanza, Inc. and Somerset Neighbors for Better Living

"We selected projects that are quite different from each other," explains PHS's Tammy Leigh DeMent. "But [each] scored well across multiple levels including impact to the neighborhood, commitment from the community, partner engagement and a maintenance plan."

Nueva Esperanza, Inc., which serves the needs of Hispanic communities in North Philadelphia, leads the charge in revitalizing the Veterans’ Memorial Plaza at Wyoming and Rising Sun Avenues. Plans for the project include the expansion of the central garden, replacement of crumbling hardscape and the addition of benches and planters. The goal is to attract residents to this important gateway in the Feltonville community.

Somerset Neighbors for Better Living, a committee of the New Kensington Community Development Corporation, heads the Community Planter Initiative, a program that will provide free window boxes, street planters and plants for residents who attend neighborhood meetings. This program is about fostering community connections through greening, while beautifying residential and business corridors.

Each of these projects are scheduled to begin in June and be completed within one year.

PHS hopes that this grant program inspired community based organizations to think big for their neighborhoods. 

"Many of the groups that did not win the grant contacted us afterwards to let us know that the opportunity to apply gave them a chance to organize around an idea that had been in the back of their minds for a while," says DeMent. "Now that they’ve done so, they are going to continue to look for funding."

The Neighborhood Placemaker Grants are part of PHS's larger Civic Landscapes program, a four-decades-old effort that has transformed public areas and neighborhood open spaces into premier sites and destinations. 

"Communities matter," adds DeMent. "Not every beautification project can be City-driven, not every greening effort needs to be large-scale and expensive. Small but important green spaces can lift the spirit of a neighborhood, gather people together and give communities a place -- and a reason -- to meet."

Writer: Rosella LaFevre
Source: ?Tammy Leigh DeMent, PHS

Commercial developer founds Jumpstart Germantown to empower new developers

In 25 years of business, commercial real estate developer Ken Weinstein of Philly Office Retail has mentored plenty of wannabe real estate developers. Recently, two such novices approached him after a community meeting and asked him to mentor them. He offered to sit down with them together and spend three hours teaching them the basics of development.

From this three hour session came the inspiration for Jumpstart Germantown, an initiative Weinstein is spearheading to drive investment in the Northwest Philadelphia neighborhood where he's been investing and working his entire career. This new organization looks to "jumpstart" the neighborhood by mentoring inexperienced developers, connecting them with each other and more experienced developers, and providing loans to spur development. 

"There is great enthusiasm for doing more in Germantown," explains Weinstein. "We totally did not expect this much energy and enthusiasm this quickly. It's clear that what we're offering has struck a nerve."

One of those original novices who approached Weinstein is Nancy Deephouse. He has tapped her to lead the Developers' Network, bringing together inexperienced and experienced developers alike. On May 28, more than 100 people showed up to the first meeting of Jumpstart Germantown's Developers Network at the newly renovated Greatness is in You! Drama School and Performing Arts Center (4811 Germantown Avenue).

Weinstein has also received 79 applications from developers who want to be part of the nine-hour program he's created about development. Only eight at a time will go through the course; the next cycle starts in July. He says he'll make sure each of those 79 get through.  

Jumpstart Germantown will also provide loans of up to 95 percent of the cost of a residential development project. These short-term loans are funded by a $2 million line of credit, which means they could service up to 30 loans at a time. What makes this loan program different from others is that the organization does not have the same loan requirements as a bank. But the hope is that recipients will be able to sell the property or finance it through a bank at the end of 9-to-12 months so that Jumpstart Germantown can exit the loan.

So far they've received five applications and signed deals to provide two loans of approximately $75,000 each. These loans are going to developers who have two and four development projects behind them, respectively.

Weinstein, who got his start in residential real estate, says he could've gotten back into that business but he'd rather help others. 

"I always push mentees strongly to start in residential," says Weinstein. "I'd rather empower others to [revive Germantown's residential real estate]. This is a great, grassroots way to give people the knowledge and funding."

Writer: Rosella LaFevre
Source: Ken Weinstein, Philly Office Retail

 

Neighborhood Bike Works makes a big move

For almost 20 years, staff and the youth served by the nonprofit Neighborhood Bike Works (NBW) have hauled bicycles up and down the steps into the organization's basement headquarters. 

While they've had a great time in the subterranean section of St. Mary's Church on the University of Pennsylvania's campus, the time has come to open their own center. Last month, NBW announced plans to do just that: The organization is gearing up to move to 3939 and 3943 Lancaster Avenue, one mile from their current location in West Philadelphia. 

"We're a little hidden in this basement," explains Executive Director Erin DeCou. "But we wanted to stay nearby because our neighborhood has been so good to us."

The new location is close to where three communities -- Mantua, Belmont and Powelton -- converge. Currently, NBW must carefully balance its schedule of programming for youth and adults to make use of its limited square footage space. The Lancaster Avenue site combines two side-by-side storefront properties, giving the organization plenty of room for offices and two learning spaces.

Since 1996, NBW has helped over 4,500 young Philadelphians discover a love of cycling. Through education, hands-on bike-building and group rides, the Philly youth (ages 8-18) served by NBW develop job and life skills that serve them for years to come. NBW also hosts adult repair classes and "Bike Church," a recurring event where the community can get help fixing their rides and purchase affordable donated bikes or bike parts.

Later this summer, NBW will start the move, but to get the new space fully ready, they first have to raise $150,000. The organization will start by tapping the community and corporate sponsors, and follow that up with fundraising events.

Writer: Rosella LaFevre
Source: Erin DeCou, Neighborhood Bike Works

Groundswell and University City District give The Porch an upgrade

People used to rush through the sidewalk outside of 30th Street Station, determined to get to the train or to work in the neighborhood as quickly as possible. But then University City District (UCD) initiated a proof-of-concept test, hoping to prove that people would use the underutilized stretch of concrete as a public space -- if there was something to tempt them. 

In November 2011, The Porch at 30th Street Station was born. It featured planters, benches and café tables. The sunny, flexible spot became mighty popular as a lunch destination for nearby workers, but could it be more? 

On May 27, UCD and its design partner Groundswell opened what they call Porch 2.0 featuring an installation of nine tiered wooden platforms built around existing planters and benches to maximize the places where visitors can eat, hang out and enjoy themselves. The mission: Give people a place to really spend some time, preferably in off hours.

"We took it from a [place to] pause to a [place to] stay," explains David Fierabend, principal at Groundswell. The local firm is also responsible for stunning design projects such as Spruce Street Harbor Park, Morgan's Pier and Independence Beer Garden

The space is also upping its food game. The lunch trucks that had paid a flat fee to serve customers at The Porch are gone, replaced by a permanent food truck called Rotisserie at the Porch. Rotisserie will be managed by Michael Schulson, the restauranteur behind Sampan, Graffiti Bar, Independence Beer Garden and other eateries. There will also be a beverage trailer serving beer and liquor Wednesday through Saturday from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Prema Gupta, director of planning and economic development at UCD, hopes Philadelphians will be pleasantly surprised: "Where this is really interesting is that a small fraction of the people using it will come deliberately, but I think a lot of people will come out of 30th Street Station and decide to stay and check out The Porch." 

Writer: Rosella LaFevre
Source: David Fierabend, Groundswell

 

The Drake architects preview Philly's newest theater hub

After 18 years at the Adrienne, InterAct Theatre Company is moving to The Drake at 1512 Spruce Street, a former University of the Arts dance space. Metcalfe Architecture & Design (MA&D) has been working with InterAct (who will be leasing additional space to PlayPenn, Simpatico Theatre Project, Azuka Theatre and Inis Nua Theatre) to create the perfect new home, and they gave Flying Kite a preview of the layout.

The Center City-based company has a dual specialty, explains principal Alan Metcalfe: They’re an architecture and exhibit design firm that focuses on work for museums, schools, cultural institutions and other nonprofits.

Their dedication to spaces that foster social interaction is a great fit for the new vision at The Drake. There will be one box office, two black-box stages and two lobbies with separate entrancse. The InterAct lobby will double as a coffee and work lounge for Philly’s creative types during the day.

There are several unique components to the space. InterAct asked MA&D to scale back some of the design elements of their lobby, explains lead architect Chris Kircher, because one corner of that space will be reserved for "micro-performances," complete with rigging for lights and lighting controls. The theater company also insisted on unisex bathrooms for the lobby/lounge space.

The construction phase of the project, which the architects estimate will take about three months once all the necessary permits are acquired, will also have an unusual aspect -- employees of InterAct are pitching in on the actual construction: building their stage, the riders for the seating and some custom elements of the tech booth.

The seating for the InterAct stage will be fixed, while the slightly smaller second space will have removable seating, a sprung floor and a square shape, allowing for a very flexible performance area.

It’s been a special project all around, Metcalfe continues. The company and the architects were free from the need to wrestle with zoning codes to convert the use because the space is already zoned as a theater.

"Imagine how hard it is to find existing theater space in the middle of Center City," he says. "It was really a dream come true for InterAct." 

"In the lobbies themselves, there’ll be some exposed brick-work, exposed concrete beams and columns; all the piping and mechanical systems will be exposed," says Kircher of the space's "raw industrial-type feel...[There's] sort of an oxymoron in the idea that we’re exposing the truth about the architectural aspects of the space," but inside of a theater, which is all about creating artificial environments onstage.

"When we came into the space, everything was covered up, and we were gleefully pushing at ceiling panels, looking to see what was up there," recalls Metcalfe. "The world of theater and urban design has changed so much, from 'cover it all up and make it look like everything else' to 'let the character show.'"

InterAct is hoping to get into the Drake by September under a 15-year lease; the arts community should stay tuned for news of when performances will commence.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Sources: Alan Metcalfe and Chris Kircher, Metcalfe Architecture & Design

Could Spring Garden Street become the city's iconic greenway?

Almost everyone's heard of the Appalachian Trail, but how about the East Coast Greenway? It’s a developing trail system that stretches for 2,900 miles, winding its way from Maine to Florida. But the route through the City of Philadelphia remains lacking, and several years of planning have targeted Spring Garden Street as an optimal thoroughfare. It could be a transformational project, for travelers and residents alike.

On April 30 -- just before the biannual State of the Greenway Summit convened in Philly -- a team of federal auditors from the U.S. Department of Transportation visited the street to assess the plans.

The Greenway Summit was convened by the Durham, N.C.-based East Coast Greenway Alliance (ECGA). According to Executive Director Dennis Markatos-Soriano, ECGA chose Philly (where it has a regional office) in tribute to its recent progress in pioneering new trails and green spaces within the city.

"From Maine to Florida, they were so inspired by the progress in Philadelphia," he says. "They're going to go back to their communities and say, 'I want to do what Philadelphia [is doing].'"

The spotlight on Spring Garden as the ideal Philly piece of the Greenway -- running for 2.1 miles from Delaware Avenue to Pennsylvania Avenue -- has been growing since 2009, when the Pennsylvania Environmental Council completed its Center City Greenway Feasibility Study. That was followed in 2011 by a conceptual master plan for a "cycletrack" on Spring Garden, serving both Greenway users and everyday Philly commuters, while also boosting stormwater management and other green efforts. The study, which incorporated input from the surrounding communities, concluded that a new bike and pedestrian-centered pathway could still leave enough space for drivers and parking.

"It’s a great area. It already has bike lanes," says Markatos-Soriano of Spring Garden Street, but "many users have already identified that safety can be advanced."

Multi-modal is the word -- especially on the Philly portion of the trail.

"We are about helping people who may be currently driving around to see that there’s a safe space for active transport," he adds. He wants future trail users to know "they don’t have to get in the car and pay all that money for insurance and fuel."

The existing Greenway gets 10 million visits per year, and Markatos-Soriano is hoping that with continued expansions, that will jump to 100 million, making it "the most popular linear park in America." Many people already walk or bike long stretches of the Greenway, but without the tents and gear that Appalachian Trail users carry -- Greenway travelers can indulge in restaurants, hotels, and cultural and architectural attractions along the way.

The April 30 audit didn’t yield any firm deadlines for construction or a finalized plan, but "the fact that we’re having this conversation and bringing all the minds together is going to bring us the perfect solution," insists Markatos-Soriano, calling the Spring Garden Greenway stretch "a huge improvement that I know is going to be implemented."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Sources: Dennis Markatos-Sorianos, East Coast Greenway Alliance

 

Beer, Zumba, art, science and more transform The Oval this summer

As discussion builds around a 2012-13 PennPraxis plan titled "More Park, Less Way: An Action Plan for the Benjamin Franklin Parkway," part of that initiative’s goal is already being realized: a freshly activated summer park space at the foot of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

"It envisioned some long-term permanent capital improvements, but also ways to activate spaces," explains Parks & Recreation First Deputy Commissioner Mark Focht of the 2013 shift that transformed the eight-acre space at 2451 Benjamin Franklin Parkway from Eakins Oval into "The Oval."

Long host to special events such as Fourth of July celebrations, the Oval is getting even more attention in terms of services and programming in summer 2015.

"We wanted to see how we could do a multi-week engagement that changed people’s perceptions of that space, and got folks engaged with it," says Focht.

Four weeks of programming in summer 2013 drew 35,000 visitors, and that number jumped to 80,000 last year. With Labor Day pushed to September 7 this year, that allows for an extra week of Oval fun -- the installation will run from July 15 through August 23. Based on the last two years, Focht projects even bigger attendance numbers for this summer.

Run through Parks & Rec and the Fairmount Park Conservancy, this year’s incarnation will boast over twenty programming partners, with free activities ranging from Zumba to bike safety sessions, storytelling, and art and science activities courtesy of nearby institutions such as the Art Museum and the Free Library.

The Trocadero will also bring back its beer garden, and up to four different food trucks will be on hand each day. Even the parking lot will get a makeover: In partnership with the Mural Arts Program, Baltimore-based artists Jessie Unterhalter and Katey Truhn will paint the surface with designs that will carry over into all of the Oval’s visual branding for 2015.

And before the Oval’s 2015 programming launches, it will host something "unlike anything anyone’s seen on the Parkway," enthuses Focht. Saint-Gobain’s "Future Sensations," a collection of five fantastical pavilions will be free and open to the public from May 30 through June 6.

Four pavilions from the exhibition have already traveled to Shanghai and Sao Paolo, and one never-before-seen pavilion will be added for the Philly stop. The show is off to Paris next.

The Conservancy and Parks & Rec call it "a sensory journey in science, storytelling and art that celebrates the past three-and-a-half centuries and offers glimpses into future innovations that will transform the world."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Mark Focht, Philadelphia Parks & Recreation

 

High Point Wholesale brings new life to a former post office in Mt. Airy

In April, High Point Wholesale, a new branch of Mt. Airy's beloved High Point Café, officially cut the ribbon on its repurposed early-20th-century space at 6700 Germantown Avenue. The building was once home to Mt. Airy's original post office.
 
While it’s born out of the café -- which celebrates its tenth anniversary this year -- High Point Wholesale isn't a retail or restaurant location. It will house office space, a bakery for High Point's signature treats (including a self-contained gluten-free kitchen), coffee roasting and a shipping operation -- something that wasn't possible in the tiny original space. 

"I created High Point Wholesale as a separate business from the café," explains founder by Meg Hagele, a Mt. Airy native. "We recognized we had to raise money. I couldn’t do it on a wing and a prayer."

An initial round of fundraising from investors netted $365,000, and after searching throughout the northwest neighborhoods for a space, renovations began in winter 2014.

But the road was harder than Hagele and her supporters predicted. The site's first contractor proved incapable of handling the job and securing the necessary permits -- High Point Wholesale seemed destined to fail.

They were "emotionally and financially devastated," recalls Hagele. "It was a dark and hard time to get through...There was a real crisis of conscience. Do we walk away?"

She decided to push forward.

"We were so excited and invested in being on Germantown Avenue and being a part of the revitalization of the Mt. Airy corridor," she explains. Hagele jumped into reworking the numbers, and a new round of fundraising amassed close to $200,000.

"All of our investment is 100 percent from customers of the café," Hagele says proudly.

Early this year, a Kickstarter campaign for smaller-scale and more far-flung supporters added almost $40,000 to that total; the funds will go towards final construction costs.

High Point Wholesale now occupies the building's main floor (3,300 square feet); building owner Mt. Airy USA is on the lower level (1,900 square feet).

The site's second contractor had a creative mind -- the space boasts the original basement beams repurposed as windowsills and a partial wall around the offices, lamps salvaged from a 1950s Cincinnati airport, and natural hewn Lancaster County white oak office desks. A National Endowment for Democracy grant administered through Mt. Airy USA helped outfit the space with a specialized electrical system that’s expensive to install, but will save money and energy on the business' commercial ovens down the line.

An April 11 party in the revamped space was expected to draw about 300 people -- the turnout topped 500.

It told Hagele a lot about how her businesses impact the local community.

"They were invested," she muses, "whether or not they were investors."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Meg Hagele, High Point Wholesale  

'Before I Die' closes at Drexel: University City's public space in transition

What do you want to do before you die? It’s an interesting question to pair with a complete makeover of one of Philly's educational landmarks. Over the past several months, Drexel University invited globetrotting artist Candy Chang to pose it as buildings at 38th and Powelton Streets were demolished.

Last summer, Drexel University City Development, LLC, in partnership with Wexford Science & Technology, LLC, bought the 14-acre site that housed the former University City High School, the Charles Drew Elementary School and the Walnut Center. According to a June 2014 statement from Drexel, the planned complex will total over 2.7 million square feet, with uses ranging from a new public school to residential, retail, recreational, laboratory and office space. The projected budget is almost $1 billion.

"It marks the end of one life and the beginning of another," says Chang of Drexel’s invitation to create one of her signature installations around the demolition site: Long chalkboard walls inscribed with line upon line following the words "Before I die I want to."

The designer and urban planner created her first "Before I Die" installation on a vacant building in New Orleans in 2011, and since then, with templates available to fans around the world, over 500 similar projects have sprouted up in 70 countries.

The University City site’s installation went up last fall, and it came down last week following the New Orleans-based Taiwanese-American artist’s April 30 lecture at Drexel: "Better Cities: Transforming Public Spaces Through Art & Design."

"The installation encourages people to pause and take a closer look at this space in transition," explains Chang.

In her process, she met with Powelton Village and Mantua community members to hear about the role the site played in their lives.

"One woman cried when she shared her memories of children who once went to that school," recalls the artist.

People have been sharing what they want to do before they die all over the walls of the installation. A few of Chang’s favorites include "drop all self-judgments" and "fix hearts I’ve broken."

"I also enjoyed some of the mashups of crude and contemplative responses. It reflects the gamut of humanity," she adds. Chang calls the installation a "personal anonymous prompt" which is "a gentle first step towards honesty and vulnerability in public," and increases trust and understanding in a community.

"These are essential elements for a more compassionate city, which can not only help us make better places but can help us become our best selves," she insists.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Candy Chang, “Before I Die”

Beautiful Bartram's Mile kicks off Philly's Civic Commons projects

The nice thing about a walk along the water isn’t just the pretty views, argues Schuylkill River Development Corporation (SRDC) spokesperson Danielle Gray of Bartram's Mile, recently announced as one of five projects in the city-wide Reimagining the Civic Commons initiative.

"The beautiful thing about a riverfront greenway is it’s a lot of different things to a lot of different people," she explains.

And of all the Civic Commons projects, Bartram's Mile's groundbreaking is first on the docket.

The new Southwest Philadelphia stretch of the existing Schuylkill Banks riverfront trail and greenway will reach from Grays Ferry Avenue to 58th Street. It’ll be one more link in the Schuylkill River Trail, the East Coast Greenway and the Circuit trail network, leading right to Bartram's Garden.

Though this venerable Philly site is a National Historic Landmark, it doesn’t get nearly the traffic it could.

"Bartram's is such a beautiful, unique historic location, and [SRDC’s] interim goal has always been to connect Bartram’s Garden to the rest of Philadelphia," says Gray. "For a lot of people it’s just completely off their radar."

This project also addresses a hot topic in Fairmount Park studies and initiatives: providing access to the river for residents who have been barred from this beautiful natural resource by everything from highways to industrial development.

"For over a century, the river has been cut off from the adjacent neighborhoods," explains Gray. "We’re really happy to be opening up new stretches of riverfront that have been cut off for so long."

And that riverfront trail isn’t just about getting from point A to point B. There will be space for activities such as fishing, outdoor yoga or tai chi, reading, playing and biking -- plus kayaking and riverboat tours, and plans for movie screenings at Bartram’s Garden.

The rehabbed stretch of land will also be good for the environment, with attention paid to stormwater management, wildlife habitat preservation and restoration, and new trees and meadows.

And it will be good for business.

"After the Center City section opened, we definitely saw an increase in commercial and residential development," adds Gray.

Once the trail is complete and offering a convenient new artery for walkers and bikers from across the city, brownfield sites north and south of Bartram’s Garden will be "more attractive to developers, which will help pave the way for future commercial and light industrial development in Southwest Philadelphia," argues a factsheet from the Fairmount Park Conservancy.

Project partners include Philadelphia Parks & Recreation, the non-profit SRDC, the John Bartram Association and other City agencies. The dollars are coming from the City of Philadelphia, the William Penn Foundation, PennDOT, the Pew Foundation, the Lenfest Foundation, Councilwoman Blackwell's office and the Knight Foundation.

"We’re getting closer to an exact timeline every day," Gray says of construction details. For now, the final design for the space is expected by late spring or early summer of this year, with a groundbreaking expected this summer. Gray projects a 2016 opening for the new trail.  

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Danielle Gray, Schuylkill River Development Corporation

 

Mt. Airy USA and partners get $100,000 for neighborhood planning

This month, Mt. Airy USA announced that they had won a competitive $100,000 neighborhood planning grant, beating out applicants from Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware.
 
The dollars from the Wells Fargo Regional Foundation will kickstart a year-long study and planning process in the northwest Philly neighborhood, scrutinizing everything from early childhood education and vacant buildings to commercial corridors and senior living opportunities.
 
"We have taken a very collaborative approach in the application process to get this grant," explains Mt. Airy USA executive director Anuj Gupta; stakeholders include East & West Mt. Airy Neighbors, the Mt. Airy Business Improvement District, Weavers Way Co-op and more.
 
Now that they’ve got the grant, the dollars will be administered through Mt. Airy USA, which means "even more collaboration" with a "true cross-section of stakeholders," he adds. Gupta feels that the neighborhood's cooperative, community-driven legacy helped the organization stand out among other applicants.
 
A neighborhood plan was completed in 2004, but it has now become irrelevant. That’s because of progress that has already been made, but also challenges no one foresaw, such as the foreclosure crisis. A new comprehensive look at the neighborhood’s structure, recreational demand and opportunities, and commercial development was needed, and now, the money is there to do it, with the help of a professional team of evaluators and planners including Urban Partners.
 
Beginning this spring, the process will include "a comprehensive evaluation of Mt. Airy’s physical environment," explains Gupta, including "the way residents view their neighborhood as is, and also what they want to see it become over the coming years."
 
That means a property-by-property survey (including questions on resident satisfaction), widely accessible community forums, focus groups and stakeholder interviews.
 
The results will reveal the true extent of Mt. Airy's blight and vacancy, while identifying new opportunities for housing rehabilitation. There will also be a market-driven analysis of opportunities for growth on the commercial corridors.
 
The process will culminate in a comprehensive 10-year plan for Mt. Airy, and, yes, Gupta laughs, that means more fundraising. But the Wells Fargo Regional Foundation does offer a grant program for implementation, so the organizations may set their sights on that next.
 
Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Anuj Gupta, Mt. Airy USA

 

$2.75 million renovation for Temple's Center City campus launches with a new public cafe

This month, Temple University cut the ribbon on its renovated Center City campus, just west of the revamped Dilworth Park.

According to Temple Center City Campus Director William Parshall, the upgrades -- which include a Barnes and Noble-run bookstore and café open to the public at 1515 Market Street -- had been in the works for about four years; construction on the $2.75 million project didn’t begin until 2014.

The work was three-pronged: a re-done entrance to the main lobby, significant renovations to the Fox School of Business space on the sixth floor and the new bookstore/café.

The Fox renovations are in line with a bigger trend in higher education.

"They created a new type of classroom called a collaborative learning studio," explains Parshall. Two existing classrooms were combined into "one giant classroom" -- the furniture is all on wheels, from the chairs and desks to white-boards.

"It gives faculty a great deal more flexibility in how they teach," he continues. A class as large as 70 can be arranged in a traditional lecture format, but can also break easily into smaller groups.

In addition, the upgrades included converting office space into additional student breakout rooms with LCD desktops and projectors, and an enhanced MBA student lounge.

"We have always been limited in our ability to provide food on-site, and it’s been very popular," says Parshall of the new café. It had a soft opening on March 2 during spring break, and business is now in full swing.

"The timing worked out really well," he adds, referencing the transformation of Dilworth Park. "A lot of our undergraduate students take the Broad Street Subway," and the new City Hall entrances are now much more inviting. More extensive City Hall station renovations are in the pipeline at SEPTA.

Temple’s next big Center City goal is working with the owner of 2 Penn Center and SEPTA on improving the plaza between the two buildings. Currently home to little more than some bike-racks and "one big slab of concrete," the area is very dark at night.

"One of the things that we would really like to see happen is some friendly lighting…something that would illuminate the plaza," says Parshall, making everyone feel more comfortable overnight. 

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: William Parshall, Temple University

 

Do parklets really boost business? University City District gets the data

Are parklets -- the conversion of one or two parking spaces into an outdoor seating area complete with traffic-buffering plantings -- really a boost for nearby businesses? While plenty of detractors still insist that nothing maintains revenue and customer base like convenient parking, University City District (UCD) set out to quantify the impact of Philly’s first-ever parklets.

Working with the City of Philadelphia, UCD installed parklets in the spring and summer of 2011, turning parking spaces into attractive outdoor seating areas with the cooperation of adjacent businesses, who helped with clean-up and nighttime security for the benches and tables.

It seems like a socially, environmentally and economically positive initiative, but would the data be there to prove it? In March, UCD’s department of planning and economic development released a report titled "The Case for Parklets: Measuring the Impact on Sidewalk Vitality and Neighborhood Businesses."

The sample size so far is small: the user numbers, activities and demographics of six University City parklets observed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays in spring and summer of 2013. But UCD Manager of Policy and Research Seth Budick insists that the results buoy the case for more parklets in Philly and beyond.

He notes that the busiest parklets were near small businesses, including restaurants with more customers than they could seat inside.

"If you provide additional seating outside the business in a comfortable, attractive way, that’s going to right away have a positive association with sales," he argues.

Numbers from four participating University City businesses bear this out: On average, they saw a 20 percent increase in sales while the parklets were installed (remarkable, the study notes, since the summer is not the season of peak traffic in University City, when many students are away).

According to UCD, the parklets attracted a crowd, especially those stationed outside a taco shop and an ice cream parlor: "Over 150 unique users over the course of a day in the 240 square feet that could otherwise have hosted just one or two parked cars."

But there are less tangible benefits, too.

"The parklet just changes people’s larger perceptions of a street," says Budick. "Instead of being a place you merely pass through, it becomes a hub of activity, a nexus for the community."

Especially in an "urban village" like University City where many residents know one another, it’s a chance to meet friends in the street, linger in a comfortable outdoor place or stop into neighboring businesses for an impromptu snack or drink.

According to Budick, one parklet at 43rd and Baltimore was a particularly good example of this. Already a "crossroads of the neighborhood" near the park, a farmer’s market and many businesses, a new "synergy" popped up in the former parking space.

"That feeds back into business activity," he continues. "It’s really what we call placemaking -- creating what people perceive as a place where before it was an intersection."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Seth Budick, University City District

 

Big announcements, big fun on the Delaware Waterfront this summer

"The additions to the Delaware River Waterfront in recent years are truly remarkable," enthused Mayor Michael A. Nutter on April 9 at the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation's summer programming announcement. The upcoming warm-weather festivities will include a first-of-its-kind outdoor roller rink and the return of Spruce Street Harbor Park. 

Since 2009, the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation has worked to activate the city's underused spaces. This year, the organization is partnering with Independence Blue Cross and Univest/Valley Green Bank, enabling them to move toward seven-day-a-week programming.

"[This] helps us build towards our mission of making the waterfront a recreation destination throughout the year," explains Communications Manager Emma Fried-Cassorla.

Blue Cross RiverRink Summerfest, Philadelphia's first and only outdoor roller rink, will replace the popular Blue Cross RiverRink Winterfest site, giving the space year-round vibrancy. The rink  -- featuring roller and in-line skates as well as a high-end roller-hockey-grade flooring system -- will be open seven days a week from May 22 through the end of September. 

The Winterfest Lodge will transform into a boathouse-themed restaurant and venue, decorated in a relaxed summer vibe. The whole fest will be free and open to the public (with roller skating being the only ticketed activity; Independence Blue Cross cardholders skate for free).

Also luring the hot, thirsty and bored east will be the return of Spruce Street Harbor Park (SSHP). The wildly-popular boardwalk-inspired installation will open Memorial Day weekend, a month earlier than last year, and expand its offerings -- that means more seating, more hammocks, more dining choices, more beer and more family-friendly attractions. The park will also boast a new meadow donated by the Philadelphia Museum of Art and a re-imagined version of the Oasis.

In addition to the new outdoor roller rink and SSHP, Philadelphians and visitors can also enjoy a slate concerts, festivals, and movies along the waterfront this summer. 

Writer: Hailey Blessing
Source: Delaware River Waterfront Corporation

Reading Viaduct Park -- and four other exciting projects -- get green light

"All our childhood memories go back to a park story, a recreation center story, or a library story," argued Mayor Michael Nutter at a March 16 press conference at the Fairmount Park Horticulture Center. It was an appropriate sentiment since he was announcing a $11 million investment in the Fairmount Park Conservancy and its Reimagining the Civic Commons initiative.

The Knight Foundation, with a commitment of $5.4 million, and the William Penn Foundation, bringing $5.5 million to the table, are teaming up to provide these funds, which will in turn support five major civic projects, some of which have held the public imagination for decades.

The dollars, Nutter said, would further the city’s goal of making "Philadelphia the number one green city in the United States of America." The common denominator of all the projects, he added, is that they will revitalize and transform underutilized, under-resourced spaces.

Speakers joining Nutter were Fairmount Park Conservancy Executive Director Kathryn Ott Lovell; Michael DiBerardinis, Deputy Mayor for Environmental & Community Resources and Parks and Recreation Commissioner; William Penn Executive Director Laura Sparks; and Carol Coletta, vice president for community and national initiatives at the Knight Foundation.

According to Sparks, the investment will continue to build Philadelphia’s profile as a world-class destination for "shared spaces that a diverse population can enjoy." Partly because of our booming Millennial population, "Philadelphia is the ideal national laboratory" for civic space experiments like these, and foundations with a nationwide lens are recognizing it.

Reimagining the Civic Commons, according to the Conservancy, will "explore whether reinventing and connecting public spaces as a network of civic assets will help cities attract and keep talented workers," boost the economy, help get residents more engaged, and "begin to level the playing field between more affluent communities and those in need."

Instead of competing for funds, organizations involved will be able to collaborate with each other.

The conference included details on the five selected projects.

A collaboration between Audubon Pennsylvania and Outward Bound will help create The Discovery Center in East Fairmount Park to inspire leadership development and environmental stewardship near the Strawberry Mansion neighborhood.

The Conservancy dollars will also finally make the Reading Viaduct Rail Park a reality, repurposing it as a green public space that will rise from ground level to cross three city streets. Center City District and Friends of the Rail Park will join together to make it happen.

The Bartram’s Mile Trail Project along the lower Schuylkill River is part of the region’s planned 750-mile Circuit Trail Network. It will be tackled thanks to a partnership between Philadelphia Parks & Recreation and the Schuylkill River Development Corporation.

The funds will also ensure the completion of Lovett Memorial Library and Park in Mt. Airy, with support from the Free Library and Mt. Airy U.S.A.

Finally, the dollars will transform an underutilized piece of West Fairmount Park into the Centennial Commons, a family-friendly playspace for the Parkside community. The Fairmount Park Conservancy will helm this project.

Stay tuned for more from Flying Kite about the plans for these individual projects.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Sources: Mayor Michael Nutter; Kathryn Ott Lovell, the Fairmount Park Conservancy; Laura Sparks, the William Penn Foundation, and Carol Coletta, the Knight Foundation. 

 

Stinger Square in Grays Ferry is getting a $500,000 upgrade

The March 20 groundbreaking for Germantown’s Vernon Park upgrade, part of a city-wide initiative called Green 2015, had to be rescheduled when the first day of spring brought an all-day snowstorm. But Stinger Square Park in the Grays Ferry section of the city had better luck with its own Green 2015 groundbreaking in late February. According to Parks and Rec First Deputy Commissioner for Parks and Facilities Mark Focht, everything is on track.

Green 2015 is happening in collaboration with Philadelphia Parks and Recreation, the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, the Philadelphia Water Department and the Fairmount Park Conservancy.

"We want to complete the improvements at Stinger prior to opening the pool around July 1," Focht says of the estimated $505,000 upgrade. "The pool brings a lot of kids in, so we want the park done prior to that."

The Water Department is funding part of the project, spending $220,000 for two rain gardens that will go in on the northeast and northwest corners of the square. They will also contribute to some new landscaping.

"This is about managing stormwater from the adjacent streets," explains Focht. "So it’s pulling stormwater from the streets into the rain garden and it’s using the plantings at the entrance of the park to treat the stormwater."

The rest of the dollars are coming from Councilman Kenyatta Johnson’s office, which is providing $150,000; Parks and Rec has committed $110,000 and will cover any extra costs up to the project's full estimated budget.

The renovations will also include concrete replacement, refurbished seating, new picnic tables, and square game tables marked with grids so they’re ready for chess, checkers, backgammon or whatever neighbors might want to play. In addition, the work will remove existing dead trees and plant new ones to provide shade for park users.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Mark Focht, Philadelphia Parks and Recreation

 

Constitution Health Plaza adds medical care to Passyunk revitalization

A "dinosaur" of a hospital on the corner of Broad Street and Passyunk Avenue is getting a new life as part of the ongoing revitalization of the area. Purchased three years ago by St. Agnes MOB LLC., a small investment firm, the former St. Agnes Hospital (a 150-year-old building) is now Constitution Health Plaza. According to leasing and marketing director Elizabeth Daly, 18 tenants are already installed in the four-building complex and the site's occupancy is ahead of schedule.

Constitution Plaza is part of a larger trend in healthcare. Over twenty hospitals closed last year in New Jersey alone, but complexes like this one -- that offer a variety of independent practitioners in one rehabbed space -- are beginning to take the floundering hospitals' place.

"The idea is one-stop shopping for the community, for any of your medical needs," explains Daly. "Somebody will be able to come to one building and go to different practitioners."

Constitution Health Plaza takes facilities management, security, utilities, real estate concerns, and other operations off its tenants' plates, with the aim of providing more cost-efficient medical care just in time for the influx of patients newly insured under the Affordable Care Act.

Plaza residents include a location of the Children’s Hospital of PhiladelphiaKindred Hospital, and specialists practicing dermatology to nephrology to psychiatry. And the facility is joint-commission certified, notes Daley -- the Kindred location has acute care inpatient capabilities, so a critically ill person can stay longer than 24 hours. While there are a lot of targeted options and the building is currently at about 75 percent occupancy, the complex doesn’t yet offer adult primary-care services. It’s a provider the plaza would definitely like to attract, along with dental care and an orthodontist.

The renovation plans kept some of the building’s original marble, but included modern upgrades such as an atrium with plenty of natural light, a fresh lobby and a security desk. The different floors are color-coded for ease of navigation, especially important for patients who might not speak English; the facility also boasts an attached 425-car parking garage.

A multi-million dollar exterior upgrade added outdoor security cameras, extensive new lighting, and a large high-definition video signage board advertising the health plaza's services as well as other community happenings.

"On the exterior we really want it to be a landmark along Broad Street," says Daly. "South Philadelphia is very unique neighborhood, and it’s pretty exciting for us to be right in the middle of where the revitalization is taking place…it’s complemented each other: [the]] investment in the building and people’s enthusiasm for the East Passyunk corridor."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Elizabeth Daly, Constitution Health Plaza

Vernon Park breaks ground on a $1.2 million upgrade

A major upgrade is coming for Germantown Avenue's Vernon Park -- and it should be completed by this summer. On Friday, March 20, 8th District Councilwoman Cindy Bass will join Deputy Major Michael Diberardinis and representatives from the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, the Philadelphia Water Department, and the Fairmount Park Conservancy to break ground on the renovations.

Green 2015 (which launched in 2012), the project’s umbrella, is "an initiative to upgrade the quality of the public environment at our smaller neighborhood parks and recreation centers," explains Mark Focht, Philadelphia Parks and Recreation’s first deputy commissioner for parks and facilities. "We’ve worked really closely with members of [City] Council to have them select sites in their districts that have great citizen involvement, but needed some help or support."

Improvements to Vernon Park will include better walkways, new play equipment and the addition of adult fitness equipment so parents or grandparents can work out while the youngsters play. The make-over will also feature new benches and picnic tables.

"The other significant thing is we’re completely upgrading the lighting in the entire park, so all the paths will be re-lit with very high-quality lighting," says Focht. And compared to other Green 2015 participants (including Grays Ferry’s Stinger Square Park, another renovation currently underway), "Vernon is a little unique because we have these three major monuments in it…they’re great architectural and sculptural features in the park."

The current upgrade will include cleaning and new lighting for these landmarks.

The $1.2 million dollars for the project came mostly from the 8th District council office, to the tune of $850,000, with Parks and Recreation furnishing the remaining $350,000. The work will take place throughout April, May and June, and will not restrict access to Center in the Park or Vernon House. Only about half of the park will need to be closed completely, around the northern and western edges where the current playground is.

"We’ve committed to the Councilwoman and the neighbors that it’ll be done in time for their jazz concert series" in July, Focht insists.

The Vernon Park groundbreaking ceremony will take place on Friday, March 20 from 2 - 3 p.m.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Mark Focht, Philadelphia Parks and Recreation

Is a convenience store makeover in Bella Vista a missed opportunity?

On February 10, a large crowd gathered at the Palumbo Recreation Center for a Bella Vista Neighbors Association (BVNA) zoning meeting. On the docket: a potential make-over for the convenience store at Eighth and Bainbridge Streets. The "contemplated application," according to BVNA, would turn the current store into a "Foodery-style eat-in, sit-down restaurant with artisan beer, which would retain some of the current retail use.”

The potential developer didn’t respond to a request for comment, but BVNA Zoning Committee member Jason Lempieri, who was on hand for the meeting, spoke with Flying Kite about the plans, and their limitations.

In short, when he looks at the stone-and-siding mock-up of the new store and its proposed business plan -- which wouldn’t alter the existing one much except for the addition of "artisan beer" to the shelves -- "I yawn," he says. With a surfeit of nearby stores and restaurants where locals can grab a beer, "How are you competing? What makes you different?" he asks.

That might be the case, but the neighborhood does have a dearth of craft-centric bottle shops. Lempieri emphasizes that neighbors do appreciate the store’s current proprietor and the customer service he provides -- many came out to explicitly support the upgrade -- but argues that the surface-level parking lot (very convenient to the business-owner, who wants people to pull in easily for sandwiches and coffee) has been a hazard for a long time.

"Parents say, 'I’m walking my kids and the cars are backing up and it’s really unnerving,' and this is true," he explains. Without a raised curb and sidewalk between the street and the parking lot, "You can pull up wherever you want," and it’s not safe for pedestrians.

There’s no word on whether the proposed redevelopment would remedy this issue, but Lempieri has his own dream for the site, if the proprietor was willing to step a little further from the current business model.

The property is desirable because of that parking lot area, but "you can do more than just parking," he insists. In a perfect world, a new business offering artisan beers alongside the usual food and snack items could convert that space into a beer garden with relatively little up-front investment. That would really be something new for the neighborhood.

Lempieri wishes Philly businesses were in the habit of thinking bigger. Will the ultimate redevelopment of the store result in a new beer garden or something else unique and desirable for the neighborhood?

"I highly doubt it," he admits. "But the neighborhood should demand it."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Jason Lempieri, Bella Vista Neighbors Association

 

A transatlantic collaboration reimagines North Philly's Lehigh Viaduct

Drexel University's new Lindy Institute for Urban Innovation has launched an ambitious cross-continental educational partnership that imagines a new future for the Lehigh Viaduct in North Philadelphia. They are also tackling a neglected power station (built in the 1920s) and a largely vacant 300,000-square-foot building that covers almost 1,000 feet of waterfront.

The Lehigh Viaduct and these nearby buildings are the perfect focus for an intensive planning project, says Harris Steinberg, executive director of the Lindy Institute and a professor of architecture and interiors at Drexel's Westphal College. The largely abandoned sites have "a lot of connections with work that’s being done in this country as well as around the world, particularly in Europe, around repurposing former industrial infrastructure," he explains.

Steinberg, formerly of the University of Pennsylvania, has a lot of experience in this area. For the last fifteen years, he has worked with groups like PennPraxis on addressing the waterfront, including 2006-2007's Civic Vision for the Central Delaware public planning process, which engaged over 4,000 people in 13 months. That project included the power station and viaduct the Lindy Institute is focusing on now.

The planning process occurred right before Mayor Michael Nutter came into office, and his administration used that work to create a master plan in partnership with the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation.

The Lehigh Viaduct is a raised embankment connector that runs into the heart of North Philadelphia, from the Port Richmond rail yards to the Girard Avenue interchange at I-95. This overgrown industrial remnant is off-limits to the public. While the Conrail-owned track -- which currently has just one active rail line left -- is not likely to see significant redevelopment right away, Steinberg still insists it’s "a longer-term possibility" to compile a publicly accessible plan for the future.

That will be done via tours, charrettes and workshops, including “Creative Transformations: Lessons from Transatlantic Cities,” a free public discussion that took place at Moore College of Art on February 26. It featured a panel of local and international experts, and was hosted by Drexel, the William Penn Foundation and the German Marshall Fund of the United States. Fifteen students and two faculty members from Germany's TU Dortmund University recently arrived to collaborate with a group of urban design students from Drexel.

"Can it become an amenity as opposed to just an element that divides Port Richmond and Kensington?" asks Steinberg. He hopes the workshop events, running in late February and early March, will give "some more ideas on potential reuse with some economic viability to it. The high-level question we’re asking is how do you repurpose these industrial assets which are not easy to transform, but could have an incredible catalytic impact on the regeneration of those neighborhoods?" 

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Harris Steinberg, Lindy Institute for Urban Innovation at Drexel University

 

Amalgam Comics & Coffeehouse activates long-vacant Kensington storefront

Temple University alum Ariell Johnson first started to imagine opening her dream business when the independent coffee shop across from her favorite comic book store closed down. That was over a decade ago, before she graduated in 2005 with a degree in accounting.

As a self-described "geeky" woman of color who loves comics, Johnson says she’s a rare breed. She got serious about opening Amalgam Comics & Coffeehouse, her coffee shop/comic book store/community arts hub, in the last few years. She looked in a few different neighborhoods for the perfect spot, including Lancaster Avenue in West Philly and South Philly’s Point Breeze, before finding her 3,000-foot space at the corner of Frankford Avenue and Huntingdon Street.

Frankford's burgeoning arts corridor and mixed neighborhood demographic -- families, single young professionals, recent college grads, artists -- convinced Johnson it was the right place for Amalgam. And among a lot of "fun quirky little shops," tattoo parlors and galleries on the avenue, there still aren't any comic book stores.

"For what I’m doing, I thought it would be a great fit here," she explains.

Amalgam’s future home is a mixed-use building with apartments attached to a commercial space. Johnson says the latter has been standing empty for over ten years. Its history is unclear, but some of the leftover equipment they’ve found, along with an old painting abandoned there, hint that it had another life as an Italian restaurant. 

"We’re in the process of getting renovations done," notes Johnson. "The space is not nearly finished."

To that end, she’s running a crowdfunding campaign through March 3 with a basic goal of raising $5,000 and a dream goal of $30,000, which will help cover renovation of the plumbing, electrical and HVAC systems, as well as installing Amalgam’s coffee bar and kitchen. (If Amalgam can meet that crucial $5,000 goal, it’ll be guaranteed to receive those funds, plus any money raised beyond that.) 

Ultimately, Johnson, a Maryland native who now lives just one street away from her shop, will draw on a range of professional experience to make Amalgam a reality: her business and accounting know-how, a history in retail, and even experience as a barista and self-taught chef. The space will be a haven for comic-book lovers and the wider community, with places for browsing, sipping and snacking as well as conversation, book signings, film screenings and other events.

Johnson will carry industry staples like X-Men and The Flash, but is particularly dedicated to showcasing comics featuring women and people of color after years of being an ardent fan, but rarely seeing anyone who looked like her in the pages she loved.

"Not seeing yourself reflected in different forms of media is damaging," she explains, especially for children. "I want to actively fight against that."

Because of the variables of construction, Johnson says it’s too soon to know an exact date for Amalgam’s grand opening, but she hopes to have it up and running as soon as late spring.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Ariell Johnson, Amalgam Comics & Coffeehouse

 

P'unk Burger opens on East Passyunk Avenue

Marlo and Jason Dilks, the owners of Philly's SliCE pizza restaurants, are branching out into burgers with P'unk Burger. The casual, cozy joint opened at 1823 East Passyunk Avenue on February 13. They've got burgers, fries and shakes, but they say the focus is on fresh food, not fast food.

According to Marlo, turnout at the surprisingly small 600-square-foot eatery has been great since their Valentine's weekend opening. So far, the place has only 26 seats (a newly made table will soon squeeze that total up to 30), and it’s first come, first served. Things are already getting hectic at dinnertime.

When she and her husband were beginning to consider opening a restaurant on East Passyunk, Dilks got an inside tip that the space’s former tenant, Chhaya Café, was looking to move. She didn’t wait, and secured the lease for P’unk while Chhaya (now at 1819 East Passyunk Avenue) was still there. (The building is next to the A Star is Born boutique, owned by Dilks’ family members.)

"We love the Avenue," says Dilks of setting up shop on the bustling strip. "I think it’s a vibrant area."

They nabbed the space last July, and spent several months remaking it. The color scene is gray and green, with signage
and décor made of reclaimed wood and salvaged metal from Brewerytown, and a restored and refinished front entrance.

Though the space is small, diners have a couple different seating options.

An arcade game table featuring over 50 games seats two up front in "P’unk Pasture," complete with game stools and a cow-print ceiling (proceeds from game play will go to a different charity each month), four other tables will seat a total of sixteen people, and a larger communal table seats 12.

"[It] took awhile not just to decorate, but we were in there making the burgers," explains Dilks. "We did a lot of aesthetics. We were fortunate we didn’t have to rush and open."

Just as important is the tasty and environmentally-conscious menu, featuring gluten-free and vegan options as well as organic, antibiotic-free, humanely raised grass-fed meat. Products from local suppliers include Vegan Commissary veggie burgers, bacon from 1732 Meats, Fishtown’s Little Babies Ice Cream, cheese from Claudios and DiBruno Bros., and bread from American Harvest Baking. The restaurant recycles its frying oil, and uses biodegradable/compostable cups and containers.

The menu includes beef, chicken, tuna, turkey and veggie burgers with an extensive list of toppings, sauces and cheeses, regular and sweet potato fries, salads, the full line of Maine Root sodas, and milkshakes.

P’unk is now open Sunday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., with plans in the next few weeks to extend Friday and Saturday hours until 3 a.m.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Marlo Dilks, P’unk Burger

Will Germantown's historic YWCA face demolition or redevelopment?

In January, all eyes were on the old YWCA at 5820 Germantown Avenue, bordering Vernon Park in Germantown. Despite a wealth of local affection for the building, whose use as a YWCA facility dates back to 1914, it may face demolition, and residents are anxiously asking what can be done to save it.

Despite its important place in the neighborhood's 20th century history, the building has been left to languish empty for years, damaged by vandalism and fires. The YMCA owned the building until 2006; then Germantown Settlement purchased the site, but no plans materialized. With the structure in steep decline, the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority (PRA) brought the building to sheriff’s sale and acquired it in 2013.

Last fall, a request for proposals for the site drew a plan from just one interested developer: the Philly-based Mission First Housing Group, which would partner with Philly Office Retail to convert the building into 50 independent senior-living units, pending a state-administered federal tax subsidy (Mission First would retain sole ownership of the site.) But the PRA rejected the proposal last month.

"This issue is something that’s really important to people, so it brings out a lot of passions," said Germantown United CDC Board President Garlen Capita at a January 22 community meeting on the issue, held at the First United Methodist Church of Germantown.

The meeting drew a large crowd of concerned locals, and featured PRA Executive Director Brian Abernathy, Mission First Housing Group Director of Business Development Mark Deitcher, 8th District Councilwoman Cindy Bass and Philly Office Retail president Ken Weinstein as speakers.

By all counts, the condition of the building now means that it will cost more money to rehabilitate and re-use than it would to demolish and rebuild. Abernathy estimated the cost of stabilizing the structure at $3 million, and according to Deitcher, a Mission First assessment found that the 50,000-square-foot facility would cost $200 per square foot to restore.

Several speakers, including Bass and community members who took the microphone for a question-and-answer session, emphasized the importance of not rushing to take the first proposal to materialize for the site.

But Weinstein came out strongly in support of the Mission First proposal: "This project does not represent settling for what’s in front of us," he insisted.

For her part, the Councilwoman said two other developers had approached her with interest in the site after word of its possible demolition got out, but she declined to give any specifics.

GUCDC Executive Director Andy Trackman tells Flying Kite that they're still awaiting word on next steps for the old YWCA: nothing can move forward until the city’s Office of Licenses and Inspections surveys the site and makes its report.

Elliot Griffin, a spokesperson for Bass, says the councilwoman has scheduled meetings with stakeholders from City agencies about the structural soundness of the building.

So, when can the community expect the critical L&I report? Griffin can’t comment on the timing of a public announcement, but confirms that Bass expects to hear from L&I soon.

Community activist and W. Rockland Street Project leader Emaleigh Doley, who also spoke up at last month’s meeting, tells Flying Kite that the lack of discussion about the site prior to the news of its possible demolition bothered her.

"There should be conversation, but the manner in which this issue was raised exploited the threat of demolition…and takes full advantage of the neighborhood’s vulnerabilities," she says. "Even after leaving the meeting, I was left asking, what is really going on here?"

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Sources: Andy Trackman, GUCDC; Elliot Griffin, Councilwoman Cindy Bass; Emaleigh Doley, W. Rockland Street Project

 

An architecture award imagines Philly's urban future

One young Philadelphia architecture firm is reviving the history of some of our city’s most notable buildings, while also predicting the urban landscape of our future, all with one very unusual design that was never meant to be built in the first place.

In 2014 to celebrate its 200th birthday, the Athenaeum of Philadelphia, an extraordinary repository of our city’s history through architecture and design, opened its Looking Forward Architectural Competition to firms across the globe. The judges didn’t know what city or country entries were coming from, but selected Philadelphia’s Stanev Potts Architects, based on Arch Street in Center City, for the $5,000 first prize. (In 2013, the firm received AIA Philadelphia’s Philadelphia Emerging Architecture Award.)

The competition invited architects to look ahead to the year 2050 and imagine a replacement for the Athenaeum’s historic 1845 brownstone, a center for exhibitions, education and research, at 219 S. 6th Street. There were submissions from 46 professional firms and 42 student teams in 17 countries.

"We try to think of what the obvious thing would be and not do that," explains partner Petra Stanev. The firm was founded in 2004 and now has eight members. Their approach to a mix of residential and commercial work is "trying to see if there’s a different solution that hasn’t yet occurred, that might have higher merits."

Their winning design, titled "Philadelphia Grotesque Revisited," imagines a pair of towers encased in a pattern of transparent triangles of glass, with green space underneath and an underground vault for the Athenaeum’s collections.

"Center City is dense with housing, young businesses and award-winning schools as Philadelphia has become an innovation and design hub," explained the Stanev Potts team -- which included Ryan Lohbauer, Elizabeth Kreshet, Melissa Styer and Chun Wang -- in their concept statement. "With life becoming increasingly virtual, interest in physical artifacts, archived drawings, and preserved narratives flourishes."

"It gives us a chance to think differently about what we’re doing," says Stanev of the value of entering a contest for designs that won’t actually be built.

"Especially at the local level, it’s important to have that vision of what you want to see in the future and why you want to see it, in order for that conversation to take place in the public," adds Lohbauer.

The Stanev Potts design hearkens back to the pioneering ornamental spirit of late 19th century Philadelphia architects like Frank Furness and Willis Hale (of Divine Lorraine fame). These architects’ beautifully "flamboyant" buildings were met with total disdain from the era’s architectural critics, who called this Victorian trend "Philadelphia Grotesque" in columns titled "Architectural Aberrations."

"The tragedy about it was that kind of criticism basically removed any sort of protection for these buildings as they needed repairs, so we lost a lot of our most magnificent buildings," says Lohbauer. "If they were still here, they’d be treasures."

Honoring that history while looking toward the future of the city’s built environment is what their winning Athenaeum design was all about.

An exhibition of the Looking Forward entrants’ designs will be on display at the Athenaeum through February 14.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Sources: Petra Stanev and Ryan Lohbauer, Stanev Potts Architects

 

Mighty Writers poised to open a new Italian Market space

Last year, when Flying Kite checked in with Philly’s Mighty Writers, a largely volunteer-powered group helmed by director Tim Whitaker, it had just nabbed a $75,000 grant from the Knight Foundation, which it planned to put toward opening a brand-new location in the heart of the Italian Market. That space will house a bilingual program called El Futuro.

Mighty Writers, now in its fifth year of serving youth ages 7 to 17, opened its original space at 15th and Christian Streets, and then a second one at 39th and Lancaster Avenue. Its programming includes mentoring, homework help, after-school sessions, writing classes and SAT prep.

According to Whitaker, former editor of Philadelphia Weekly, Mighty Writers launched a bilingual roster specifically geared toward Philly’s Mexican-American community about two years ago. Attendance at the 15th and Christian location has been enthusiastic and now Mighty Writers is on the cusp of opening a new space in the Italian Market, to better serve participants right in their own neighborhood.

Mighty Writers is hoping to close this week on a building two blocks north of Washington Avenue on 9th Street. The one-story space boasts about 2,500 square feet, with plenty of room for a variety of programming and new offices. After a few renovations, the group hopes to welcome youngsters there as soon as late February.

"There will be workshops for all, though focusing mostly on the Mexican community," says Whitaker. Workshop leaders will teach in both Spanish and English. Currently, Mighty Writers has five full-time employees, two part-timers and dozens of volunteers.

There will also be a daily after-school academy from 3 - 6 p.m., evening writing workshops and additional programming on the weekends.

Whitaker is particularly excited about the new location, flanked by fruit stands, a fish market and racially diverse businesses.   

"It’s really right in the middle of everything, which adds a lot for the kids to write about, a lot for them to see," he says. "It just feels like it’s the right place."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Tim Whitaker, Mighty Writers

Penn makes a major move with gorgeous new center for political science and economics

University of Pennsylvania architect David Hollenberg says the new Ronald O. Perelman Center for Political Science and Economics, slated to open in 2018 at 36th and Walnut Streets, is going to be "a very handsome treatment of a very handsome building."

Penn just announced its official approval of the new facility’s design after a year of working with Toronto-based architecture firm KPMB. The old nine-story West Philadelphia Title and Trust Company building at 133 S. 36th Street (built in the mid-1920s) will join with a brand-new addition to its north for a space totaling about 100,000 square feet. The new center will house Penn’s Political Science and Economics Departments, as well as six relocated academic and research centers.

"To a lot of folks, this is an important survivor of the West Philly commercial landscape," says Hollenberg of efforts to retain the original building’s look. "We’re very interested in preserving that remnant."

But it’s just the exterior of the building that Penn is holding on to.

"Most of the interior is going to be gutted; it’s really about the façade," explains Hollenberg.

The north-side addition isn’t just a new wing, either. It will be roughly the same size as the existing building, with a main entrance on 36th Street where the new and old structures meet. According to a statement from Penn, "the addition’s exterior palette of silver metal, frosted and clear glass is also designed to complement the historic limestone façade."

The six-story addition will be "an equal partner to a very distinguished historic building," Hollenberg predicts. And he says this is typical of the Penn architectural style, which instead of aiming for a single look across campus, strives to respect the unique aspects of existing buildings "that are the best of their time."

The architect points out that the building is also significant because of major shifts in Penn’s undergraduate population, most of which has been concentrated south of Walnut Street until now.

"This is the first building that will take a significant undergraduate academic function across Walnut Street," he says, noting that political science and economics are two of Penn’s most popular undergraduate majors. The daily traffic from those students will
"have a significant impact on that northern side of the campus."

The $77.6 million project is scheduled to break ground this December and be completed by spring of 2018. Hollenberg says the new facilities will be ready to welcome students and faculty for the fall semester of 2018.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: David Hollenberg, University of Pennsylvania

 

Germantown schoolyard aims to become a citywide model for play and sustainability

Three years ago, the nearly five-acre expanse of the John B. Kelly Elementary School grounds got the attention of the neighbors. The Kelly Green initiative, led by the Hansberry Garden and Nature Center in southwest Germantown and an enthusiastic coalition of volunteers, wanted to transform the barren grass-and-concrete lot into an educational, eco-friendly community space.

Now, according to project leader Dennis Barnebey, a Hansberry board member, the initiative is on the cusp of securing dollars from the Philadelphia Water Department (PWD). And thanks to a graduate class at Philadelphia University dedicating a semester to the project, they are also closing in on final plans for an affordable upgrade.

Kelly Green was jumpstarted in spring 2012 with a service grant from the Community Design Collaborative and a 2014 practicum at Philadelphia University that also focused on the site. But as it turned out, none of those plans were "shovel-ready." As Barnebey explains, they lacked specific construction details, measurements and precise cost estimates, and the estimates they had were far beyond the project’s fundraising power.

But the students at Philadelphia University "are convinced it doesn’t have to be that expensive," says Barnebey of the concrete plans the class will produce. They’ll capitalize on "the whole idea of naturalizing a space, as opposed to architecturally designing everything perfectly." That means a range of options, like building up hills for slides, sand areas for playing, and using a playground floor of crushed bark instead of an expensive porous soft-surface finish.

“For Philadelphia University, it’s an opportunity to get their hands on something real, not just in a book, and hopefully provide a model for other places," he adds. "They’re looking at ways this could be done affordably."

For now, thanks in part to volunteers from Penn State’s Master Gardener program, the site boasts a beautiful new student-planted garden with about fifteen beds for flowers and a huge range of vegetables. Local volunteers helped maintain the site over the summer, and last year, workers in a job-training program through Restorative Justice at the Mural Arts Program provided a new shed, picnic tables, and a garden fence with bird houses and butterfly boxes.

"Having that develop in the way that it has and seeing what can happen in that desert back there has helped change people’s minds [and] get more people on board," says Barnebey of the progress so far.

As for water management, the school site hosted a PWD representative in the first week of January, who, according to Barnebey, confirmed that Kelly Green is an ideal candidate for a Stormwater Management Incentive Program Grant. If they’re successful, that could mean up to $100,000 per eligible acre for new stormwater infrastructure, a boon for ongoing landscape efforts. 

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Dennis Barnebey, Kelly Green

 

Water Department sets its sights on greening and transit in Yorktown

Why stop at stormwater? The Philadelphia Water Department (PWD) is about to bring a total overhaul to the streets of Yorktown. With help from an $800,000 grant, the neighborhood is getting stormwater planters, new bus shelters, bike lanes, wider pedestrian islands and ten new ADA ramps.

PWD has been in conversation with the Yorktown Community Development Corporation and its partners since 2012 about the initiative, known as the Yorktown Green and Complete Streets project. They see it as a holistic effort that goes beyond greening. 

Ariel Ben-Amos, transportation liaison for PWD's Green Infrastructure Partnership Program, calls it the Water Department’s "triple bottom line." Adding a mile of bike lanes to the existing Philly network, as well as two new bus shelters (one at 11th and Girard, the other at 12th and Master), and 27 stormwater-catching planters along 12th and 13th Streets, "impacts people not only from an environmental perspective, but from a social perspective, and makes sense economically as well," he explains.

In addition to the investment in good stormwater infrastructure -- which helps relieve the city's over-burdened combined sewer system in compliance with the Clean Water Act -- the project will make it easier for people to walk, bike and access transit in the neighborhood, giving the whole area a boost. The new bike lanes will run on 11th and 13th Streets from Girard to Cecil B. Moore Avenues.

"One of the great things is that as you invest in neighborhood greening, you’re also investing in the homes and the values of the neighborhoods as well," adds Ben-Amos.

Jessica Noon, who manages the Green Infrastructure Partnership Program, says PWD knew the design it had "wasn’t something that we could fund on our own"; they applied for a grant through PennDOT and the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development’s Multimodal Transportation Fund. The $831,360 PWD received was a piece of $84 million distributed to 86 projects state-wide, and PWD will contribute an additional $300,000 of its own matching funds for the project.

While at this point it’s not possible to make any guarantees about the timeline for completion, Ben-Amos says PWD could begin construction as soon as August, with an early goal of completion by the end of 2015.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Sources: Ariel Ben-Amos and Jessica Noon, Philadelphia Water Department

 

Over $8 million from the William Penn Foundation jump-starts region's trails

Creating a new trail is about more than just drawing up an idea and laying down the surface, says Chris Linn, who manages the Office of Environmental Planning at the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC). But a grant from the William Penn Foundation -- $7 million over three years -- will enable DVRPC and its partners at the Circuit Coalition, a consortium of almost 70 organizations, including non-profits, foundations and various public agencies in the greater Philadelphia region, to move forward with ambitious plans for local public space.

Launched in 2012, the Circuit Coalition, which has already worked to build 300 miles of multi-use trails connecting urban and suburban centers to nearby parks and waterways, hopes to complete 450 more miles by the year 2040. (For a map of Circuit trails and their status, click here.)

According to a DVRPC statement, $1.6 million over three years from the William Penn Foundation will also go to Circuit partner Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, raising public awareness for the Circuit’s network of trails, which, when completed, will be "the most comprehensive regional trail network in the country," says Conservancy president Keith Laughlin.

Most of the DVRPC William Penn dollars will go toward engineering and design of new trails.

"Before any trail project can be constructed, you have to prepare engineering drawings, and they’re not cheap," says Linn.

They include things like grading, retaining walls and bridges -- and these are just a few of the issues trail designers in our region contend with.

Does the trail meet a road? The Circuit needs to interface with PennDOT on proper signage, crossings and lights. Does it follow a disused railroad or cross a former industrial site? You have to check with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, and deal with soil contamination from things like coal, heavy metals, PCBs or other toxins.

And who owns the land?

"You can’t just walk out and build a trail on land that’s owned by a private person or a company or a railroad, so you have to secure the right-of-way," explains Linn.

These are all issues that are anticipated, met and resolved in the design and engineering phase of a trail, which Linn estimates at about 20 percent of the total cost of any given project. So the Penn Foundation grant is no small thing for the Circuit’s vision. With so many miles of Circuit trails throughout nearby counties vying for design or completion, it’s pretty competitive when it comes to funding.

"When we have money in hand, we want to fund projects that we know aren’t going to get hung up on problems, and if a project is designed, we know what we’re dealing with," Linn insists. "[A well-designed trail] basically moves to the front of the pack in terms of being eligible or being desirable for any kind of construction funding."

"Philadelphia is blessed with some great parks," he adds, but it’s "glass half empty" in some ways, because many parts of the city don’t have easy access to large parks or trails.

DVRPC and the Circuit want to change that within 25 years. 

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Chris Linn, Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission

Camden High School gets $50 million boost

"Camden High School has been a project that has been talked about for years," says New Jersey Schools Development Authority (SDA) spokesperson Kristen MacLean. In December, a $50 million commitment from the state towards renovations for the site marked an exciting step forward after several tumultuous years.
  
The SDA has invested over $260 million in Camden projects to date (including five news schools). A 2008 capital plan that included Camden High got tabled when the auditor of New Jersey determined that it wasn’t in compliance with state statutes, and Governor Christie, then newly in office, suspended the plan until it could be corrected.

“We really sort of scrapped everything at the SDA [and] started looking at the projects for their needs and making a system to prioritize those needs that was very much in line with the statutes,” says MacLean of the organization’s response.
 
By 2011, that included a list of the state’s highest priority school projects, numbering about 150. SDA then developed a new capital plan to address the top ten most urgent jobs on that list, and Camden High School was one of them.

In June 2013, the School District was taken over by the state, and MacLean says the new superintendent brought "a whole new way of thinking about this project as well." 

According to a December 2014 statement from Governor Christie’s office, an Interagency Working Group -- made up of members from the SDA, the New Jersey Department of Education and Camden School District -- worked on defining the best way forward for Camden High. Camden City School District spokesperson Brendan Lowe confirms that while its graduation numbers have seen small increases in recent years, Camden City High, which has about 800 students, still has a graduation rate of about 50 percent.
 
“We need to improve the performance of the school in general and certainly the physical building, the quality of the facility, plays a role in school culture"” explains Lowe.
 
Would it need an entirely new building?
 
No, the Working Group concluded.

"There’s a great attachment to the school in the community and the building has pretty good bones," insists MacLean. So the new dollars will go toward an addition/renovation project, as well as improved programming.  
 
Lowe says more money from the state of New Jersey -- the exact amount depends on the design -- will make construction possible. The state expects to issue a call for design services early this year.
 
Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Sources: Kristen MacLean, The New Jersey Schools Development Authority; Brendan Lowe, Camden City School District. 

 

In West Philly, reclaiming vacant lots begins with a bulletin board

For West Philly's People’s Emergency Center (PEC), a special partnership with their teenage Community Connectors and the Public Workshop meant an opportunity to serve two major aspects of their mission: keeping locals informed, and activating problematic spaces in a positive way.

The vacant lot at the intersection of 42nd Street and Lancaster Avenue has long been a troubled place, but the youngsters of Community Connectors, an outreach and community organization group, worked throughout the summer to design and build a new picnic table and an attention-getting bulletin board to revamp the site.

"PEC works on getting information to people who don’t have internet," explains Meg Lemieur, a spokesperson for the PEC’s Community Development Corporation. Some people may have access to the web on a phone, but many don’t have it on a home computer.

So how do you keep residents informed about community events without Twitter and Facebook? You rely on the old school way of spreading the word.

The Community Connectors' bulletin board, constructed with the help of Public Workshop, is an all-weather bright orange box with PEC-provided plastic sleeves for anyone who wants to post information there. A November event celebrated the installation.

"It was a freezing-cold day and we had forty or fifty people come out anyway," recalls Lemieur. "There was a large cry-out for more of these [bulletin boards]."

So PEC is setting its sights on placing a second one at another vacant lot one block east; a spring 2015 installation is planned. In the meantime, the Connectors and Public Workshop have provided a fence to protect the lot, keeping it safe and clean for a roster of events like those already underway at the 42nd and Lancaster site. (These projects and events are funded by LISC Philadelphia, ArtPlace America and the Surdna Foundation.)

"There’s a lot of energy around making safe spaces in the neighborhood," says Lemieur. Projects like this help, "but it’ll be an ongoing process."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source. Meg Lemieur, People’s Emergency Center

 

A proposed charter school at the Germantown High site tackles tourism

Julie Stapleton Carroll of the Germantown Community Charter School Coalition says the group saw it as "a good sign, and not just serendipity," that their application regarding the former Germantown High School site was the very first of 40 scheduled to be debated at an initial round of hearings with the School District’s Charter Schools Office (CSO).

Going first was also a little nerve-wracking, of course, Stapleton added. She’s a very active figure in local education: along with spearheading the Coalition, she’s vice president of Germantown United CDC and CEO of Principled Schools, Inc.

More than 50 Germantowners -- wearing customized green t-shirts to show their support -- attended the December 8 hearing at 440 North Broad Street. The presentation was limited to 15 minutes and did not include many details of the proposed charter school’s educational program.

“We didn’t go deeply into our curriculum," explains Carroll. "We just wanted to paint a picture of how we came about and who we were and what we wanted."

The Coalition got its start in spring 2013 through GUCDC, just as the school was facing closure by the District. It has 25 partner organizations including Philadelphia University, Germantown Life Enrichment Center, the Germantown Artists Roundtable, the Germantown High School Alumni Association and multiple neighbors’ associations, along with support from State Representative Stephen Kinsey.

While the group awaits its second CSO hearing, Carroll fills Flying Kite in on the school’s proposed educational model. While she insists it won’t be a vocational tech school, the Coalition's proposal will meld rigorous academics with a "project-based" occupational focus on the hospitality, tourism and construction trades.

This makes sense to local stakeholders given Germantown’s burgeoning tourist district and 400+ years of history, including numerous nationally notable sites dating from the 17th and 18th centuries.

"Tourism is a huge industry," says Carroll. "Germantown is at a tipping point really in where the local commercial corridor is going to go."

The charter school would cater to grades six through twelve. For the first three years, students would have weekly classes on "career exploration" topics geared towards understanding these industries, along with tips for job interviews and personal conduct.

Ninth through twelfth-graders would undertake more in-depth studies in their chosen focus areas, including work with local institutions.

"Our hope, our vision as the school grows, is that we can attract both a restaurant and a small boutique hotel to co-locate with us," adds Carroll.

Carroll predicts that second hearing will occur in late January. Representatives will answer questions about the application from a hearing officer and have the opportunity to make a final statement. The School Reform Commission has 75 days from the December 8 presentation to decide the school's fate. 

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Julie Stapleton Carroll, Germantown Community Charter School Coalition

 

Temple's gorgeous new campus quad gets the green light

When Temple University architect Margaret Carney first toured the campus, something struck her as unusual.

"I was surprised to see how little open space there was," she recalls. "When you think about a campus, the open space that is the core and heart of the campus is generally the most memorable spot."

That’s why she calls a large proposed green space at Temple, part of the university’s Visualize Temple plan, "a real game-changer for Temple and really for North Philadelphia."

The quad is proposed for the city block between 12th and 13th Streets, and Norris and Berks Streets (Polett Walk on the Temple campus); it will be close to the size of Rittenhouse and Washington Square Parks.

While Temple doesn’t have plans to expand beyond its footprint, the opportunity for this new green space is an exciting one for the university and the local community. Temple has the challenges of a city campus, explains Carney. Instead of an overarching master plan that would be easier to enact in a less populous zone, Temple has had "more organic growth as city blocks became available."

Though the space hasn’t been formally designed yet, Carney can already point to a multitude of possible uses, from walking, biking, picnicking and lawn sports to festivals, farmers' markets and commencement itself (the finished green could hold as many as 10,000 spectators).

The area is also an essential part of the overall campus landscape plan that will soon go public -- that plan has a special focus on stormwater management thanks to partnerships with the Philadelphia Water Department and Temple researchers.

So, in addition to being a social and recreational gathering space, the new quad will be engineered as "a workhorse in terms of stormwater management," explains Carney, with the capacity to help manage runoff from nearby sidewalks and buildings for impact beyond the lawn.

Of course, the whole thing is still years away. There are currently two science buildings on the proposed site -- outdated biology and chemistry labs from the 1960s. Before stormwater engineering and landscaping plans can be completed (which will take about a year), those science buildings need to be demolished. They will be replaced with a new interdisciplinary facility in another location, which could be built by 2019 if fundraising, design and construction proceed according to plan.  

That means the new park could be open by late 2020 or early 2021.

Five or six years might seem like a long time, but in the life of a university, it’s right around the corner. Carney hopes the park will be a major boost for the experience of students, faculty, staff and neighbors alike.

"There’s a lot of excitement about this space," she insists.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Margaret Carney, Temple University 

CDC earns $40,000 to improve the city's health through its built environment

When this year’s call for applications for the GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) IMPACT Awards of Greater Philadelphia came in, staffers at Center City’s Community Design Collaborative (CDC) saw a big opportunity.
 
GSK has been awarding these $40,000 grants annually for about twenty years -- that’s almost $6 million for 150 local nonprofits focused on some aspect of improving community health and quality of life in categories such as Diet and Exercise, Education, and Family and Social Support. In 2014, GSK added a new category: the Built Environment.
 
Collaborative leaders knew they couldn’t pass up the chance to apply, and this fall they learned that they were among eight organizations (out of a pool of about 100 applicants) to win a $40,000 grant. (GSK partnered with United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey for the 2014 round of Philly grants.)
 
"Community health and wellness is definitely one of the themes we could address," says Collaborative Executive Director Beth Miller of pursuing the program. It was the first time the Collaborative had applied, and it was "a super-duper honor" to be chosen, winning alongside organizations such as the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society and the University City District.
 
The recognition is an important boost for an organization like the Collaborative, explains Miller. While completed blueprints, groundbreakings and openings always grab the most press, the vital legwork behind those milestones can be hard to notice or articulate. The group doesn’t provide finalized architectural plans and it doesn’t assist in the construction of the projects it works on, but its design-related services, including community outreach and discussion, public charrettes, conceptual designs and cost estimates -- all key to luring investors and developers -- serve as a vital bridge from neighborhood needs to actionable plans.
 
The GSK grant will benefit a range of efforts in 2015, including five new community health and wellness projects. These are yet to be determined, but, as Miller puts it, they’ll "bubble up" from the local organizations involved.  
 
The dollars will also aid a revamp of the organization's website; the new site will include a gallery of past projects and a package showcasing the work the organization has done to galvanize new futures for 18 public schoolyards.
 
Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Beth Miller, Community Design Collaborative

Massive Chinatown development project unites a divided community

The intersection of 10th and Vine Streets has been a sore spot for years in the Chinatown community -- the construction of the modern Vine Street Expressway razed countless homes and businesses, effectively splitting the neighborhood in half. But the Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation (PCDC) got exciting news in October: a $3.7 million Pennsylvania Economic Growth Initiative grant. It’s a major step toward making the Eastern Tower Community Center, planned for the northwest corner of that infamous intersection, a reality.

"We’ve looked around, but we haven’t found anything quite like it," says PCDC managing director Andrew Toy of the planned 23-story building, which has a projected budget of $76 million. That’s not just because of the size and cost -- which as far as PCDC knows, is the largest ever undertaken by a Philadelphia CDC -- it’s because when it’s finished, the Eastern Tower will house an unprecedented range of services and programs.

Those include 150 mixed-income residential units (which Toy estimates will mean at least 250 new neighbors on the 10th Street business corridor), a bilingual preschool and prekindergarten program from the Chinatown Learning Center, a grocery store, a recreation and community center, programming for seniors, a computer lab, and even doctors’ offices focused on preventive care for a linguistically under-served population.

Part of the story on the project’s financing is its special status through a United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)-administered program: Eastern Tower is an EB-5 qualified investment project. This is a low-interest brand of international financing that targets areas of the U.S. with high unemployment and focuses on creating jobs. And it’s not just about a financial return -- foreign investors who help create ten jobs for every $50,000 they spend can receive green cards for themselves and their families.

A grant from the William Penn Foundation helped PCDC set up a dedicated regional center to act as a conduit for these investments, and since it will continue to operate once the Eastern Tower project is complete, Toy hopes it will become a permanent gateway for development in the area.

Even local youngsters have been getting involved -- for example, the Philadelphia Suns, a neighborhood sports and volunteer organization, recently raised money for the project.

“The youth of the community are getting more and more engaged, because they see this as a real thing and they’re getting excited about having a place of their own,” says Toy. “Success has a lot of mothers.”

"It wasn’t easy and it didn’t happen overnight," he adds. But with local, state and federal support, the project is currently on track to finalize its financing by early 2015. They’re looking at "a shovel in the ground" this winter, with an official opening slated for early 2017.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Andrew Toy, Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation

 

Boston's Rental Beast brings the tools of homebuying to the Philly rental search

You want to buy a house. Besides your agent and a pre-approval on a mortgage, where do you start? It’s easy to get a comprehensive look at what’s available for sale through multiple listing services (MLS) like Trulia or TREND, filtered by categories such as location, property type and price. But what if you want to rent an apartment?

In Philly, you’re often doomed to crowdsourcing your social networks, hoping a friend of a friend has space to rent, or wading through the swamps of a website like Craigslist, whose listings, once posted, can’t be updated and can get buried in a matter of minutes.

Ishay Grinberg, the founder and CEO of Boston-based Rental Beast, calls the rental status quo in Philly "a nightmare," and he wants to change that. His site is an MLS for rentals, and it’s ready to put about one million listings at prospective renters’ fingertips through its network of hyper-local real estate experts.

"About forty percent of the population rents, and about forty percent of the population will continue to rent," explains Grinberg, acknowledging the boom in home-ownership that peaked in 2005  -- and, well, we all know what happened next.

"Almost everywhere you look if you drive around, you start seeing ‘for rent’ signs," he says of Philly, where a Rental Beast team is already set up in Center City, readying an official launch for early 2015. "There’s plenty of demand to be satisfied."

Rental Beast works for renters as well as landlords and property managers, from those handling just a few properties to those handling thousands. In less than five years, the company has seen huge success in Boston, nabbing 70 percent of the city’s market share. Now its sights are set on Philly, its suburbs and the surrounding area, including central Pennsylvania, and parts of Delaware and New Jersey.

"We’re completely free for landlords of any size to list with us," insists Grinberg.

That free-of-charge model for both landlords and prospective tenants is supported by large brokerages who partner with the company for access to its inventory, and provide a portion of the broker fee when a property is leased through the site.

But the service isn’t just about aggregating and maintaining the most up-to-date, customizable info from landlords, managers, brokers, neighborhood experts and wider market data. Users also have access to tools for everything from proper pricing to drawing up the lease to finding contractors for when there’s quick turnover on a unit.

"When small landlords have a unit turn over, they don’t have an armada of maintenance people like the large managers do," explains Grinberg. For jobs like cleaning, sanding or painting, Rental Beast maintains a free database of vetted service providers.

Philly’s "good startup community" is part of the reason he’s bringing Rental Beast to the area. With the growing trend of millennials staying in the city to work or launch their own ventures after graduation, he insists it’s the perfect time to simplify the rental market.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Ishay Grinberg

 

Philadelphia region will be home to the Northeast's first Advanced Data Center

Most of us can use a computer application -- from Facebook, to an insurance exchange to a data store for a research project -- without thinking about the servers where all that information actually lives. Right now, all of the U.S.’s advanced data centers (ADCs) operate from Florida or locations in the Southwest. Keystone NAP wants to change all that by opening the Northeast’s first ADC in Pennsylvania's own Fairless Hills.

Currently, the major metros in the Northeast -- New York, Boston, Philadelphia -- have what Keystone NAP founder and CEO Peter Ritz calls "plain old data centers," which were adequate as recently as the 1990s, but in today’s web-scale world can't cut it.

"In the last two years, we have created more data, more bits of data…than all the time before that," explains Ritz. He compares today’s old data centers to telephone landlines: adequate for doing business ten or fifteen years ago, but rapidly growing obsolete.

The servers at those centers don’t have the capacity and scalability that today’s up-and-coming tech giants (and local mid-sized businesses) need, and with a single connection to a traditional power grid, they’re vulnerable.

Remember Hurricane Sandy?

"People don’t think about it, but what happened there is that people had a single source of connection to the grid in their data center," he says of widespread computer system outages after the storm. "They had to pray and they had to beg to make sure they would get the diesel fuel delivery."

Keystone NAP's ADC will have the data service capacity to house the equivalent of eight Googles. It's special not just because of its location and its data capacity, but because of its innovative approach to power.

"It’s the steel-forging shoulders that we stand on," says Ritz of how the region’s historical infrastructure makes this possible. Instead of a single connection to the power grid, the Keystone NAP facility will operate with the help of five distinct power sources, including gas turbines and a nearby trash-to-steam plant burning refuse from a local landfill.

Ritz describes the individual servers as looking like rectangular pizza boxes, stacked as many as forty high in specialized shelving. It all generates enormous heat: fifty percent of any data center’s energy budget goes to cooling those servers with air or water-based systems.

Because not every business's server has the same energy needs, Keystone NAP is offering a uniquely secure and modular approach to power dubbed KeyBlocks. It’s common for a data center to host multiple entities’ servers, but bringing that eco-friendly customization to the powering of the diverse servers is another thing that sets the facility apart.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Peter Ritz, Keystone NAP

 

Improvements on deck for a busy corner of Chelten Avenue in Germantown

As part of a larger effort to improve Germantown's walkability, a problematic corner on Chelten Avenue is getting a low-cost, high-value makeover. The spot in question is the northwest corner of Chelten Avenue and Greene Street, right next to the southeast corner of Vernon Park.

"It has some pretty inherent design flaws that have been present ever since it was constructed," explains City Planning Commission North/Northwest Senior Planner Matt Wysong, noting a walled-off fifteen-foot-wide area, whose floor is lower than the rest of the sidewalk. "It renders it very unusable. It’s hidden and also a vacuum for trash...[It also tends to] attract people who do not-so-legal things."

Efforts to revamp the corner got underway about a year ago when Wysong first met with a group of local designers. They had ideas for low-cost, low-maintenance ways to improve the intersection. These included knocking down the wall that divides the space and putting in decking to correct the grade change. There'd be no need to dig up or replace the existing concrete.

Wysong also points to better seating and regular tree pruning as simple ways to spruce up the space. And since Vernon Park is invisible from Chelten Avenue (thanks to the line of stores along its east side), taking down the wrought-iron fence that currently divides the plaza from the Chelten and Greene plaza could be a great way to offer a new "front door" to the park.

There is $17,000 in the pot for the project’s initial design and engineering, cobbled together from some money left over from a city planning contract for yearly on-call services through the Mayor’s Office of Transportation and Utilities.

Those kinds of dollars -- "not enough to plug into a large project," says Wysong -- are just the ticket for a small-scale improvement like this. Wysong estimates that the design phase will be done by this spring, with construction beginning in early 2016. The complete overhaul would cost about $200,000, he guesses, which could come from a combination of state-level and foundation grants.  

With a little local elbow grease and a bit of funding, the ultimate goal is to make the corner "a more usable, more active place," in line with efforts to improve Germantown’s overall pedestrian infrastructure.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Matt Wysong, City Planning Commission

 

Robust winter crowds mean year-round possibilities for the Delaware waterfront

You can't separate Philadelphia from its rivers, but according to the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation (DRWC), locals’ connection to Penn’s Landing -- versus other up-and-coming areas of the city -- isn’t as strong as it could be.

"Our goal is to change the conversation on how Philadelphians see and use their waterfront," says DRWC spokesperson Jodie Milkman of the announcement that this year’s Waterfront Winterfest is getting a major upgrade and extension. Attendance last year was phenomenal despite the fearsome weather.

Summertime also saw major growth in traffic to the waterfront thanks to Spruce Street Harbor Park, and though the market for visitors is different between the summer and winter seasons, "the waterfront can be a year-round attraction and asset," insists Milkman.

After debuting for the month of December last year, Winterfest is returning as an cold-weather fixture in Philly, re-branded along with the rink as the Blue Cross RiverRink Winterfest. This season, the fun will run from November 28, 2014 through March 1, 2015, and include skating, food from Garces Events, light shows, plenty of fire pits, a "winter garden and forest" from Groundswell Design Group’s David Fierabend (featuring hundreds of trees and locally-sourced recycled shipping containers) and a Philly Beer Week collaboration (details TBA).

"It’s not as disconnected or hard to get to as people might have imagined," adds Milkman, especially since the Philly PHLASH unveiled a new winter schedule that includes the Winterfest site (stopping on Columbus Boulevard just south of Walnut Street). From November 28 through Dec 31, the PHLASH will run from Penn’s Landing to the Philadelphia Zoo every day from 10 a.m. - 6 p.m., and a special Holiday Evening Loop -- including the waterfront, Franklin Square, LOVE Park and more -- will run 6 - 10 p.m.

But the DRWC is also looking beyond winter festivities to focus on the overall impact of extended programming and "placemaking" on the waterfront, which, as Milkman puts it, proves "the need to support winter tourism in addition to summer tourism."

And it’s not just about maximizing visitors. Increasing traffic at waterfront programs today, whether it’s a summer park or skating with Santa, is key to future development there.  

"All of these programs are hopefully setting the stage for large-scale future development," says Milkman, "and pre-conditioning audiences to support businesses on the waterfront in the summer and the winter. It’s a lot easier for people to invest in the waterfront if they feel it has an audience.” 

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Jodie Milkman, The Delaware River Waterfront Corporation

 

The sushi burrito comes to University City and beyond

One of Philly’s freshest restaurants is on the cusp of a major expansion, and hopes to use our city as a launching pad to spread nationwide.

Hai Street Kitchen and Co., a unique Japanese-inspired food spot, opened its first eatery at 18th and Chestnut Streets in May. Now company spokesperson Patrick Hughes confirms that another Hai Street location will open in University City before the end of this year.

Hai Street Kitchen is under the umbrella of Genji, an international company based in Center City Philadelphia -- anyone who’s ever picked up sushi at a Whole Foods location on the east coast has already tasted Genji's products.

The restaurant, meanwhile, offers quick sushi-style flavor wrapped up in a new way. According to Hughes, as popular as sushi is among its devotees, only 15 percent of Americans eat it.

"We want to expand to that other 85 percent of America, and came up with the sushi burrito," he explains.

What’s the typical American response to sushi, Hughes asks? It’s cold, it’s small, it’s not filling, it’s only for people who know how to wield chopsticks, and "what’s this green thing in the corner?"

Hai Street diners can order their own sushi-style burritos in a nori wrap (or they can select a rice or salad bowl) with basics such as shrimp tempura, tataki salmon, chili citrus pork and more. They can choose dressings from spicy peanut sauce to black pepper teriyaki, and add a wide variety of toppings, including grilled zucchini, pickled jicama, carrots or cucumbers, wasabi guacamole, and fried garlic or shallots.

"Basically, everything is made right in front of you," says Hughes. And it's meant to appeal to everyone, from health-conscious city lunch-breakers to guys looking for something to "scarf down instead of a cheesesteak."

As with Genji’s Whole Foods-approved sushi, Hai Street focuses on organic, hormone-free, antibiotic-free, sustainably raised and harvested proteins and veggies, sourced locally in the tri-state area whenever possible (that means a menu that adjusts with the seasons).

They’re also expanding their green mission with the restaurant’s new delivery system, launched last month, serving "Vine to Pine, river to river" Monday through Friday, using bike-centric One Hour Messengers.

The company has grand aspirations -- in addition to their second restaurant later this year, Hai Street aims to open eight more in 2015, including locations in South Jersey, King of Prussia and the Main Line, with more planned for 2016.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Patrick Hughes, Hai Street Kitchen & Co.

 

Penn's South Bank campus gets a new name; Pennovation Center breaks ground

The University of Pennsylvania's South Bank campus, a 23-acre swath of development at 34th Street and Grays Ferry Avenue (purchased by Penn in 2010), is getting a new name: "Pennovation Works."

According to Penn Executive Vice President Craig Carnaroli, President Amy Gutmann coined the "Pennovation" moniker, looking toward the opening of the Pennovation Center, a 52,000-square-foot three-story building, slated for renovation and re-opening in 2016.

The Pennovation Works complex will include a mix of previously existing and new buildings housing the Bio Garden of the Penn School of Arts & Sciences, UPSTART’s Novapeutics, the Philadelphia Free Library archives, KMel Robotics and much more.

On October 31, Gutmann and other Penn executives welcomed a crowd of 800 people (two-thirds of them Penn staff, faculty, and students) for a ceremonial groundbreaking and day-long seminar of tours and sessions to celebrate a wide variety of scientific, academic and commercial innovation at Penn.

The Pennovation Center concept, which includes a variety of cross-discipline co-working and research spaces, got its start within the last two years based on a need for incubator space, particularly incubators with affordable lab space.

"One of the really neat things about this project is the architects actually are entrepreneurs," says Carnaroli. "So they learned themselves that you need a space where you learn how to do your five-minute elevator pitch…they’re thinking very holistically."

That means the finished Pennovation Center, from its workshop garage spaces -- hosting prototyping gear such as 3-D printers -- to its third-floor robotics lab isn’t "just a space to do the work. It’s also about networking."

A major part of the Center’s mission will be facilitating not only research, but its application and commercialization. That means offering low-cost lab space with no restrictions on types of use and unusually broad opportunities for corporate partnerships, since the property wasn’t financed with any tax-exempt capital.

“You’re always looking for a hybrid of ideas,” says Carnaroli, explaining why it's important to house diverse thinkers -- such as life-sciences faculty alongside robotics researchers -- in freewheeling co-working spaces. He hopes this will foster "that breakthrough that no-one’s seeing until that impromptu conversation at the coffee machine." 

The Center will open in multiple phases, including a new home for Penn's GRASP engineering lab next summer, with full completion of the new complex planned for spring 2016.

Given the adjacent Schuylkill River’s place in the heart of Philly’s manufacturing history, the Pennovation Center’s location is a symbol of the shift from the industrial economy to a "much more intellectual and modern economy," muses Carnaroli. "It’s very symbolic the way this property is about to be transformed."

Author: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Craig Carnaroli, The University of Pennsylvania

Millennium Dance takes over South Street's Pearl building

Do you want to get moving somewhere other than the mall on Black Friday this year? Philadelphia's own Millennium Dance Complex, taking over the old Pearl Arts & Crafts building at 417 South Street, promises to be open by November 28.

Lori Ramsay Long, who lives with her teenage daughter in Gloucester Township, N.J., is the newest owner and studio director of a Millennium Dance Complex franchise. There are currently eight locations operating or getting ready to open their doors, including spaces in Tokyo, North Hollywood, Chicago, Pittsburgh and Salt Lake City.

Long, an alum of Florida State University, Rowan University, Thomas Jefferson University and Drexel College of Medicine, has worked as a forensic scientist, ER nurse and biology professor -- and she also has 20 years’ experience in the dance and fitness world.

Long's first step towards opening Philly's Millennium franchise was her daughter’s love of dance. Kylie is currently a member of the Broadway Dance Center’s teen program, but it’s a killer commute. Before she was old enough to take a train or bus on her own, driving her to Manhattan and back "literally consumed every single weekend from Friday to Sunday," recalls Long.

Despite Philly being full of great dance programs and institutions, Long was always surprised that the city didn’t have any broadly accessible drop-in dance training center: that is, a roster of flexible, professionally-taught, one-time classes open to all instead of specific dance courses working toward a degree or recital.

Many dance enthusiasts, from busy working moms and dads to students, want "ongoing advanced education" in dance without enrolling in a specific course, explains Long.

Enter Philly’s new 39,000-square-foot space, which will offer 90-minute classes in a range of genres, all for $15 dollars each. So far, the Millennium brand is drawing choreographers and trainers who work with stars like Justin Timberlake, Christina Aguilera, Mariah Carey, Usher and Beyonce.

The first floor will feature four dance studios. The second floor will boast a childcare space, and the third will host industry video and photo shoots. There will also be a 5,000-square-foot roof space and 7,000-square-foot basement under it all with a running track, tumbling mats and other fitness areas.

And that's just the first phase: the second, with a planned 2015 finish, will include a retail area, a spa and massage zone, performance rehearsal space, and event space available for rent.

"The South Street community really wanted something cultural in that building," something "artsy and eclectic," says Long. "The dance community is starving for this."

Author: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Lori Ramsay Long, Millennium Dance Complex

Community Design Collaborative charrette to spotlight empty schools

On November 14, Center City's Community Design Collaborative (CDC) will hold a special Reactivating Vacant Schools Design Charrette to help spark a new future for two recently-shuttered Philly schools: Old Frances Willard School at 1290 E. Orleans Street in Kensington, and the M. Hall Stanton School at 1523 W. Cumberland Street in Lower North Philadelphia.

According to Heidi Segall Levy, director of design services at the CDC, two teams (boasting about twelve professionals each, including architects, landscape architects, urban planners, and graphic and lighting designers) will be assigned to each school, for a total of four teams.

Because "the development of these sites is going to take awhile," Levy explains, each school will get one team focused on a short-term use solution, with "a low-cost way to activate those sites as soon as possible," and one team focused on a long-term plan for the space.

Short-term uses could include a farmers' market, urban farm or youth recreational space. Meanwhile, ongoing conversation with community partners in the charrette, including Community Ventures, Impact Services Corporation and the New Kensington CDC, point to a variety of long-term use possibilities. That could mean envisioning these sites "as something completely different from what they were," adds Levy, noting that the buildings may not continue as schools, but become a new type of "community anchor."
 
There is a special benefit to hosting charrettes -- versus other types of support, such as grants -- explains Levy, because charrettes are a more active way to build awareness through a wider cross-section of the city, with a focus on schools that did not elicit any interest from potential developers.

Levy hopes that the plans that come out of the charrette, which the CDC will develop into an accessible and actionable packet, "may grab the attention of developers for these sites, and ignite attention" for other empty schools facing a similar fate.
 
Plans developed through the CDC charrette model also lay the groundwork for locals' continued input, helping developers understand that it’s important to engage the community.
 
The charrette is happening with the help of a design team from KieranTimberlake Associates, LLP, as well as students from the Charter High School for Architecture and Design; partnerships with AIA Philadelphia and the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Economic Development; and funding from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Mayor’s Fund for Philadelphia.

While slots on the design teams are now full, the public is invited to a free presentation and panel discussion from 4 - 6 p.m. on November 14 at the Center for Architecture (1216 Arch Street); reception to follow. To RSVP, click here.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Heidi Segall Levy, The Community Design Collaborative

 

Get your hands dirty at the Love Your Park Fall Service Day

When we think of enjoying Philadelphia's parks, we usually think of spring and summer maintenance and activities. But as Fairmount Park Conservancy park stewardship coordinator Erin Engelstad insists, it’s just as important to help "put our park spaces to bed for the winter."

The Conservancy and the Philadelphia Department of Parks & Recreation partner with city-wide volunteers twice a year for Love Your Park service days, one in the spring and one in the fall. The spring service day typically includes as many as 100 parks and 2,000 volunteers, while this year’s fall event, on Saturday, November 15, includes 75 parks so far. Engelstad expects about 1,000 volunteers to turn out across the city.

There’s a lot to do to keep our outdoor treasures looking good once winter looms. The first item of business is clearing out all those fallen leaves. Parks & Rec will be on hand with cleaned-out trash trucks ready to transport all the gathered leaves to the Philadelphia Recycling Center in Fairmount Park, where this year’s autumn color will become next year’s mulch.

If you love spring flowers, you can help plant crocus bulbs; volunteers will also pitch in to plant up to 200 new trees -- according to Engelstad, autumn is a great time to put them in the ground.

Helpers will include school groups -- kids, parents, and teachers from North Philadelphia’s Gesu School who will be working at Smith Memorial Playground.

"They’re excited to have a large group, because they want to make the biggest leaf pile in Fairmount Park," explains Engelstad.

And yes, even though it may make some extra work in the long run, the pile will be open to jumpers of all ages.  

Park organizers, who will manage the schedule and to-do lists at their individual parks, can provide gloves and tools, and no experience is necessary to pitch in. Residents are welcome to just show up, but they can give organizers a hand by signing up in advance online.

"It’s an opportunity for folks to get to know people in their neighborhood," adds Engelstad.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Erin Engelstad, Fairmount Park Conservancy

 

University City District ahead of schedule on reinvention of 40th Street Trolley Portal

University City District (UCD) is moving forward with its plans to revitalize the 40th Street Trolley Portal. The project is being led by Prema Gupta, the organization's director of planning and economic development.

If you've ever been to the 40th Street trolley stop, you probably know it’s not the most inviting or vibrant place in University City. That will soon change with the introduction of The Plaza, the first component in UCD's creative reimagining of the transit hub.

The Plaza will boast chairs, tables, benches, trees and planters, and even boulders for climbing and play. Designed as an amenity for local students, residents and SEPTA passengers, the space will also host ongoing UCD programming and events.

The second component of the portal, The Apron, will improve pedestrian access and replace surfaces around the tracks with seating walls bordering heaps of wildflowers and native plants selected to attract butterflies, hummingbirds and other pollinators.

Gupta originally announced the project this past spring, and it looks like UCD will begin construction earlier than planned after raising an additional $1.4 million in funds for the effort.

"Because we’ve raised such significant funding, we’re really able to see this come to fruition sooner than we anticipated," says UCD representative Lori Brennan.

"Our work is what happens at ground level," adds UCD Policy and Research Manager Seth Budick, who is currently working on an ambitious public space survey. "We look to constantly make improvements to all the areas and spaces between developments and transit."

It's likely Budick's findings will lead to numerous project tweaks, as he continually oversees improvements to existing public spaces in University City.

"We’re studying in great detail how people are using these [public] spaces and what they’re doing there," he explains. "It’s an approach we’ve really taken to heart."

Writer: Dan Eldridge
Source: Lori Brennan and Seth Budick, University City District

 

Dust off your skates! The Rothman Ice Rink is coming to Dilworth Park

At a press event this past Wednesday, October 15, Center City District (CCD) President Paul Levy announced the upcoming Rothman Ice Rink at Dilworth Park in front of City Hall.

Sponsored by its namesake orthopedic practice, the Rothman Institute, the new ice skating venue will open to the public on Friday, November 14. Along with Rothman, PNC Bank and local ABC affiliate WPVI have provided financial support for the rink, which will be erected atop Dilworth Park's 11,600-square-foot fountain. It will ve roughly the size of the ice skating rink at Rockefeller Center in Manhattan.

All-day admission to the ice will be $3 for children and $4 for adults, with skate rentals available for $8. Open seven days a week, the venue will stay open on holidays and offer a four-week learn-to-skate program on Sunday mornings, along with additional events and programs coordinated by CCD.

Avid people-watchers and tired parents will be able relax on the PNC terrace, where they can enjoy coffee, pastries and sandwiches from José Garces’ Rosa Blanca Cuban Diner. Free Wi-Fi will remain available throughout the winter.

As a result of a competitive bidding process held by CCD earlier this year, Rink Management Service Corporation will operate the rink and offer group discounts, birthday party packages and private rentals. 

Held at noon, the press event allowed visitors to get a sense of just how popular Dilworth Park has become as the midday lunch crowd and tourists streamed into the brand new public space.

Other Dilworth Park updates were also provided: According to Levy, a lawn and more bench seating will be accessible this week, and the remainder of the park is set to open before Thanksgiving.

Information on Rothman Ice Rink events and other updates are available at dilworthpark.com.

Writer: Dan Eldridge
Source: Paul Levy, Center City District

 

Cafe and DVD rental shop coming to Broad and Tasker in South Philly

Temple film school grad Dan Creskoff might be best known for his eighteen-year stint as a manager of two TLA Video locations.

"People would come to TLA and hang out for an hour," he recalls, "and just talk about movies."

Creskoff came to cherish the relationships he formed there.

It wasn’t long after the closing of TLA's brick-and-mortar stores that the cinefile began running into some of his old customers around town. The resulting conversations made Creskoff realize that there was a need for that sort of shared space. With that in mind, he began working on his new business, CineMug.

CineMug, a cafe that will also contain a DVD rental shop and function as quasi-clubhouse for film lovers, is due to open at 1607 S. Broad Street sometime later this fall. The roughly 800-square-foot cafe -- formerly a wireless phone shop turned doctor’s office -- will operate seven days a week. CineMug will also host weekly movie screenings.

Buildout is nearly complete. Creskoff describes the space as "having that living room vibe of hanging out with people you like and talking about things that interest you." Custom reclaimed wood countertops will give the cafe a casual and inviting feel, he adds.

In addition to a carefully curated collection of DVDs that will also be available for online and mobile perusing -- think must-see classics, cult films, documentaries, and plenty of arthouse and indie features -- CineMug will be serving up Fishtown’s ReAnimator Coffee alongside its own housemade chai and iced tea.

Cafe staples like bagels, spreads, pastries and baked goods will also be available, and the full CineMug menu will feature signature dips and sandwiches from South Philly favorite Cosmi's Deli.

Writer: Dan Eldridge
Source: Dan Creskoff, CineMug
 
 

UCD's annual report sheds light on development trends and the community narrative

On Wednesday, October 15, University City District (UCD) will present its annual State of University City report to a select group of representatives from neighborhood institutions, real estate development groups, small business owners and residents.

In over 70 pages worth of eye-catching charts, graphs and text, the report tells the story of a vibrant and growing submarket that continues to attract a steady stream of educated individuals, innovative startups, creative entrepreneurs and civic-minded businesses.

Some highlights of this year’s report include an explosion of multi-family residential development, an unprecedented 96 percent office occupancy rate, a growing interest in transportation and transit, investment by the University of Pennsylvania in both research facilities and community placemaking destinations, and significant growth in Drexel’s innovation neighborhood near 30th Street Station.

The report also expands on the development plans for the 40th Street Trolley Portal, including the success of UCD fundraising efforts to create a pedestrian-friendly park there.

To create the document, policy and research manager Seth Budick compiles vast amounts of data from UCD’s institutional and business partners, alongside its own in-depth studies and analysis of pedestrian counts, retail occupancy and public space usage.

"What we’re really seeing is a flocking of people and businesses who recognize the value of being close to the density of innovation that’s going on in University City," he explains.

As in previous years, printed reports will be distributed to institutional partners, real estate professionals, local organizations, government representatives and residents, who, according to UCD's Lori Brennan, "use [it] as a recruitment tool for filling office vacancies, and attracting retailers and restaurateurs to open up spaces [in University City]."

The report will be available online on October 16.

Writer: Dan Eldridge
Sources: Seth Budick and Lori Klein Brennan, University City District

 

Skateboarding role models honored at the first annual Paine's Park fundraiser

On the first evening of October, as the sun slowly descended over Paine's Park, a group of onlookers gathered to watch dozens of skaters grind and kick-flip their way through the 16-month-old, $4.5 million skateboard park, located just off the Benjamin Franklin Parkway adjacent to the Schuylkill River.
 
Nearby, skateboarding supporters mingled between an open bar and a silent auction featuring skateboard decks, hotel packages and skate-themed art.
 
The occasion was Street Level, the inaugural fundraising and skate-culture event benefiting the Franklin's Paine Skatepark Fund. The organization is responsible for constructing free public skateparks throughout the city, including Paine's Park. Perhaps more importantly, Franklin's Paine works to empower skateboarders through various community engagement programs and advocacy efforts.
 
"The [organization's] focus for so long was about concrete and bricks," says Franklin's Paine Executive Director Josh Dubin, explaining the genesis of the event, which featured skating demos and a deejay. "But now that it's built, we needed an event that celebrated the people who skate, and all the benefits that come to a community when it supports and nurtures skateboarding as a dynamic force."
 
The proceeds raised by the event will be folded back into the nonprofit organization's fund; Franklin's Paine is currently working to build a skatepark in Nicetown. But as Dubin pointed out, the most crucial aspect of the shindig was its focus "on the places skateboarding can take you if that passion is nurtured and supported."     
 
A number of skateboarding role models were recognized, including Joel Zwicky, a Wisconsin police officer who patrols on a longboard, and Skateistan Founder Oliver Percovich, who uses the sport to positively affect the lives of disenfranchised youth in developing countries.
 
Visit Franklin's Paine online to make a donation.
 
Writer: Dan Eldridge
Source: Josh Dubin, Franklin's Paine Skatepark Fund 
 

Turning park users into park supporters at annual GLOW in the Park bash

The Fairmount Park Conservancy, which works to preserve and improve the park system through the city, is certainly no slouch when it comes to fundraising. Its $500-a-head Centennial Celebration, for instance, takes place each May and generally brings in about $500,000, or half the organization's annual operating budget.   
 
Which is all well and good. After all, city parks can't operate without competent management and regular maintenance, neither of which come cheap. But the Conservancy's board wants to engage a broader swath of Philadelphia. Four years ago, they started discussing ways to connect with the next generation of park champions. The result was the development of a more accessible event. 

"Everybody's a park user in the Philadelphia region, and we found that so many people want to support the parks," says Conservancy Executive Director Kathryn Ott Lovell. "So why not offer an alternative opportunity?"
 
That alternative opportunity, known as GLOW in the Park, now happens at the beginning of each fall season.
 
The third installment is scheduled to kick off at dusk on October 9. The Strawberry Mansion Music Pavilion in East Fairmount Park will be aglow with lights and the entertainment will include live music and "unusual performances." (Fire dancers have been featured at previous GLOW in the Park incarnations.)

In a nod to the Music Pavilion's heyday at the start of the 1900s, entertainment with an early twentieth-century theme will also be on offer.     
 
And while the Conservancy expects to raise about $45,000 from this year's GLOW, fundraising is not the event's only goal: it's also about recruiting and engaging people who use Philadelphia parks on a regular basis.

"We see this as an opportunity to turn park users into park supporters," explains Lovell.
 
Tickets are $75 and include a one-year Conservancy membership.
 
Writer: Dan Eldridge
Source: Kathryn Ott Lovell, Fairmount Park Conservancy

 

Landmark $60 million investment to boost Free Library

The Free Library of Philadelphia has announced a $60 million multi-branch development initiative. It will involve not only the significant renovation and expansion of the Parkway Central Library, but of five initial prototype libraries throughout the city. Each will be modernized with the specific needs of their communities in mind.
 
Known as "Building Inspiration: 21st Century Libraries," the multi-faceted plan will be funded in part by $4.5 million from the City of Philadelphia and a historic $25 million gift from the William Penn Foundation. According to a release, the funds from William Penn represent "the largest private gift ever received by the Library."  
 
According to Director and President Siobhan Reardon, the concept for "Building Inspiration" grew from the Free Library's Strategic Plan (PDF) -- essentially a reorganizational effort drawn up after the Library lost roughly 20 percent of its funding from the City and the Commonwealth in 2008 and 2009.
 
Part of that plan involved looking at the ways in which technology is altering basic library services.

"The changes we've announced are all about how to create an engaging 21st-century library in an older building," explains Reardon.

At the 87-year-old Parkway Central branch, for instance, an 8,000-square-foot area called The Common will be designed by architect Moshe Safdie to operate as a flexible and active community gathering space. The South Philadelphia Library will be fitted with a 'Health Information and New Americans' room. The Logan Library will be getting a family literacy center. The Lovett Memorial, Tacony and Lillian Marrero branches will also see progressive improvements.
 
"I think what you're going to find interesting at the neighborhood libraries is a very open experience," says Reardon, who adds that most branches should reopen in late 2016. "It's going to be a much more civically-engaged social learning environment."

Writer: Dan Eldridge
Source: Siobhan Reardon, Free Library of Philadelphia

 

As the Science Center expands, plans emerge to upgrade the campus' livability

On September 12, the 51-year-old University City Science Center celebrated the latest addition to its ever-expanding West Philadelphia campus, now home to more than two million square feet of lab and office space.
 
Known as 3737 Science Center and located at 3737 Market Street, the 13-story glass tower was developed jointly by the Science Center and Wexford Science & Technology. The $115 million building is already at 82 percent capacity.
 
Indeed, interest in the space from potential life-science and healthcare tenants was so consistently strong throughout construction that an extra two floors (over the originally-planned 11) were added to the plan.
 
Spark Therapeutics, a gene therapy startup, is occupying the building's top floor. With Penn Medicine as the anchor tenant, other residents include the Penn Institute for Rehabilitation Medicine and, in the tower's ground-floor retail space, the Corner Bakery Cafe, which is expected to open by the end of this year.
 
3737 Science Center is the campus' 16th building. At nearby 3601 Market Street, the Science Center is currently constructing a 20-story, $110 million residential tower, which broke ground last year. That high-rise, according to President and CEO Stephen Tang, is part of the campus' current philosophy "to be a place to live, work and play," he says. "Not just work, which is quite frankly what we've been doing for most of our 51-year history."  
 
"We're trying to become a world-class innovation center across University City and not just across the Science Center's campus," he adds. "We really want to be a vibrant center. And that includes attracting smart, creative and innovative people to our campus to live, as well as to work."

Writer: Dan Eldridge
Source: Stephen Tang, University City Science Center

The University City Science Center
 has partnered with Flying Kite to showcase innovation in Greater Philadelphia.

Franklin Mills announces major redevelopment project, and a new name to boot

The 25-year-old, 200-store shopping mall and outlet center formerly known as Franklin Mills has announced a major redevelopment project, and a new name to boot.

The mall, which was originally developed by the Mills Corporation which is now owned and operated by Simon Property Group (which also owns the King of Prussia Mall), has been renamed Philadelphia Mills.  
 
According to The Mills President Gregg Goodman, Simon Property Group had been actively working on plans to upgrade and update the property since as far back as 2007, when it acquired the mall. New customer amenities, he says, were always part of that plan.

Along with mall-wide Wi-Fi, lounge areas with device changing stations will be installed when interior renovations begin early next year.

"The long and short of what we're doing should add up to a completely new shopping experience," he insists.               

New landscaping, updated signage and a modernized façade will all play major roles in the redevelopment. And the mall's interior will be considerably brightened thanks to new flooring and skylights. Even the restrooms will be renovated, and roughly a dozen new retail stores and eateries, including Express Factory Outlet, will be added.     
 
As for the mall's name change -- the original moniker was a nod to Benjamin Franklin -- Goodman says it was led by a formal branding study.

"But in the end, the reason we went with 'Philadelphia Mills' is probably the most straightforward of all reasons -- the fact that we're actually in the city of Philadelphia," he explains. "Not a lot of people realize that. But we're proud of it, and wanted a name that was emblematic of that."   
 
A grand reopening event is tentatively scheduled to take place at the Bucks County-bordering Philadelphia Mills sometime in fall 2015.

Writer: Dan Eldridge
Source: Gregg Goodman, The Mills

Eleven vacant public schools to become a mix of residential and commercial spaces

The ongoing financial woes of the Philadelphia School District have been a constant presence the local media recently. Two weeks ago, it was the city's School Reform Commission (SRC) that stole headlines -- an unexpected September 18 announcement reveled that the SRC had approved the sale of 11 vacant public school buildings throughout the city, including Germantown High School.      
 
The City had help from the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation (PIDC) in structuring the 11 deals, which will bring in a total of $19.3 million. Yet after the properties close -- a process that is expected to be completed sometime in early 2015 -- it is projected that closing costs and other associated fees will leave the City with a net revenue of only some $2 million.
 
According to The Philadelphia Inquirer, the Philadelphia Housing Authority (PHA) will be purchasing four of the vacant schools -- Communications Technology High, Pepper Middle School, John Reynolds Elementary and Rudolph Walton Elementary -- for $3 million each. The PHA says it plans to tear down two of those schools and replace them with a mix of residential and commercial units. One of the buildings will become a residential facility for senior citizens.  
 
Five of the buildings, including Germantown High and Carroll Charles High, will be sold to the Bethesda, Md.-based Concordia Group, a residential and commercial developer that operates largely in the Washington, D.C. area. Two of the schools going to Concordia -- which will pay $6.8 million for its buildings -- will also become residential buildings of some sort.
 
And in South Philadelphia, the Edward W. Bok Technical High School building was purchased for $2.1 million by Scout Ltd. LLCPlans are reportedly underway for a mixed-use project featuring a maker-style co-working space, a number of live-work units, and ground-floor retail.

Writer: Dan Eldridge

Germantown's Maplewood Mall Reconstruction Project moves forward with its first public meeting

It's been more than a year since Philadelphia's Department of Commerce announced its intention to spend $2.2 million to redevelop and re-imagine Germantown's Maplewood Mall, a narrow historic retail pathway located near the neighborhood's two main business districts, Germantown Avenue and West Chelten Avenue.
 
Following months of planning by the design team of Whitman, Requardt & Associates, in partnership with a slew of city agencies ranging from Parks and Recreation to the Streets Department, the very first public meeting to discuss the Mall's reconstruction was held recently at Germantown's First Presbyterian Church.  
 
Approximately 60 members of the community filled the church's sanctuary. The City Planning Commission's Matt Wysong and 8th District Councilwoman Cindy Bass expressed their hope that the Mall will look more like a creative placemaking project than a traditional reconstruction of a municipal street.

As a flyer advertising the meeting announced, "The goal is to provide a design that will create a framework for the reinvention of the Mall into a vibrant and successful urban space."
 
The project is currently in month four of its design and engineering phase, though shovels aren't expected to touch dirt until sometime in early 2016.
 
In the meantime, Germantown residents are weighing in on the various proposed plans to reengineer the Mall, which could potentially see its roadway slightly lengthened and the small plazas that bookend it significantly redesigned.   
 
Perhaps the most edifying aspect of the public meeting was the chance for community members to inspect the Mall's three proposed design ideas. A gracefully retro lumberyard theme has already received overwhelming support from business owners and other stakeholders, according to artist Jennie Shanker, who was hired to consult with the project's design and landscape architecture team.    
 
Click here to view the proposed designs and the meeting's Powerpoint presentation
 
Writer: Dan Eldridge
Source: Maplewood Mall Reconstruction Project Public Meeting

 

Metered parking spaces throughout the city to morph into pop-up parks

As you step outside your home or office this Friday, September 19, don't be surprised if you see your neighbor lounging where their car would normally be parked.

In fact, don't be surprised if an antique coffee table is perched on the sidewalk next to them, or if a working lamp, bookshelf or mini-fridge is alongside in the gutter.   
 
Every year here in Philadelphia -- and throughout the world, for that matter -- on the third Friday of September, an unusual celebration of public spaces occurs at dozens of metered parking spaces throughout the city.
 
Known as PARK(ing) Day, the nine-year-old event was first launched in San Francisco, where a single metered parking space was transformed for two hours into a miniature public park by members of an architecture firm. A photo of the temporary installation soon went viral, and by 2011, PARK(ing) Day was being celebrated in 162 cities on six continents.
 
Here in Philly, more than 50 diminutive pop-up parks will be installed in Center City, Queen Village, Germantown, Fishtown and North Philly, to name a few. An interactive map of the planned parks can be accessed online.
 
As Erike De Veyra of Zimmerman Studio, which organizes the event locally, points out, the purpose of PARK(ing) Day Philadelphia isn't solely to raise awareness of public spaces. It's also to suggest that public spaces, which bring communities together, don't necessarily need to be large or even particularly expensive in order to serve their purpose.
 
From 5 to 8 p.m., the Center for Architecture will host an after-party featuring photos from the day. Click here to reserve a spot.  

Insider's Tip: According to De Veyra, a Center City architecture firm historically hosts one of the event's best parks. It's located near the corner of Broad and Walnut.

Writer: Dan Eldridge
Source: Erike De Veyra, Zimmerman Studio

Indoor mini-golf comes to Kenzo, and soon to South Philly

Until recently, Philadelphians with a miniature-golf habit had exactly one option within the city proper: the 18-hole course at Center City's Franklin Square, with its family-friendly vibe and Spirit of '76 theme for tourists.
 
Fortunately, that's no longer the case.
 
Keystone Mini-Golf and Arcade, an indoor facility with nine holes and a grown-up, party-friendly atmosphere, recently opened at 161 Cecil B. Moore Avenue in Olde Kensington. And, in an unrelated venture, an 18-hole glow-in-the-dark putt-putt course known as Adventurer's Mini-Golf is due to open any day now at 38 Jackson Street in South Philly.
 
Both businesses feature arcade games and Skee-Ball, and both offer dedicated party rooms. At Keystone Mini-Golf, which proudly advertises itself as a BYOB facility, the party takes place in a backyard gravel lot, open to the elements and outfitted with picnic tables.
 
Keystone was started by Bucks County natives Bill Cannon and Drew Ferry, who stumbled onto their lightbulb moment after a session at a driving range in Southampton.

"We were walking back to the car and saw a mini-golf course," recalls Ferry. "We thought we could do a little spin on it [in the city], and do it BYO."

The old-school, DIY-style course was put together in about six weeks with the help of Ferry's father, who works in construction. And while Ferry hasn't yet given up his day job as a mover, Keystone's first month went much better than expected.

"It's been amazing," says Cannon. "Yesterday, a guy came in with his girlfriend. Later at night, he came back with a buddy."

On September 21 Keystone is hosting its Inaugural Mini-Golf Open with a $25 buy-in, free beer and prizes. 

Writer: Dan Eldridge
Source: Bill Cannon and Drew Ferry, Keystone Mini-Golf 

 

Six 'Groundbreaking' finalists announced for DVGBC's annual celebration of green building

As one of 79 regional chapters under the umbrella of the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), the Delaware Valley Green Building Council (DVGBC) certainly doesn't mince words when it comes to its mission -- there it is, in 16-point type atop the "Strategic Plan" page of its website: "Green Buildings for All."
 
Here in the Delaware Valley, the execution of that vision translates to outreach and public policy work intended to transform the community through environmentally responsible building.

DVGBC also hosts an annual awards ceremony designed to recognize green development projects "that are really cutting-edge and transformational," says Janet Milkman, the Council's executive director. "We've always tried to celebrate the thrust in green building practice in our region," she adds, explaining why this year's ceremony is being referred to as the Groundbreaker Awards.
 
Six finalists have been chosen out of 20 total nominations. The three winners will be announced during a September 18 awards ceremony at Center City's Suzanne Roberts Theater modeled after the Oscars; attendees will enter on a green carpet.
 
"Honestly, we had 20 wonderful submissions," says Milkman. "They were all terrific, so the jury had a hard time."

Ultimately, the six finalists were chosen because of their uniqueness in the region, and because of their potential to be modeled by future developement projects.  
 
UPenn's Shoemaker Green, which is managing stormwater with vegetative infrastructure approaches, is one such project. So is North Philadelphia's residential Paseo Verde, a mixed-income transportation-oriented development (TOD) project, and the first in the country to achieve Platinum status under the LEED for Neighborhood Development (LEED-ND) designation.
 
Other finalists included KidZooU at the Philadelphia Zoo and the Camden Friends Meeting House and Social Hall in Delaware.

Writer: Dan Eldridge
Source: Janet Milkman, DVGBC

 

Inquirer's Inga Saffron throws some shade at new Dilworth Park

As Flying Kite has reported, City Hall's Dilworth Park opened on September 4. Folks from around the city came out to get aquainted with Philadelphia's latest revamped public space.

Among those visitors was esteemed Philadelphia Inquirer architecture critic Inga Saffron, and she was, well, slightly disappointed.

Dilworth's new comforts, which won't be complete until November, are undermined by an uptight and controlling sensibility...The new design was intended to be the polar opposite of the 37-year-old plaza, a hardscape extravaganza by the late Vincent Kling, the same midcentury modernist who exhausted a couple of quarries building LOVE Park, the Centre Square towers, and Municipal Services Building and its plaza. In place of Kling's tricky level changes, gratuitous barriers, shadowy hiding places and puffed-up monumentality, we now have a flat, multipurpose surface, wide-open views -- and a new kind of puffed-up monumentality. There are vast amounts of hardscape...

The aesthetic is all wrong for a city eager to remake itself for an expanding creative class...Yes, there is real magic when the fountain's jets of water shoot into action, but inactivated, the granite landscape is dry and stiff. The new Dilworth is a suit in a jeans-and-T-shirt world.

Saffron goes into details about her frustrations, which extend to the materials and a lack of greenery.

It sounds strange, but the designers' emphasis on perfection is suffocating. They bludgeon you with "high quality" materials that evoke the atmosphere of a slick corporate lobby. Five types of granite are used, ranging from speckled white to dark black, on the plaza surface.

Olin's sculpted benches, which are seductive and beautiful forms, also are granite. A wooden version, similar to Olin's design for nearby Lenfest Plaza, would have softened the official feel of the place. So would some additional shade, but all the greenery has been relegated to the periphery. The nicest spot is a small grove where the chairs have been arranged on crushed gravel rather than granite.

Maybe I spent too much time in beer gardens this summer, but I found myself longing for some of their laid-back, serendipitous vibe.

 
All that said, Dilworth Park remains a vast improvement over its gray, dreary, lurker-shielding predecessor. There's a cafe and interactive water feature; there is also ample space for public events, be it protests or concerts. And, it's a huge project completed thanks to a public-private partnership.

There is no doubt that this important civic space, once a smelly, run-down municipal embarrassment in the heart of Philadelphia, has been greatly improved by the Center City District's Paul Levy, who marshaled a dream team of Philadelphia's most renowned designers and engineers. The amenities, from the food vendor to the picnic lawn, are reason enough to applaud.

How about you? What do you think of the new Dilworth Park? Tweet us @flyingkitemedia or hit us up on Facebook.

 

Dilworth Park at City Hall to open September 4 with a weekend's worth of events

The rebuilding of Dilworth Plaza from a drab, inaccessible concrete slab encircling Philadelphia's City Hall into Dilworth Park, a green public space set to become one of Center City's most exciting outdoor areas, has been one of the most closely watched local development stories for three years now.
 
Finally, the $55 million project's official opening date has been made public. During an August 19 press conference, Center City District CEO Paul Levy announced that the park will be unveiled Thursday, September 4 at 11 a.m. with a ribbon-cutting ceremony.
 
As Flying Kite reported in late 2010, a 185-foot-wide programmable fountain operating on recycled rain water will be one of the park's centerpieces; it will be transformed into an ice skating rink during the winter months.
 
And because the 120,000-square-foot project's main mission has always centered on enhancing access to the nucleus of Philly's public transit system, it makes sense that two subway entrances made of glass -- and seemingly inspired by the Louvre Pyramid -- are architectural standouts as well.   
 
Perhaps the most exciting Dilworth update, though, involves Chef Jose Garces being attached to the cafe that will sit in the Plaza's northwest corner. The breakfast-all-day eatery will be similar to Garces' Rosa Blanca and offer light Cuban-inspired fare.
 
Although roughly 10 percent of the project's construction won't be complete for another six to eight weeks, an entire weekend's worth of events will celebrate its opening, beginning with an all-day arts and culture festival on September 4.

Click here for a complete list of the weekend's scheduled performances and events.
 
Writer: Dan Eldridge
Source: Center City District


Architectural renderings courtesy of OLIN and KieranTimberlake

 

Nominations now being accepted for Philly's 2014 Storefront Challenge

As executive director of The Merchants Fund (TMF), a local nonprofit that provides assistance to business owners facing financial hardship, Patricia Blakely is one of a handful of peer reviewers who sit on the judging committee of the Storefront Challenge, a retail design competition that recognizes storefront façade improvement projects throughout the city.

"Your façade is the single most important advertising expense you will ever [absorb] for your company," Blakley explains, echoing the advice she gives to business owners. "It [either] says, 'Come in,' or 'Go away.' A ratty, ugly front window with lots of signs pasted in it and no lighting just doesn't say, 'Come in and spend money with me.'"
 
And that's the Storefront Challenge in a nutshell. The competition, which happens once every two years, is a joint program of the Philadelphia Commerce Department and the Community Design Collaborative.

Although its larger purpose involves local economic development via the beautification of retail spaces, the event was initially launched as an effort to bring wider attention to the Commerce Department's Storefront Improvement Program (SIP), which provides cash grants to help business owners improve their facades.
 
Storefront Challenge winners are chosen via a nomination process, and the rules couldn't be simpler: Through Monday, September 15, anyone can nominate a renovated Philadelphia storefront that was completed between October 2012 and November 2014.

And as Blakely points out, thanks to the Challenge's seven separate categories (Creative Sign; Window Display, etc.), even simple, low-cost improvement projects have a chance to win.

"Literally, paint can be transformative," she explains. "[As] can a simple sign, [or] a great awning with some lighting."
 
The winning façades will be recognized during a special Design Philadelphia event at the Center for Architecture (1 - 3 p.m. Tuesday, October 14). Click here to nominate a business. 

Writer: Dan Eldridge
Source: Patricia Blakely, The Merchants Fund

 

Opening any day now: The Yachtsman, Philly's only Tiki bar

"I've always had a deep love for theme bars and Tiki bars," says Tommy Up (née Updegrove), proprietor of Northern Liberties' PYT burger bar and Emmanuelle, a nearby cocktail parlor. "As a kid, we would visit all kinds of interesting themed-out restaurants. I'm sure that played a big role in my love for Tiki culture."
 
With help from his business partner Sarah Brown, Up's lifelong fascination with themed eating and drinking is now just days away from becoming a major aspect of his professional life. The Yachtsman, a classic Polynesian-themed Tiki bar currently rising from the ashes of an old Irish pub on the corner of Frankford Avenue and West Jefferson Street in Fishtown, should be open for business in a week or two.  
 
According to Up, the new establishment had its genesis in a conversation last summer with two Emmanuelle bartenders who also happen to be serious Tiki enthusiasts. That chat eventually led to the signing of a 15-year lease on a century-old building.

When a series of critical structural issues were discovered during the renovation -- and The Yachtsman's budget was nearly blown -- Up and Brown turned to Kickstarter in an effort to recoup their losses. They raised nearly $40,000 in a month.

"In a sense the [success of] the Kickstarter backfired, because we had to double-down and make the bar way better than it was originally going to be," quips Up.
 
The Yachtsman's drink menu will feature 12 cocktails, mostly new takes on Tiki classics. The small space will also be packed with vintage Tiki accoutrements.

"A lot of thought went into doing the job that a Tiki bar is supposed to do," explains Up. "Transport you onto a mini-vacation while you're still inside the city." 

Writer: Dan Eldridge
Source: Tommy Up
, The Yachtsman
 

Pipeline, a Miami-based co-working firm, is opening an outpost in Philadelphia

A Miami-based co-working firm, Pipeline, is opening a Philadelphia outpost in Center City this November. The 21,000-square-foot Pipeline Philadelphia, as the facility has been dubbed, will occupy two floors in the Graham Building at 15th and Chestnut Streets in Center City.

But don't expect Pipeline's local outpost to resemble any of the DIY-influenced co-working spaces that have popped up here in recent years. The company's Miami branch -- known as Pipeline Brickell -- is a highly polished environment offering reception services and private suites starting at $849 a month. According to CEO Todd Oretsky, Pipeline also isn't one of those shared corporate office spaces that tend to price out anyone lacking an expense account. The company aims to foster an especially diverse work space, one where established business professionals and startup entrepreneurs can find themselves collaborating.

"There's a big differentiator between us and other co-working spaces," says Oretsky. "We think integrating people in the tech community and the startup world alongside active professionals leads to the highest likelihood of success."
 
To facilitate that community, Pipeline Philly plans to offer a wide schedule of events, including lectures and educational seminars featuring thought leaders; many will be free to the general public. All the better to facilitate the office's all-important philosophy of cooperative congregation.

"We are very high-design," adds Oretsky. "We have price points that can work for a blogger or a member of a large international corporation. And those two people benefit from knowing each other."
 
Writer: Dan Eldridge
Source: Todd Oretsky, Pipeline  

 

The Oval returns to the Parkway for a second season

If you've already whiled away a pleasant evening or three this summer at the pop-up Spruce Street Harbor Park but haven't yet stopped by the reimagined Eakins Oval at the center of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, you'll want to consider making room in your schedule for a visit.
 
Officially dubbed The Oval, the temporary eight-acre public space sits directly in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. It popped up last summer, and following a number of spring and fall events, celebrated its seasonal return to the Parkway in mid-July.
 
For the next four weeks (through August 17) the color-saturated urban play space will be home to a huge schedule of free events, activities and community programming. There will be fitness boot camps and yoga classes; Quizzo contests and film screenings; Tai Chi lessons and DJ nights. And along with a monster-sized chess board, a ping-pong table and a mini-golf course (all free!), The Oval also features a rotating cast of food trucks and a beer garden built from reclaimed construction materials.    
 
The Oval's "has been very, very successful," says Colleen Campbell of the Fairmount Park Conservancy. "It's been tremendously well-received."
 
And although last summer's beach theme was popular with park-goers, this year the design is different. Local artist Candy Coated was commissioned by the Association for Public Art to transform The Oval into a whimsical space with a magic carpet motif.

"It's very fanciful, and it's very bright," explains Campbell. "Aside from our programming, it's just a fun piece of art to interact with."

The Oval is open 11 a.m. - 10 p.m. Wednesday - Friday; noon - 7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Source: Colleen Campbell, Fairmount Park Conservancy
Writer: Dan Eldridge

Restaurant incubator Common Table coming to West Philly

A little over two years ago, the West Philadelphia-based Enterprise Center celebrated the opening of its 13,000-square-foot Center for Culinary Enterprises (CCE), a shared incubator space where retail food entrepreneurs without a commercial kitchen facility of their own could set up shop.
 
The CCE has since become a powerful resource among the city's start-up retail food community; click here and here to read previous Flying Kite reports on the venture.
 
Around the time of the CCE's launch, Bryan Fenstermaker of the Enterprise Center Community Development Corporation (TEC-CDC) began receiving feedback that a different community of culinary entrepreneurs -- would-be restaurant owners -- was also interested in acquiring start-up assistance. So a plan was hatched to create Common Table, a restaurant incubator that will offer technical, financial and managerial assistance.
 
Common Table is currently being constructed inside one of the CCE's three retail spaces at South 48th and Spruce Streets. It will feature a rentable 40-seat pop-up restaurant for amateur or experienced chefs who would like to take their culinary creations public. The restaurant space is scheduled to open this fall.
 
In the meantime, an application process opened two weeks ago for a 6 to 12 month fellowship that will test the brick-and-mortar restaurant concepts of six to nine participants. The selection process will involve a business plan submission and a tasting competition judged by local culinary heavyweights.
 
Applications for the Common Table Fellowship can be accessed at commontablephilly.com.

Writer: Dan Eldridge
Source: Allina Yang, TEC-CDC

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

 

Here comes Spruce Street Harbor Park, another mind-blowing Penn's Landing installation

As part of its increasingly ambitious master plan for the Central Delaware, the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation (DRWC) has announced its latest seasonal project.
 
Dubbed a "summer waterfront installation," the Spruce Street Harbor Park at Penn's Landing Marina will be a two-month-long landscaping and programming pop-up project that will temporarily transform the space into an outdoor oasis.
 
Scheduled to run June 27 through August 31, the installation will feature a boardwalk, an urban beach, fountains, misting areas, a pop-up restaurant and bar, and, perhaps most exciting of all, "a series of floating barges complete with lily pad water gardens," according to a release, "and nets that will suspend visitors over the water."
 
According to DRWC's Jodie Milkman, the Spruce Street Harbor Park was developed as an expansion of the group's most recent seasonal installation, Waterfront Winterfest, which brought a pop-up beer garden and fire pits to the Blue Cross RiverRink last winter. The Winterfest installation was wildly successful -- despite being closed for a record 13 days due to inclement weather, the rink's attendance numbers were still 30 percent higher than last year's.   
 
A $300,000 grant from ArtPlace America, which offers grants to civic organizations and cities to activate public spaces through art, provided a portion of the funds for both installations; according to Milkman, DRWC will match those funds.   
 
And what will happen to the fountains and floating barges once the season comes to an end? There are no guarantees just yet, but Milkman says conversations about repeating both installations are already underway.  

Writer: Dan Eldridge
Source: Jodie Milkman, DRWC

 

Funding for phase one of the Reading Viaduct Rail Park is finally on the way

For just over a decade now, Sarah McEneaney and John Struble, an artist and furniture-maker respectively, have been campaigning to transform North Philly's old Reading Viaduct into a stunning elevated park.

Their inspiration -- like that of so many other urban rail-to-park projects that have popped up across the country -- was the celebrated rehabilition of the High Line in Manhattan.
 
And while McEneaney and Struble had been specifically focused on developing the quarter-mile section of rail that curves through the Loft District east of Broad, they've since teamed up with another pro-rail park group -- originally known as Viaduct Green, and now referred to as Friends of the Rail Park -- who've had their eyes on the railroad's entire three-mile stretch since 2010.
 
According to McEneaney, the two organizations are now collectively known as Friends of the Rail Park. And thanks to their years-long fundraising and grassroots letter-writing efforts -- along with donations from the William Penn Foundation and Poor Richard's Charitable Trust -- the first phase of the railway's development (the aforementioned quarter-mile spur east of Broad) is inching closer to groundbreaking. McEneaney expects the shovels to hit dirt in 2015.

Following phase one's completion, the group plans to shift its focus to the railway's west-of-Broad section.

In the meantime, Friends of the Rail Park are still actively raising funds for the project's capital costs and maintenance. After the spur's completion, the organization will transpose into a voluntary friends group responsible for the park's upkeep. Center City District will be managing the construction of the elevated Rail Park, which will then fall under the purview of the Fairmount Park Commission.
 
To donate to the cause or view a mini-documentary on the Rail Park produced by Good Motion Project, visit therailpark.org.

Writer: Dan Eldridge
Source: Sarah McEneaney, Friends of the Rail Park

 

Green Aisle Grocery announces Graduate Hospital location with Little Baby's Ice Cream counter

When Green Aisle Grocery, a beloved local purveyor of organic and artisanal foodstuffs, first opened for business on East Passyunk Avenue in 2009, there were few signs that the micro-sized shop would go on to win accolades from the likes of Food & Wine and The New York Times. Indeed, in 2012, Philadelphia magazine named Green Aisle the city's best gourmet market.
 
Now fans of the grocery's farm-fresh dairy and meat products -- and its dozens of other odd and obscure edibles (Sri Lankan cinnamon sticks, anyone?) -- have another reason to celebrate. In mere weeks, a second and significantly larger Green Aisle location will hang its shingle at 2241 Grays Ferry Avenue in Graduate Hospital.
 
The ground-floor storefront will be roughly five times the size of Green Aisle's 260-square-foot South Philly shop, says co-owner Andrew Erace, who runs the business with his brother Adam, a local food writer. Even better, Little Baby's Ice Cream will be serving eight different flavors of locally-made deliciousness from a dedicated counter.
 
According to Andrew, the idea for Green Aisle's second location partially resulted from a desire to serve a neighborhood without access to the sorts of specialty items the store carries. And, thanks to the swift growth of a product line the brothers launched in 2012 which includes items like organic nut butter and infused honey, they also needed more space.

"It got to the point where in order for us to grow as a business, we really needed to have our own [location] with a kitchen," explains Andrew.   
 
The Erace brothers will also be taking advantage of that new kitchen to offer simple, grab-and-go prepared foods such as parfaits and lettuce-based salads. If all goes well, the store could open as early as May 1.      
 
Source: Andrew Erace, Green Aisle Grocery
Writer: Dan Eldridge
 

Renderings released for massive reimagining of Penn's Landing

Sometimes you see a rendering that just makes your heart leap -- that was the case with these recently released conceptual drawings for Penn's Landing that appeared on PlanPhilly.

Currently cut off from Center City by a combination of I-95 and busy Columbus Boulevard, the Delaware Waterfront remains woefully underused. Recent projects such as the Race Street Pier have drawn tourists and residents to its banks, but this new plan would remove a huge emotional and visual barrier while providing flexible space for picnicing, exercising and general frolicking. 

The project, being sheparded by the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation, would also include riverfront residential and commerical development to keep the area lively outside of holidays and weekends -- plus, you need a place to stock that picnic basket. The jewel of the plan, an 11-acre park, would stretch from Front Street to the river, ending in a large public space featuring an amphitheater.

Of course, something like this doesn't come cheap, but integrating infrastructure improvements increases funding options. Then there's the economics benefits of developing such an underserved stretch of prime real estate. Here's PlanPhilly:

The current cost estimate for the plan, which includes capping I-95 and Delaware Avenue between Chestnut and Walnut with an 11-acre park: $205 million in public investment.

That large number would normally be discouraging, noted [Central Delaware Advocacy Group] Vice Chairman and Old City resident Joe Schiavo. But he didn't think so after hearing about the financial concepts behind the plan. "The notion here is a lot of the work that needs to be done is infrastructure," he said. "It involves roadways, and as such funding is available through transportation budgets." The $205 million is for the public space and infrastructure only. The idea is that investment would spur the private parts of the development – the residences, restaurants, shops and the like – to the tune of $800 million or even $1 billion. "It's a very good ratio, he said.


Though there is still a lot to be figured out -- including what to do with current tenants such as The Chart House and The Independence Seaport Museum -- the enthusiasm is palpable.

"It's just absolutely marvelous," said Richard Wolk who represents Queen Village to PlanPhilly. "I went home said to my wife, 'This is going to the renaissance of Philadelphia. This is going to make people want to come to the river, and make us a first-rate city.' Because every first-rate city has a first-rate waterfront."

A presentation to the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation board is scheduled for April 25. Check out PlanPhilly's whole report here.

Source: PlanPhilly
Writer: Lee Stabert

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 Initiatives 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



This summer, gallery-worthy bicycle racks will sprout throughout Center City

Thanks to a recently-formed partnership between the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia (BCGP) and the City's Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy, local cyclists -- especially those who ride into Center City on a regular basis -- will have at least 10 new places to lock up this summer. 

BCGP applied to the Knight Arts Challenge, a contest aimed at beautifying public spaces. "We were one of the 43 winning proposals selected back in May, along with a lot of other great projects of varying size and scope," says BCGP's Nicholas Mirra. 

That application consisted of about a dozen designs for site-specific, artist-created bicycle racks. One particularly unusual rack, constructed from stainless steel with room for four bikes, resembles a patch of waist-high grass. Another rack, this one with space for six bikes, is a minimalist sculpture featuring three life-size guard dogs. 

The Knight Foundation's $50,000 grant was predicated on the two partner organizations' ability to raise matching funds. That goal was accomplished via anonymous donations and money offered by the half-dozen or so institutions scheduled to host the racks on their properties. And while negotiations for a few locations are still in progress, the artist-designed racks are set to arrive this summer outside of City Hall, Sister Cities Park, Boathouse Row, Café Pret, Penn Center Plaza and the Philadelphia Museum of Art's Perlman Building.    
 
And for those who suggest that the city already has more than enough parking for two-wheeled riders, Mirra offers this retort: "There aren't enough. If you look around sections of Center City, the spaces for bicycle parking are as full as the spaces for car parking. And so you get bikes parked to trees, [and] parked to private fencing where they're not supposed to be. There's [simply] not enough bike parking in the city."

Fortunately, that's about to change.

Source: Nicholas Mirra, Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia 
Writer: Dan Eldridge


Diggerland USA comes to South Jersey, local construction-loving kids (and adults) rejoice

At a press conference hosted last week at Sahara Sam's Oasis in West Berlin, N.J., representatives of the five-year-old water park announced an upcoming project that will be followed as closely by the area's elementary school set as it will by their parents. A construction-themed adventure park known as Diggerland USA will be built on a 14-acre footprint directly behind Sahara Sam's. 

Though there are currently four locations in the United Kingdom, Diggerland USA will be the first park of its kind in this country. Sahara Sam's, which is overseeing the construction, is projecting an opening date in early-summer 2014. The project received approval at a late-November planning and zoning board meeting in Berlin Township. The Girlya family, which owns both Sahara Sam’s and South Jersey’s Sambe Construction Company, will build the park; they have already broken ground.

"The Township of West Berlin -- the City Council, the Council members -- have been very supportive [of the project]," says Sahara Sam Director of Marketing Chris Peters. "West Berlin itself is not necessarily a very dense area," he adds, though because the park will be located roughly 90 minutes from Manhattan and across the bridge from Philadelphia, "this has been looked at as a great location for an expansion of an entertainment venue [of this sort]."

Twenty-three separate rides and attractions (most of them made of "modified JCB heavy construction pieces," according to a release) will be on offer when Diggerland USA opens its South Jersey gates. Faux construction machinery designed for child and adult use alike will range from small excavators and dumpers to backhoes and tractors. The park will also sport a ropes course and rock-climbing area. 

Source: Chris Peters, Sahara Sam's Oasis 
Writer: Dan Eldridge


A new public transit-friendly home for the Resource Exchange, Philly's creative reuse workshop

These days, warehouse-sized reuse centers selling old construction supplies and development detritus seem to exist in nearly every major metropolitan area. But in Philadelphia, The Resource Exchange -- currently located on the corner of Cedar and East Cambria streets in Port Richmond -- operates with a slightly different mission. 

Sure, it resells salvaged building materials and housewares, but it also offers donated and salvaged film props and set pieces, along with arts and craft materials, making it popular with artists, makers, DIY-types and other members of the city's creative class.  

That popularity has led to an issue.

"Right now, we're kind of tucked into a residential neighborhood," says Resource Exchange founder and Executive Director Karyn Gerred. That makes it difficult for budget-conscious customers to reach the shop via public transportation. 

So Gerred decided they needed a change. The Resource Exchange will close for the month of February, then reopen at a slightly larger and much more accessible location on the corner of North 2nd Street and Cecil B. Moore, only six or seven blocks from the Berks Station on the Market-Frankford Line.     

"Just in terms of creating a great, welcoming, creative reuse center in a way that I've always imagined, it's a much better building," says Gerred. "It's much better suited to what we are. It lends itself more to being able to have the workshop-and-event part of what we do."

The new-and-improved Resource Exchange plans to open its new 4,500-square-foot location on March 1. 

Source: Karyn Gerred, The Resource Exchange 
Writer: Dan Eldridge


Could a new river road help revitalize the Lower Schuylkill?

As part of the Lower Schuylkill Master Plan (LSMP), a long-term revitalization blueprint released last year, the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corportation (PIDC) has announced an RFP for a feasibility study of a proposed river road in the district. According to PIDC Senior Real Estate Manager Kate McNamara, "It's not your typical PennDot project."

The bottom line, she explains, is that both the city and PIDC are united in their understanding that the Lower Schuylkill, once a hotbed of heavy manufacturing and innovation, is today "a place that [is] really in need of some serious redevelopment attention." In fact, when the final version of the LSMP was published, it recommended splitting the Lower Schuylkill into three separate "campuses" in an effort to drive the next generation of growth. 

The 512-acre campus adjacent to University City -- known as the Innovation District -- is where the majority of the LSMP's early projects will be taking place. According to the RFP, roadways on the west bank of the District, roughly between Grays Ferry Avenue to the north and Passyunk Avenue to the south, are "indirect, circuitous, and non-intuitive." And because so many of the businesses that once operated in the area were largely served by the river, quality road infrastructure is lacking. 

A budget of $200,000 has been set aside to see if the north-south connector road proposed in the Master Plan is feasible, and to explore possible alternatives.

"You really need another north-south arterial to bring businesses in, and just to bring regular citizens down to the river," says McNamara. "That's where the new extension of the Schuylkill Banks Trail is going to be." 

The resulting study should be complete within six to nine months. And after that? Another study, of course, but with much more detail and a steeper price tag. Fortunately, the upside is tremendous. West Philly is home to a number of companies that are getting too big for University City -- they could become new residents of the Innovation District.

"They don't have the space they need, and so a lot of [them] go to the suburbs," says McNamara. "And we would prefer to keep them."

Writer: Dan Eldridge
Source: Kate McNamara, Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation (PIDC)


Saint Benjamin Brewery, a Kensington nanobrewery, moves closer to opening

After spending more than two years on a frustrating search for the ideal urban location in which to open a small-batch craft brewery, Tim Patton finally settled on a historic building with beer in its bones. Now, he’s only a few short months from opening Saint Benjamin Brewery.

Located in South Kensington near the corner of North 5th Street and Cecil B. Moore Avenue, the three-story, 14,000-square-foot building Patton bought for $395,000 was originally home to the Theo Finkenauer Lager Beer Brewery, which went out of business sometime around Prohibition. Technically, the space was home to the brewery's carriage house and stable, so Patton has been spending much of his time lately (not to mention his money; the project is largely self-financed) rehabbing the space. 

"The building itself was actually in very good shape," he says. "This was the first clean and dry building I had actually seen when I was looking at spaces." 

Still, certain infrastructure upgrades were necessary. The former carriage house has been outfitted with new electrical circuits, a sprinkler system, new sewer lines and a two-inch gas line, to name just a few of the recent improvements. And, as Flying Kite reported in April, Patton used crowdsourcing to fund a facade rehab.

The brewery hopes to officially open for business in early spring, distributing beer to pubs in Fishtown, Northern Liberties and Kensington. Saint Benjamin's will also offer the occasional brewery tour and tasting, and customers will be able to fill growlers onsite. 

Patton also has plans to eventually add a brewpub. Unfortunately, that step is still probably another year or two away.

Writer: Dan Eldridge
Source: Tim Patton, Saint Benjamin Brewery


Philadelphia Housing Authority seeks funding to renovate aging housing stock

Federal funding cuts are trickling down to Philadelphia -- notably in lack of maintenance for the city's affordable housing stock. To mitigrate the problem, the Philadelphia Housing Authority (PHA) has submitted an application to participate in the Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) program. If approved by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), PHA will be able to raise funds to rehabilitate aging affordable housing. 

PHA spokesperson Nichole Tillman estimates that PHA now receives 82 cents for every dollar that it needs to operate and maintain public housing. She calls RAD "the Obama Administration's plan to address the defunding of public housing." 

Operating funds for RAD developments will come from the Housing Choice (Section 8) program, which has historically been more stable and less prone to dramatic funding cutbacks. Under RAD, PHA could borrow against its rental income and HUD subsidies, which would generate funding for capital improvements. This would give PHA more funds to rehab properties and expand public housing, while creating an estimated 400 construction jobs.

Though RAD approval would create jobs for small businesses, it does not equal privatization for affordable housing. 

"A for-profit corporation will not own public housing," explains Tillman. "Like current tax credit sites, RAD developments will remain heavily regulated, and tenants will have substantial protections similar to those of public housing residents. PHA is likely to establish affiliated nonprofits, just like those at its existing tax credit sites. A long-term use agreement will guarantee that development rents remain affordable." (RAD requires that rent be set at no more than 30 percent of adjusted household income.)

Tillman said that if PHA gets HUD approval for RAD, the agency will invest the money in rehabbing site infrastructure and major systems, including mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and heating and ventilation. Other quality of life improvements would include upgrades to units' interior layouts; updated kitchens and bathrooms; and greening all systems to make them more sustainable.

PHA should hear about approval from HUD by Spring, contingent upon legislative action.

Writer: Nicole Woods
Source: Nichole Tillman, Philadelphia Housing Authority

Moonshine, a neighborhood bar and restaurant, thrives in Pennsport

With adjacent East Passyunk recently named best neighborhood for the second year in a row by Curbed Philly, and memories from Mummers' revelries a street over still fresh, it seemed a good time to check in on two-month-old bar and restaurant Moonshine in Pennsport.

The 46-seat establishment stands at the site of the former East Side Moyamensing Saloon, a no-frills dive bar that operated on the corner since 1935. Co-owner Rich Fattori said he jumped at the chance to buy the property, located about a half-mile south of The Industry and Federal Donuts

"We found the location because we were the vendors for the jukebox and Megatouch of East Side Saloon," says Fattori. "When we found out the previous owner was selling, we wanted to get in right away, because we thought it was a very up-and-coming area. There are lots of young professionals and new people moving in, but it still has the mystique of a typical South Philly neighborhood." 

Fattori was initially concerned about neighbors' reaction to losing a local institution. 

"I was a little nervous in how quickly it would take them to warm up to what we're trying to do here," he says. "We've owned another bar in Briarcliffe for ten years and the original clientele is still resistant to any changes."

Fattori and his team made a concerted effort to become part of the community. He even knocked on a neighbor's door to introduce himself: "Before I could even say anything else, she held up her hand and said, 'Stop. I know what you're doing, and I love it.'" 

The neighborhood's enthusiasm was documented by local press, such as Pennsporter and Passyunk Post, as Fattori's team completed renovations over the summer. Since opening, he estimates that about three-quarters of customers have been locals. This fits perfectly with his vision for Moonshine as a welcoming and friendly neighborhood spot. 

Fattori's strict adherence to Moonshine's concept, even when it means a loss in profit, was evident in his decision not to open on New Year's Day. Though the restaurant served lunch to a private party (the Holy Rollers N.Y.B. Mummers club), Fattori closed to the public partly based on the recommendations from neighbors and frequent diners.

"We didn't want to change to just open and make a ton of money," he says. "We wanted to keep our character and the vibe we have going here."

Moonshine is located at 1825 East Moyamensing Avenue; make reservations at moonshinephilly.com or by calling (267) 639-9720.

Writer: Nicole Woods
Source: 
Rich Fattori, Moonshine 

Calling all developers: Build something exciting on Chestnut Street

The Philadelphia Housing Authority (PHA) has issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) to redevelop three lots along Chestnut Street. Chestnut Street has long experienced some difficulty attracting and retaining businesses and storefronts. However, as previously reported in Flying Kite, successful residential communities have sprung up along the street in recent years.

Accoring to PHA President and CEO Kelvin Jeremiah, PHA has received several inquiries about the location in question, a vacant four-story building at 2012 Chestnut, and adjoining parcels formerly used for parking at 2014 and 2016 Chestnut. Executive offices in the four-story building relocated more than three years ago, and it has been unoccupied since. 

At a time when retail development is growing in the district, it is important to mitigate vacancies.

"It's in the best interest to redevelop this property to help maintain a vibrant, healthy atmosphere in Center City," says Jeremiah.

Proposals for 2012, 2014 and 2016 Chestnut Street may include the demolition or rehabilitation of the current building at 2012 Chestnut. Mixed-use, office, commercial and residential use will all be considered for the project; the winner will best utilize all three lots.

Under the terms of the RFP, PHA will continue to own the ground at the site, leasing it to the developer. The developer will finance, plan, design, construct, own and operate the building or buildings. 

Because the site is located in the Center City West Commercial Historic District, the winning developer must also comply with the historic review process. 

The deadline for submitting proposals is February 7, 2014; PHA plans on awarding a development contract in May 2014.

Writer: Nicole Woods
Source: Kelvin Jeremiah, Philadelphia Housing Authority

With landmark legislation, Land Bank becomes a reality

Last week, a major step was taken towards eradicating urban blight in Philadelphia. After almost two years, Bill No. 130156, which authorizes the creation of a Land Bank, was passed by the City Council.

Philly is home to 40,000 vacant properties; more than 9,000 are owned by the City. The Land Bank will have the authority to acquire vacant, tax-delinquent properties through sheriff's sale and expedite the process of making them available. It will be the largest municipal land bank in the country.

"Philadelphia is making history," said Councilwoman Maria Quiñones Sánchez, the bill's prime sponsor. “Today, we get a step closer to creating a new tool to repurpose vacant, tax-delinquent properties and grow the city's tax base."
 
Passing this groundbreaking legislation was not easy. A dispute between Council President Darrell L. Clarke and Councilwoman Sánchez threatened to stall the Land Bank until after the new year. The issue centered around whether the Vacant Property Review Committee (VPRC), a Council advisory panel that holds monthly hearings on land transfers, would be included as part of the approval process when the land bank sells a property.

Rick Sauer, executive director of the Philadelphia Association of Community Development Corporations (PACDC), explained that an agreement was reached by keeping the VPRC's approval in the bill but adding transparency to its workings.

"We realized that to get this done, we had to compromise," says Sauer. 

Land Bank supporters believe the legislation will greatly reduce the barriers to rehabilitation and sale of blighted properties. Flying Kite previously reported on the development of an advocacy group to help the bill's passage, PhillyLandBank.org.

The Philly Land Bank Alliance includes the following stakeholders: the Building Industry Association; City Wide NAC Alliance; Community Design Collaborative; Design Advocacy Group; Greater Philadelphia Association of Realtors; Philadelphia LISC; Next Great City/PennFuture; Pennsylvania Horticultural Society; Philadelphia Association of Community Development Corporations; Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia; Regional Housing Legal Services; and the Sustainable Business Network.

More details about the newly formed Philadelphia Land Bank will be announced in 2014.

Writer: Nicole Woods
Source: Rick Sauer, PACDC

Tela's Market opens on Fairmount Avenue, adding another asset to the blossoming neighborhood

Over the course of the last decade, the Francisville Neighborhood Development Corporation has been extremely active. After working to eradicate blight, cut down on crime and bring affordable housing to the neighborhood (located just east of Fairmount and north of Spring Garden), the organization had pivoted towards economic development. The recent opening of Tela's Market & Kitchen at 1833 Fairmount Ave. is the most recent marker of their success.

Developer Daniel Greenberg and Chef Chad Williams (formerly of Jose Garces' Amada and Chifa) partnered to create the artisanal grocery and café. Canno Design's Gabrielle Canno and Carey Jackson Yonce (who also designed Wishbone in University City) created a warm and intimate feel in a single high-ceilinged room by carving out sections for multiple uses. A counter with prepared foods anchors the space, with seating for the made-to-order counter along the windows, and refrigerated cases along the back walls. 

Greenberg, who has lived in Spring Garden with his wife and two young children for the past five years, saw a need for fresh food in the area, and set his sights on a lot that had been vacant for more than 20 years. Greenberg pursued the project because of his passion for the area.

"I am a lifelong Philadelphia resident," he says. "And I think each great neighborhood should have a smaller, more neighborhood-scale specialty market... I started construction on the building in December of 2012. All ground-up construction in the city presents its unique set of challenges, and this project was no exception."

According to Greenberg, the neighborhood has been supportive of Tela's; the market is already drawing repeat customers. Several of the employees live in adjacent neighborhoods, including Francisville, Spring Garden, Fairmount and Brewerytown.

Greenberg's next project in the area will be even more ambitious -- he plans to break ground on a large commercial space with residential units at 1720 Fairmount Avenue in Spring 2014.  

"I am committed to this neighborhood, and look forward to identifying future development opportunities," he says.

Writer: Nicole Woods
Source: Dan Greenberg, Tela's Market and Kitchen

Inventive new loan program for businesses boosts commercial corridors, starting in Germantown

Flying Kite readers should remember the address 322 W. Chelten Avenue — the Germantown storefront was a site for our "On the Ground” program, a year-long initiative that activated underutilized spaces in under-covered neighborhoods. Thanks to a new loan program from the Commerce Department, 322 W. Chelten Avenue is now home to a thriving new business, Rose Petals Café & Lounge.

The InStore Forgivable Loan Program targets retail, food and creative businesses on commercial corridors that serve low- to moderate-income communities. The loans enable businesses to purchase equipment and materials in order to expand or open a new location. The Department of Commerce had previously offered grants for façade renovations through its Storefront Improvement Program, but a funding option for interior improvements did not exist.

"The program helps to revitalize Philadelphia's commercial corridors as the backbone of residential neighborhoods," says Jonathan Snyder, Sr. from the Commerce Department. "InStore Loans strategically invest in businesses that will increase foot traffic, improve the retail mix, enhance existing businesses, create jobs, and provide goods and services." 

The loans range between $15,000 and $50,000, and are forgiven if the recipient meets program guidelines for five years. For Rose Petals, the funding covered the cost of critical start-up supplies, including refrigeration units, a hood and exhaust system for the stove, new floors, shelving units, a copper ceiling and a coffee bar.

Rose Petals was selected because of its proximity to public transportation and distinction as one of the neighborhood's only sit-down restaurants. As the first business to receive an InStore Loan, the cafe influenced the program's development.

"They were selected as the pilot recipient to help us refine the application process to ensure it was as efficient as possible for future applicants," explains Snyder.

The InStore Program is now available for businesses on more than 88 eligible commercial corridors throughout the city. 

Writer: Nicole Woods
Source: Jonathan Snyder, Department of Commerce

Nostalgia, an innovative vintage boutique, opens off South Street

Nostalgia opened its doors on October 19, right off South Street at the former site of Passional in Queen Village. The boutique could be easily mistaken as just another high-end consignment shop, but owners Rafael Rosado, Arielle Salkowitz and Danielle DiRosa position Nostalgia as an dynamic retail experience.

"Our idea was to bring back classic Americana style and mix it with quality accessories," says Salkowitz. "We wanted to create a lifestyle store that brings back positive memories."

The trio cultivates Nostalgia's brand through a combination of vintage items and contemporary American-made clothing. Salkowitz's own line of 1950s-inspired rockabilly gear, Earl Salko, is sold along with infinity scarves by DiRosa and original pieces from other local designers. Rosado's curated vintage collection includes a 1960s-era elementary school desk and a large selection of vintage eyewear.

Although Nostalgia's vintage wares are most prominently displayed in its display window, Earl Salko is the store's X-factor. Salkowitz created the line after graduating from Philadelphia University in 2011. Her inspiration for the collection was 1940s motorcycle clothing. The line includes pants, jackets and dresses riffing on 1950s circle skirt dresses (a perfect match for those denim jackets). 

Salkowitz sews much of Earl Salko's collection by hand; the denim items are manufactured at a factory in Kensington. Until Nostalgia opened in October, she primarily sold items through Etsy and at local markets, including last summer's Brooklyn Flea at the Piazza. 

As Rosado assisted Salkowitz at vending opportunities over the last two years, he began building his vintage collection. All the pieces gelled in September when DiRosa spotted the vacancy left by Passional. 

"The store is in a great location, so we knew it was a great opportunity," says Salkowitz. "The area gets a lot of foot traffic and you can see the storefront when you round the corner from 3rd street onto Bainbridge. We all wanted to stay in South Philly, and Queen Village is a great area." 

The team signed the lease in late September, and managed to open Nostalgia in three weeks. The store's design complements the inventory: the shelving, clothing racks and furniture are all repurposed, including a large showcase made from an antique gun display Rosado found on Craigslist.

Nostalgia, 704 S. 5th St., Philadelphia

Writer: Nicole Woods
Source: Arielle Salkowitz, Nostalgia


A Temple student's startup wants to help you discover 'Whose Your Landlord'

In a classic case of necessity as mother of invention, Temple Fox School of Business student Ofo Ezeugwu has developed a website for renters to rate landlords. He observed that students living in Philadelphia were often vulnerable in the rental process. 

"I hatched the idea in February 2012 when I was running for Temple's VP of External Affairs," says Ezeugwu. "Many of my dealings had to do with students' relations with off-campus entities and opportunities. I thought it would be great if students could rate their landlords the same way they rate their professors on RateMyProfessor.com."

WhoseYourLandlord.com launched in October 2012 with fellow Temple student Nik Korablin as web developer. The startup's unusually spelled name regularly raises questions, but Ezeugwu explains that the choice of homonym is intentional — the possessive form of the word 'who' signifies a return of ownership to tenants.

Since its launch, the website has grown to include users in multiple schools across different states. A "fall tour" of East Coast colleges promoted the site and encouraged users to rate landlords in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Maryland, Washington, D.C., North Virginia and New York. Students can also rate on-campus housing such as dorms and residential halls.

Next steps include launching a mobile app in early 2014, and incorporating a way for landlords to respond to comments users leave on their profiles. The growing company also plans to hire in the new year.

Writer: Nicole Woods
Ofo Ezeugwu, Whose Your Landlord

Senator Casey urges extension of the Broad Street Line to the Navy Yard

If you were to make a list of the public infrastructure projects Philadelphians most wish for this holiday season, it might include the Reading Viaduct, completion of Schuylkill Banks (at least that one is on the way), token-less SEPTA travel and a buffered north-south bike lane running from deep South Philly up past Girard (OK, that one’s from my personal list). Oh, and don’t forget the extension of the Broad Street line to the Navy Yard, a project that would liberate a growing fleet of workers from their cars and ignite residential development in the waterfront city-within-a-city. 

Well, Senator Bob Casey certainly agrees with the last one. He recently sent a letter to the Federal Transit Administration, urging them to discuss the project with SEPTA, the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corp. (PIDC) and local labor organizations.

A 2007 feasibility study completed by PIDC and the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission estimated the cost of a subway extension at $370 million; the project would attract 8,000 more regular riders. That price tag might sound high, but the Navy Yard is already a hotbed of job growth and innovation — imagine if companies no longer had to contend with shuttles (or the long walk from the final stop, under I-95, to the Navy Yard).

Mostly, this is newsworthy because it’s good news — it’s a public official wanting to fund a large-scale transportation project. It’s a moment of musing about the future, and imagining a financial picture for the city that involves surplus funds for infrastructure additions (not just repairs).

Writer: Lee Stabert
Source:
Philadelphia Daily News

Inventing the Future: Wishbone serves up fried chicken (and community) in University City

Recently, Flying Kite has covered a surge in residential and mixed-use development in University City. The University City District's 2012 Annual Report showed an increase of 22,000 new jobs over the last decade, with a 10 percent population increase projected by 2015. Successful new outposts of popular brands, such as Yogorino and Shake Shack, have followed this trend and opened in the neighborhood. 

The area's latest delicious amentity? Fried chicken. On October 28, chefs Alan Segel and Dave Clouser opened Wishbone at 4034 Walnut Street and sold out of food within hours. That pattern continued for the first few days, but resolved when Clouser began placing chicken orders exceeding 300 pounds.

"Penn students come from over 100 countries, and every culture and cuisine has some form of fried chicken," says Erica Hope, general manager at Wishbone. "It's something everyone gets."

Wishbone's location -- at the former site of neighborhood institution Lee's Hoagie House, which closed in July after 28 years -- is integral to its business plan. Both Drexel alums, Segel and Clouser hope to model Wishbone's relationship to the community after its predecessor. 

"Lee's was a huge member of the community, not just due to their food but also because of the people behind the counter," recalls Hope, also a Drexel alum. "They set the standard for interaction, which we strive to meet and exceed."

One of the most direct ways that Wishbone will carry on Lee's legacy is in hiring Donald Klipstein, who worked at the sandwich shop for 27 years. Klipstein's experience has made him an "irreplaceable" employee; he creates Wishbone's housemade juices, teas and dipping sauces, and will be kickstarting its delivery service in the near future.

Wishbone is also fostering a relationship with Penn's Greek community, offering complete buy-outs of the restaurant for their private special events.

For Segel and Clouser, the decision to open in University City felt natural, especially after successful stints in fine dining on the Main Line. "We are all from Philly, so we want to stay in Philly," says Segel. "With Wishbone, we get to indulge our creative culinary side, while also building a lasting local presence."

"We feel like freshman entering a new semester in school -- we are eager to meet our new neighbors and exchange ideas," he adds. "Beyond just great food, we are looking forward to being a local hangout. We have a lot of cool ideas up our sleeve that we will roll out bit-by-bit.”

Wishbone is currently hiring. Interested candidates should call (215) 921-3204 or email info@wishbonephilly.com.

Writer: Nicole Woods
Source: Erica Hope, Wishbone


Philadelphia welcomes Greenbuild 2013, a showcase for sustainable design practices

From November 20 through 22, the world's largest conference dedicated to green building practices will take place at the Pennsylvania Convention Center with the Delaware Valley Green Building Council (DVGBC) as official host. Greenbuild 2013 marks the conference's 20th year. 

DVGBC's Heather Blakeslee believes that Philadelphia was chosen to host GreenBuild's anniversary year because of the Pennsylvania Convention Center's expansion and upcoming LEED certification. In addition, the region has become a hotbed for innovative sustainable architecture and design.

In an attempt to extend the event's impact on the region, DVGBC issued a challenge in May 2012, asking local businesses to "green" themselves in practical, quantifiable ways by November 2013. These pledges are now showcased in a public exhibit at the Independence Visitor Center Corporation and will be highlighted at Greenbuild.

"We really wanted to put together a program that would allow the larger sustainability community to participate in the lead-up to Greenbuild," says Blakelee. "Any agency, school, business or residential community who wanted to participate could do so. We received 150 pledges from around the region." 

Other free community events surrounding Greenbuild include a "Community-based Sustainability Forum" on Wednesday, November 20 (9 a.m. – noon); "Neighborhoods Go Green! Scaling up Sustainability Exhibit Opening" on
Wednesday, November 20, 2013 (6 - 7:30 p.m.); and a "Faith-based Professional Peer Group" on Thursday November 21 (9 – 11 a.m.).

Stay tuned: Flying Kite will have a full report from Greenbuild 2013 in an upcoming issue.

Writer: Nicole Woods
Source: Heather Blakeslee, DVGBC

The District puts vacant schools on the market

After shuttering dozens of local schools this fall, the Philadelphia School District has placed many of those buildings up for sale. Following months of speculation (including some by Flying Kite), the search for buyers is on. Quite a few have serious residential development potential and some are in up-and-coming neighborhoods such as East Passyunk Crossing and University City.

The media has been abuzz with gossip on the potential sales: Passyunk Post reported on the buildings in its purview, including Bok, Vare and Smith. City records put Bok's market value at $17.8 million dollars.

Bok Technical, an imposing art deco monster, is 338,000 square feet over eight floors on a 2.2-acre site. The information provided notes its proximity to Passyunk Avenue and the Snyder Avenue subway stop (about half a mile each). "Surrounding the Avenue is a surging residential and development market." True.

The New York Times also covered the school properties, confirming our information that Drexel is eyeing University City High School. Turns out they are not the only local college getting into the vacant school game"

But Drexel University has said it wants to buy University City High School for an undisclosed price, and restore it as a public school. Temple University has expressed an interest in the former William Penn High School, close to its Temple campus on the north side of central Philadelphia. Buyers interested in the eight properties undergoing an expedited sale have until Dec. 17 to respond to a request for qualification, the district said. For the other properties, buyers must submit an expression of interest by that date.

As disruptive as the school closings were for neighborhoods, it is a good sign that the city is moving forward with putting the buildings up for sale. In the end, a vacant behemoth is far worse for communities than a large redevelopment project.

Writer: Lee Stabert
Source: Passyunk Post;
The New York Times 

Breaking ground at the soon-to-be-spectacular Washington Avenue Green

Every week brings news of another exciting development along the Delaware River. In May, Flying Kite reported that the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation (DWRC) had plans to create a park at Pier 53 called Washington Avenue Green, which would have similar uses to the Race Street Pier, but with a more "ecological twist."

At the end of October, DRWC hosted an official groundbreaking ceremony for Washington Avenue Green. Mayor Michael Nutter attended, and DRWC President Tom Corcoran officially opened the site for construction.

DWRC's Lizzie Woods said the park will help grow the local economy, especially the adjacent Washington Avenue corridor.

"The underlying philosophy of all DRWC public works projects is that investing in a quality public realm provides incentives to and increases the value of private development," says Woods. "A successful park at Pier 53 will help spur development at sites along Washington Avenue, especially the Sheet Metal Workers Union Hall and the site of the former Foxwoods Casino."

When Flying Kite last reported on Pier 53, three elements of the park's design were unfunded: an elevated boardwalk allowing visitors to pass over the wetland habitat below; a "welcome spire" at the entrance; and public art by artist Jody Pinto titled "Land Buoy," a 55-foot spire that responds to the wind and sun. Fortunately, DWRC has since raised the necessary funds and the park will feature all of the desired design elements. 

Other features will include panoramic views of the Delaware River and Center City; a path allowing visitors to reach the tip of the pier and touch the water; interpretive signage relating the site's history as the nation's first navy yard and an immigration station. Construction is expected to be completed in summer 2014.

Writer: Nicole Woods
Source: Lizzie Woods, DWRC

Oxford Borough earns "Classic Town" distinction

In 2008, the Delaware Valley Planning Commission (DVRPC) launched the Classic Towns of Greater Philadelphia initiative to recognize the cultural significance and economic impact of historical small towns in the region. The program was designed to foster regional growth by promoting these communities as alternative places to live, work, patronize and visit. 

The DVRPC uses defining characteristics to determine which towns qualify, including character, culture and convenience. Ranging from colonial settlements to college towns, these hamlets showcase an alternative to suburban sprawl. 

Oxford Borough in Chester County is the most recent addition to the Classic Towns program. Less than two square miles in area, this close knit community is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and offers seasonal events for residents and visitors. Nestled in an agricultural area halfway between Philadelphia and Baltimore, Oxford experienced a great deal of growth after the railroad arrived in the 19th century. It is currently well regarded for its walkability and family-oriented community.

"It's a small, unique community that we wanted to highlight because it offers a historic downtown in a wonderful rural community, which appeals to lots of different types of people,” said Alison Hastings from the Office of Strategic Partnerships at DVRPC. "Also, Oxford's business community recently started a main street program, which shows its civic commitment to reinvesting in downtown communities."

Once named a Classic Town, a locale enjoys benefits such as inclusion on the DVRPC's website, "Classic Towns of Greater Philadelphia," and in the "Classic Towns Times"; inclusion in calendar listings and activities; and inclusion in promotions such as Plan Philly's Trolley Tour of Chester County's Classic Towns.

Because the program is entering its fifth year, the DVRPC is beginning an evaluation process to see if the designation is associated with economic growth. The evaluation may be somewhat skewed because of the 2008 recession; that said, preliminary findings indicate the program has had a positive impact.

“What we’re hoping to see is that housing values at least remained steady, instead of declining," says Hastings. "We believe that if each community gained one household due to the ‘Classic Towns’ program, it was well worth it."

The evaluation process should be completed in Spring 2014.

Writer: Nicole Woods
Source: Alison Hastings, DVRPC

The Planning Commission preps new Washington Avenue roadway configuration

Washington Avenue, long a snarl of trucks, pedestrians, vendors and cars heading to I-95, is getting a makeover. The Philadelphia City Planning Commission (PCPC) is halfway through a study of the bustling corridor and plan to reveal a new roadway configuration after the new year. 

In late October, PCPC held their first public meeting to discuss the plan. 

"We had great turnout at the meeting," says PCPC South Philadelphia and transportation planner Jeannette Brugger. "People are very passionate about what happens on Washington Avenue -- it's a very complicated project because there's so much going on on the avenue."

People reserved their strongest input for the section around the Italian Market. It's a stretch of Washington with high foot traffic, and also an area where the bike lane briefly stops (before reappearing at 7th Street). One bicyclist or pedestrian is injured every three weeks due to a crash. Making the bike lane continuous is definitely going to happen, but there are multiple options for how to integrate loading, parking and traffic (you can view all the possibilities here).

"You can't fit everything in," explains Brugger. "If you fit a buffered bike lane in, you might not be able to fit the parking and loading that's needed for the success of the businesses. And that's something we definitely want to promote as well. Another thing I was surprised about, in a good way, was that a lot of folks said the street should be made safer for pedestrians, and that the road should narrowed. Safety is one of our goals in the study."

With all the exciting developments on the waterfront -- including Washington Avenue Green (formerly Pier 53) -- the eastern stretch of Washington should see more foot and bike traffic in the coming years. Though PCPC has to work within the current curb lines, there are still options for making the streetscape more inviting for those visitors. Following a second public meeting, the plans should move forward quickly.

"The goal is to put together striping plans for the Streets Department in the next year-or-two," says Brugger. "Enforcement is what's going to make this new roadway configuration actually work. That's up to Licenses & Inspections, the Parking Authority, the Police Department, the council offices. We can put new alignments down, but if business happens as usual, it won't be as successful as it should be."

Writer: Lee Stabert
Source: Jeannette Brugger, Philadelphia City Planning Commission

Inventing the Future: 3601 Market to break ground, bring a big residential boost to University City

On November 1, construction is set to begin on 3601 Market, a project that will help transform the streetscape of University City. Located on the Science Center's campus, it will be the first residential project in that organization's history. 

"We changed the plan a bit," explains Dustin Downey with developer Southern Land. "We decided to add two more floors as penthouse two-bedroom units, which actually drove the number of units down, back to 362. In 28 total floors. We were approved for zoning about three weeks ago."

The neighborhood has been very supportive of the project. The height is not too dissimilar from other buildings on west Market Street and there is a high demand for residential units in the area. During the zoning process, neighbors did request some minor site changes, including a pick-up/drop-off space for residents.

The building is hoping to draw graduate students and young professionals by featuring affordable, stylish, efficient spaces.

"There was some concern about some of our studios being down in the 420 to 450 square foot range," says Downey. "We feel strongly that, across the country, smaller, nicer units are becoming much more popular -- especially as prices in the rental markets continue to rise. I'm also seeing a lot of younger people wanting to live out on their own and not have a roommate."

To mitigate the small size, the designers are including in-wall storage, murphy beds and eat-in kitchens. Plus, all units will feature an entire wall of windows, making them feel less cramped.

On the ground floor, the developers hope to attract either a quality restaurant or a small-to-medium sized prepared foods and grocery store.

"We're hoping that it brings a 24-hour element and improves the overall feel of Market Street, by putting people on the street and adding activity to the sidewalks," explains Downey. "We're looking for retail tenants that will also do that. With the success of Domus only a couple blocks away, we feel we can continue to pull young professionals and grad students to live in University City, and pull them out of other living situations either in Center City or further out."

The first units will be completed in 18 months; the leasing office should be open in May 2015. In 24 months, the last units come online.

"There are so many jobs right there in West Philly and no places for people to live," says Downey. "We feel by that by adding 364 residents, you attract more residential services to the area: dry cleaners, grocery stores. We feel like it will hopefully start a cycle to make the area more residential."

Writer: Lee Stabert
Source: Dustin Downey, Southern Lands


The University City Science Center has partnered with Flying Kite to showcase innovation in Greater Philadelphia through the "Inventing the Future" series.

Long-awaited ReNewbold project finally breaks ground

Flying Kite first shared word of ReNewbold, a green mixed-used townhouse development at 16th and Moore Streets, back in 2011. A partnership between LPMG and Postgreen Homes, the complex hoped to bring modern, new-construction housing to Newbold, a neighborhood on the rise nestled between Passyunk Square to the east and Point Breeze to the north and west. 

In January 2011, the team behind the project anticipated some delays, saying "groundbreaking may not happen until early summer due to zoning and permitting issues." That deadline came and went, and then, in early 2013 in another Flying Kite news story, developer John Longacre assumed they would be well under way by spring. Such is the nature of big projects in historic Philadelphia neighborhoods -- there can be some hurdles.

Now, we are thrilled to announce that ReNewbold did in fact break ground last Wednesday, October 16. They expect homeowners to start moving in in early 2014. The homes are designed to be affordable (especially within the new construction market), but they will still be some of the most expensive properties in the neighborhood. At $259,000 for a two-bedroom rowhome with 1,023 square feet, the houses should appeal to buyers looking for green amenities and modern layouts -- and those priced out of nearby Graduate Hospital and Passyunk Square.

Back in January, news editor Greg Meckstroth detailed some of the project's amenities:

Once completed, the project will boast 18 owner-occupied townhomes and one corner commercial space. It’s the first privately financed new construction residential project in the area in well over 50 years. And to top it off, it screams green.

Designed by Interface Studio Architects in conjunction with construction manager Postgreen,the homes will feature bicycle parking, green roofs, bamboo flooring, triple pane windows and on-sight stormwater mitigation practices. The designers are aiming for a 50 percent reduction in energy use from a similarly sized home.

Writer: Lee Stabert

3rd Ward Philly abruptly closes, leaving behind lots of questions and a gorgeous space

A couple months ago, Flying Kite covered the opening of the glimmering co-working palace 3rd Ward in Kensington. The Brooklyn transplants hoped to graft their success up in Williamsburg onto a historic building in a changing neighborhood, offering desks for rent, maker classes and flexible spaces for a variety of creative uses.

Now, it seems founder Jason Goodman may have overextended his business. 3rd Ward announced late last week that they would be abruptly shuttering not only the Philadelphia space but the Brooklyn one as well. There will be no refunds for class tuition or co-working fees.

In Brooklyn, members are organizing to save their spaces (the building's owner seems amenable), but things are a little hazier in Philadelphia. 

As of this summer, 3rd Ward had already ceded management of their third floor coworking space to Impact Hub Philly, part of a global network of coworking spaces. According to a July story on Technical.ly Philly, 3rd Ward hoped this deal would free them up to focus on classes and events.

Impact Hub bills itself as a "member-driven community taking collaborative action for a better world." They are in over 60 locations around the world on six continents. Before the announcement, the organization was already planning to redesign the co-working space to line up with their philosophy. As of now, despite the demise of 3rd Ward, they are still operating. (Flying Kite publisher Michelle Freeman's company Witty Gritty Marketing & Events has space at Impact Hub Philly.)

"What has happened with 3rd Ward, which is very unfortunate, has nothing to do with us at Impact Hub Philly," says Impact Hub's Jeff Shiau. "Nothing has changed. We're still moving forward. Now we have the new possibility of, what can we do with the whole building?"

Fortunately, 3rd Ward didn't own the building -- they leased the space -- and Impact Hub Philly is in the process of reworking their agreement with the owner, extending their reach to the other two floors. Though they offer shared workspace, they don't consider themselves members of the coworking movement.

"We're not in the co-working market," insists Shiau. "We're here to really inspire and advance member success -- members who are really interested in building the good economy. They're interested in social entrepreneurship, and building good companies and organizations that can build a better world in some ways. The physical space happens to be a resource we believe in."

Meanwhile, despite the struggles at 3rd Ward, the Philadelphia co-working boomlet shows no sign of abating -- Transfer Station in Manayunk is currently crowdsourcing funds for a permanent location and there are rumors of another gestating co-working space in Fishtown, courtesy of a notable local brand.

It seems a safe bet that the gorgeous work 3rd Ward did updating the building will not go to waste. The space might even eventually foster exactly the kind of activity Goodman and his team hoped for -- events, community building, affordable and flexible workspace -- it just won't be under the name 3rd Ward.

LEE STABERT is managing editor of Flying Kite.

Big grants will transform the Delaware waterfront in Pennsport

The Delaware River Waterfront Corporation has received yet another in a series of grants with tremendous potential to transform the southeast section of the city. Thanks to $5 million from the William Penn Foundation, they can continue their work to connect the adjacent neighborhoods -- Queen Village and Pennsport -- with the waterfront, mitigating the decades-old barrier created by I-95 and Columbus Boulevard.

One of the most exciting projects involves the development of Pier 86 at Tasker Street, paired with a streetscape redesign that will improve connection to the water. This development will serve as a companion piece to the ambitious renovation of Pier 53 at Washington Avenue.

According to Pennsporter, there are already preliminary plans for the project. 

"Pier 68...has been deemed structurally solid out to about 350 feet -- meaning more access to the river," explains Pennsporter's James Jennings in a blog post. "Much like Washington Avenue Green, the hope is to design Pier 68 with the ecosystem and wetlands in mind. So, no, it won't be Race St. Pier 2.0. Instead, there have been ideas to use it the way it is currently (albeit illegally) being used -- as a partial fishing station and tug boat dock."

While finalizing its plans over the coming months, DRWC will hold a series of meetings with community and advocacy groups. The work on the southern section of the Delaware should be a terrific compliment to ongoing work at Penn's Landing (where a park is being built over I-95) and the Spring Garden connector project. All these efforts aim to connect Philadelphia's residents with one of the area's most underused and underappreciated assets.

LEE STABERT is managing editor of Flying Kite.

Office of New Urban Mechanics announces grantees who will transform public spaces

The Mayor's Office of New Urban Mechanics is doling out $20,000 worth of grants to foster art and design-based projects that address civic challenges or improve public space. Among the winners are Flying Kite favorites such as the Public Workshop, the University City District and Friends of Maplewood Mall in Germantown. The awardees are as follows: 

Public Workshop will receive a $6,000 grant to fund "Choose Your Own City Hall Adventure," a new signage initiative in City Hall that will help individuals navigate the serpentine public space more efficiently.

University City District will receive a $3,900 grant to create "Tree Seats," a functional art project providing seating in naturally shaded areas across the neighborhood.

The North 5th Street Revitalization Project will receive $5,100 to support the "Gateways to Olney: Where Local is Global" project, a collaborative partnership that transforms key bus stops along corridor into small-scale visitor centers.

The Friends of Maplewood Mall will receive a $5,000 grant to make physical improvements to Germantown's historic Maplewood Mall; the grant will also support arts-related programming.

The Challenge Grants Competition is a partnership between the Office of New Urban Mechanics and the Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy. Funding is provided by the Knight Foundation and managed by CEOs for Cities.

LEE STABERT is managing editor of Flying Kite.

Inventing the Future: Drexel eyes University City High School for development

The fate of Philadelphia's shuttered schools remains up in the air, but there is a glimmer of hope in West Philly. Last week, heavy internet chatter implied that Drexel University was interested in purchasing the University City High School site (the school was one of 23 closed this fall due to budget constraints). It's a huge property in the heart of a rapidly evolving neighborhood, and the deal could have a tremendous impact.

For now, the university is staying relatively tight-lipped. "Drexel is strongly committed to public K-12 education in Philadelphia and particularly in Powelton Village and Mantua," said Drexel Director of Media Relations Niki Gianakaris in an email. "The University is sincerely interested in the future of the University City High School site and will continue to be involved in discussions about the development of the site."

Flying Kite was able to connect with Kira Strong from the People's Emergency Center (PEC), a nonprofit and community development organization working in the West Powelton, Saunders Park and Mantua neighborhoods. They are also watching the situation closely.

One possible option is that Drexel would open a university-assisted school, similar to nearby Penn Alexander. That project has provided stellar education to residents, while also producing a large (and not uniformly welcome) spike in property values within the school's catchment -- home prices have quadrupled since 1998.

"Since it's such a large site, it has such potential to shift so much in our neighborhood," says Strong. "We want to guarantee that there's a community voice in the planning from the outset. How do we steward a really open process?"

Strong also mentions some of the infrastructure issues that could be remediated under Drexel's stewardship.

"When that site was developed -- when they put Drew Elementary and University City High School there -- they closed off the street grid," she explains. "You could argue that it has impacted Lancaster Avenue, and the ability of Lancaster Avenue to remain a connected, vibrant commercial corridor. Is there a way to re-engage the street grid and provide those connections?"

All this speculation certainly speaks to the vibrancy of University City and the wealth of willing partners in such an ambitious project. And while the outcome remains to be seen -- and buying a publicly-owned property is not as simple as putting in an offer -- the deal could be truly transformative. 

"A rising tide lifts all boats," says Strong. "If there is opportunity -- job opportunities, educational opportunity -- for youth who live in that area, that could be a really positive outcome."

The University City Science Center has partnered with Flying Kite to showcase innovation in Greater Philadelphia through the "Inventing the Future" series.

LEE STABERT is managing editor of Flying Kite.

Mt. Airy's High Point Cafe expands thanks to customer investment

In just eight years, Mt. Airy's High Point Café has earned a reputation for its high quality espresso, delicious baked goods and top-shelf customer service. Owner Meg Hagele opened the place in 2005. She had owned her own coffee shop in Seattle, and when she moved back home to Philly, she knew she wanted to stay in the bean business. 

Restaurants from across Northwest Philly have long wanted to sell the café's products, but the small operation on Carpenter Lane, with its 100-square-foot kitchen, was too small for wholesale. Two years ago, owner Hagele decided she was tired of saying "no."

"Plus, I was getting restless," recalls Hagele. "I needed a new challenge."

The idea for High Point Wholesale was born. Hagele began looking for a facility to house the kitchen and serve as a wholesale hub while leaving the café operation on Carpenter Lane. She eventually found a space at 6700 Germantown Ave; ironically, she had looked at it years earlier and decided it didn't fit the bill. This time around, things fell into place.

"I was looking all throughout Germantown," says Hagele. "6700 Germantown immediately came to mind."

The building was slated to become a Wingstop franchise, but when those plans fell through, High Point was able to secure the lease. Next came a capital campaign. After giving a presentation to customers who had expressed interest, Hagele raised an amazing $350,000 in private equity.

"The money has come from the customer base alone," she says. "I am very moved by the level of support."

Today, High Point Wholesale is in full design mode, with construction set to start soon. Hagele hopes to be up-and-running in January or February.  

Source:  Meg Hagele, High Point Cafe
WriterGreg Meckstroth

On the Ground Redux: Envisioning the future in Camden’s Morgan Village

Some of the region’s top designers are teaming up with the Community Design Collaborative and the Morgan Village Circle Community Development Corporation in Camden to revitalize a major commercial corridor. With a focus on gateways, green infrastructure and public spaces, the nascent plan could mean big changes for Morgan Village. 

A neighborhood in the heart of the Camden officially defined as Fairview Street from Mt. Ephraim Avenue to Morgan Street, and Morgan Street to the I-676 interchange, the area includes one of Camden's newest and most important landmarks, the Creative Arts Morgan Village Academy
 
According to one of the group's lead designers, OLIN’s Richard Newton, the resulting vision will capitalize on the school's location along the corridor; a proposed central gathering space will be located adjacent to the school where an underutilized parking lot sits now.
 
Other improvements include gateways to be located at each end of the corridor.  
  
“The idea is to develop some long-term proposals for how land can be better utilized, create a hub and connect to other parks and open spaces in the immediate area," adds Newton.
 
The task force has already held a meeting at the Morgan Village High School to elicit feedback from local leaders and the public. They will present initial design ideas on October 15 in conjunction with the Morgan Village Circle CDC. The plan should be finished by the end of this year, following another round of public outreach. From there, the CDC can use it as a tool to gain attention and seek funding from a variety of sources. 

Source:  Richard Newton, OLIN
WriterGreg Meckstroth

On the Ground Redux: Newly-completed Camden trails add amenities, connect to larger system

A few weeks ago, leaders from all levels of New Jersey government held a ribbon cutting ceremony in Camden to celebrate the completion of three TIGER-funded trail projects. The paved segments are crucial to completing the long-envisioned regional system of interconnected greenways.
 
"They're essential projects," says Ian Leonard with Camden County's Department of Public Works. "They allow for the connection of 128 miles of already-completed trails."
 
That system, dubbed The Circuit, will include 750 miles of trails; more than 250 miles have already been built throughout Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware.
 
Planners also hope that the three Camden County projects will boost economic development opportunities and quality of life for local residents.They include new bike lanes, lighting, signage, and extensive street and sidewalk improvements throughout downtown Camden. Located along Martin Luther King Boulevard, Pearl Street and Pine Street in Camden, the trails connect to the Benjamin Franklin Bridge, making it easier for Philadelphians to bike or walk into Camden, and then on to Collingswood or Cherry Hill.

"The completion of these projects was a true partnership between federal, state and local leaders," says Leonard. "It's a perfect example of all levels of government working together and being engaged."

Future funding will support Camden's passage of a complete streets policy to promote walkable neighborhoods as well as ongoing efforts to complete The Circuit. 

Source:  Ian Leonard, Camden County
WriterGreg Meckstroth

Locavore wholesaler Common Market moves into bigger, better space

It’s been five years since wholesaler Common Market started distributing local, sustainably-produced foods. As with many successful ventures, they eventually outgrew their digs. Fortunately, last Thursday, Common Market celebrated their fifth anniversary with a "warehouse warming" party in honor of their new, much larger space.

Since 2008, Common Market has moved over 200,000 cases of local produce, dairy and meats. They work with an average of 75 family farms and have over 150 customers, including schools, colleges, hospitals, grocery stores, workplaces, nonprofit organizations and faith-based institutions.

"In 2012, we were turning down partnership opportunities because we didn't have enough space," explains co-founder and Executive Director Tatiana Garcia Granados.

After a long search, Common Market purchased a large North Philly warehouse and raised close to $2 million for the relocation and renovation. The new space will allow them to do what they do best: be the bridge between big buyers and local farmers -- and in a big way (the new space is 70,000 square feet).

“Reaching the five year mark is a big deal," says Granados. "Before five years, you're still an experiment -- people are waiting to see if you succeed. We can now show what we are doing is working and making a difference."
 
Source:  Tatiana Garcia Granados, Common Market Co-Founder and Executive Director
WriterGreg Meckstroth

Adjacent Graduate Hospital projects to showcase contemporary architecture

If you’re a homebuyer or renter in search of ultra-modern architecture and contemporary finishes, there's a Graduate Hospital block with a lot to offer. Developer Stephen Rodriguez has proposed Bloc 24, a new mixed-use development featuring 18 apartments, for a space adjacent to the already-approved but not-yet-built Bloc 23 project, which will boast 24 condos and a unique modern design all its own.
 
Slated for 613-919 S. 24th Street, Bloc 24, like its sister project, will rise four stories. Both will feature ground-floor retail and they will share underground parking facilities for residents.  
 
Parking is one reason why Bloc 23 has yet to be built (it was a approved in late 2012). Rodriguez now wants to merge the basement levels of the buildings, producing a connected space for cars.

"There is a cost savings by building both buildings together due to the cost of underpinning the building," explains Rodriguez. "There is also some economy of scale issues with site work, materials, the modular pods, etc."
 
Other plans for Bloc 24 include a day care facility on the ground floor, a green roof only accessible to the children from the day care and permeable materials to mitigate stormwater run-off and reduce the building's impact on the surrounding environment.

The architecture will definitely be distinct. Design firm Campbell Thomas & Company and Steve Nebel of LABhaus have designed metal strips along the buildings' façades with both aesthetics and functoin in mind -- they serve as railings and increase privacy for residents. 
 
"Steve Nebel actually devised a mathematical algorithm to determine the spacing of the exterior slats," says Rodriguez. "It is derived from swam movements in natures. When complete, the face will look like a flock of birds or school of fish moving across the building. It's pretty amazing."
 
The project hopes to gain approval from the Zoning Board of Adjustments soon. If that happens, both projects will break ground simultaneously. 

Source:  Stephen Rodriguez, Local developer
WriterGreg Meckstroth

National vacant land conference comes to Philly

Philadelphia's vacant land has been one of the most debated public policy issues of recent years. And for good reason -- the city is losing millions every year in maintenance costs, delinquint taxes and decreased adjacent property values. The problem is so big that the Reclaiming Vacant Properties Conference is in town through September 11, shedding some light on the conundrum and examining innovative solutions.  
 
Put together by the Center for Community Progress, the conference is drawing upwards of 800 public and private sector experts in land banking, tax foreclosure, code enforcement and urban planning from around the country.
 
"Over the past two years, Philadelphia has taken several strategic and significant steps toward addressing its long-standing vacant property issues," explained John Carpenter, Deputy Executive Director of the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority and co-chair of the conference local planning committee in a press release. "The Reclaiming Vacant Properties Conference is our opportunity to share our successes with other cities while also learning from their achievements."
 
One of the most important steps for Philadelphia is creating a city-wide land bank. It will allow the city to clear liens and other claims, and acquire group parcels in a strategic manner in an effort to facilitate development opportunities.

"Mayor Nutter and Council are committed to adding a land bank to the tools for addressing our vacant property system," said Rick Sauer, executive director of the Philadelphia Association of Community Development Corporations, in a press release. "The many Philadelphia advocates who support a land bank are excited to exchange ideas and strategies with their colleagues from across the country to make that goal a reality."
 
The conference will feature 50 sessions on topics such as land banking, tax foreclosure, brownfields, code enforcement, market-smart revitalization, data and technology innovations, green infrastructure and green reuse strategies.
 
Source:  John Carpenter, Deputy Executive Director of the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority; Rick Sauer, Executive Director of the Philadelphia Association of Community Development Corporations
WriterGreg Meckstroth

Pearl Street Block Party celebrates transformation in Chinatown North

It was barely four months ago that Flying Kite spoke with the folks at the Asian Arts Initiative (AAI) about their plans to revitalize four blocks of Pearl Street, an alleyway that runs from Broad to 10th Street, just north of Vine. At the time few details were finalized, but come September 28, AAI is throwing the first ever Pearl Street Block Party, taking the first steps towards making their vision a reality.

Over the coming years, AAI hopes to transform the forgotten alley into a dynamic public space featuring public art, lighting improvements and multi-sensory programmed activities. Green features will also be included, with the hope of eventually connecting Pearl Street to the long-envisioned Reading Viaduct project.

Billed as a free all-day neighborhood arts festival, the party will center around two main events. First, Oakland-based landscape architect and artist Walter Hood will lead attendees in a community furniture build (2 - 5 p.m.). The resulting tables and chairs will then serve as furniture for a community feast (5 p.m.). (Advance registration is required for the community feast; email nancy.chen@asianartsinitiative.org to register). 

The day will also feature live music, performances, food and a huge array of art vendors; many of the participating artists work through the AAI's artists-in-residence program.

"The Pearl Street Block Party is not only a celebration of the diversity and richness of creative activity that is constantly happening in our neighborhood, but also an opportunity for Philadelphians to participate in all kinds of interactive art-making," explains AAI Executive Director Gayle Isa in a press release. "We come to work every day knowing that we're part of one of the most dynamic neighborhoods in Philadelphia, and we're excited to show off why on September 28."

Pearl Street Block Party, Sat., Sept. 28, 2-5 p.m., 1200 block of Pearl Street (enter at Asian Arts Initiative, 1219 Vine St.). Click here for more information.
 
Source:  Gayle Isa, Executive Director, Asian Arts Initiative
WriterGreg Meckstroth

Retail following rooftops at two new Center City mid-rises

It’s no secret that Center City is in the midst of a major residential construction boom. Two of the projects -- The Granary and The Sansom -- were built by Jim Pearlstein's Pearl Properties and designed by DAS Architects; combined, they have brought 331 apartments to Center City in the past month. Both developments also boast street-level retail, a must-have in a contemporary infill project. As the residents move into their new apartments, so do the retail tenants.
 
First up is The Sansom, a project known for its urban ethos -- the development contains no off-street parking for cars but plenty for bikes. The first floor commercial space is already fully leased. Medium Rare, a steak frites-focused import from Washington, D.C., is currently under contruction. Joining Medium Rare is Adolf Biecker Salon and Spa.

Meanwhile, up at The Granary near Fairmount, award-winning local chef Marc Vetri is opening Pizzeria Vetri. The restaurant will serve up pizzas (similar to those at his famed Osteria) and will offer beer, salads and other casual Italian staples.

The latest tenant is Pennsylvania's first Unleashed by Petco, an urban-sized big box store providing everyday pet essentials and a wide-variety of natural, organic and raw food selections.

In addition to pleasing pet lovers, Petco hopes to make an impact on the community as well.
 
"The team will host numerous community gatherings throughout the year for the Granary's shelter pets to find forever homes," explains explains Lydia Bakit with West Public Relations. Unleashed is expected to open in September, as is Adolf Bieker and Pizzeria Vetri. Medium Rare should open later this fall.
 
Source:  Lydia Bakit, West Public Relations
WriterGreg Meckstroth

Philly bike share program takes next steps; where do you think the stations should be?

Philadelphia, already one of the country's most bike-crazy cities, is going to have to learn to share.

The City of Philadelphia recently completed the Philadelphia Bike Share Strategic Business Plan; they have now opened up the floor to station location suggestions and potential hosts. This is another huge step on the road towards Philadelphia joining New York City, Washington, D.C. and countless other cities around the world in the bike share game.

The proposed plan calls for 150 to 200 bike sharing stations (housing 1,500 to 2,000 bikes) serving the urban core, from the Delaware River into West Philadelphia, from the Navy Yard through Center City to North Philadelphia. 

The estimated cost is between $10 and 15 million. Those funds will come from state and federal transportation grants, and private sponsors. If all goes according to plan, the system should generate enough income to operate without continued public investment. Planners anticipate nearly two million trips per year by residents, commuters, students and visitors.

Locals are encouraged to visit phila.gov/bikeshare. Not only will you see pictures of Mayor Michael Nutter in a bike helmet, you can also suggest station locations or join some of the city's biggest employers and offer to host one.

LEE STABERT is managing editor of Flying Kite; follow her on Twitter @stabert.



Country's largest 'passive' project coming to East Falls

Earlier this month, the Zoning Board of Adjustments (ZBA) gave the mixed-use Ridge Flats in East Falls the official go-ahead. Slated for the former Rivage site, a prominent local intersection, the project will be the largest "passive" development in the country.
 
Passive projects -- structures built to an exacting zero-net energy-efficiency standard -- aren’t a new concept in Philly; neighborhoods such as Bella Vista and Northern Liberties have seen new construction homes built under the guidelines throughout the past year. The scale of Ridge Flats is what sets it apart. Once complete, the five-story structure will contain 146 apartments, 1000 feet of commercial space and 120 above-grade parking spaces. The building will also feature green roofs and a rain garden.
 
"It's a model project for the country," says Gina Snyder, president of the East Falls Development Corporation (EFDC). "It will bring more people, retail and add more excitement to the neighborhood. It's the project we've been looking for on Ridge Avenue."
 
The site has been under the control of the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority since the late '90s -- it wasn't until a year-and-a-half ago that EFDC found what they were looking for; local green developer Onion Flats made the winning pitch.
 
Since then, EFDC has been working with Onion Flats to make sure the project will be a win-win. They have fully supported the developer during the ZBA variance process.
 
Now that the ZBA has officially signed off, construction should begin this winter.

Source:  Gina Synder, East Falls Development Corporation
WriterGreg Meckstroth

Point Breeze art installation celebrates a vacant lot's history

When walking by a vacant lot, it's easy to see only an eyesore. With her latest site-based sculpture, The House That Was Here, local artist Maria Möller hopes to shift that perception, reminding us that there's more to vacant land than stories of neglect.

Thanks to a grant from the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority's new Fund for Art and Civic Engagement (FACE), Möller -- along with neighborhood youth and community members -- created a piece at 2025 Federal Street that evokes the history of the house that once stood there. Point Breeze is a part of town with its fair share of vacancy that is now experiencing an intense wave of gentrification.

Multiple sculptural recreations of the former home stand in the narrow lot. Four of them tell the house's story from 1877 through the 1960s when it burned to the ground. The four pieces incorporate original source material, neighborhood memories and a little bit of historical fiction to tell the space's history.

The fifth house has been created using three open houses -- the public was invited to share their own thoughts, memories of life in Point Breeze, and their hopes for the future of the neighborhood -- adding the community's voice to Möller's exploration of neighborhood change.
 
The exhibit runs through the end of August. If you can’t make it, check out thehousethatwashere.tumblr.com for photos and additional information. 

Source:  Maria Möller, local artist
WriterGreg Meckstroth

High-rise development spikes in Logan Square

At 20th and Market Streets, in the heart of Center City's business district and just south of Logan Square, Brandywine Realty is poised to break ground on a 28-story 278-unit apartment tower. Meanwhile, at 23rd and Race Streets, a parking lot will become Edgewater II, a 22-story 240-rental unit tower. These projects are the latest in an ongoing high-rise construction boom in Logan Square that should bring an injection of residents and an increase in density. According to the folks with the Logan Square Neighborhood Association (LSNA), this is all according to plan.

On July 16, the neighborhood association heard proposals for three more projects within Logan Square. The first, Museum Towers II, will be built at 18th and Hamilton Streets, just north of Baldwin Park. Developer Forest City is looking to build 270 residential units in a 16-story tower, along with 16 two-story townhomes. 
 
The second proposal is from Cross Properties. They hope to develop an 11-story building with 250 apartments at 2100 Hamilton Street behind the Rodin Museum. The third proposal -- 339 apartments in two buildings at Broad and Callowhill -- was made by Hanover Properties and the Parkway Corporation.
 
Since then, details for the much-anticipated Rodin Square development have also been released. That project features 293 residential units in two 10-story towers above a 60,000-square-foot Whole Foods store at 20th and Callowhill, replacing a run-down Best Western Hotel.
 
Considering that all of these projects are within a few short blocks of each other -- and that they will all bring new residents, parking demands and retail needs -- it's clear that Logan Square is about to go through quite the growth spurt.
 
“We live in a hot area for development,” says Ed Panek with LSNA. “We are making sure new development abides by the neighborhood plan.”
 
That plan, completed in 2009, laid out a vision for the neighborhood that preserved its character while allowing for appropriate infill development.
 
"There is a lot of density to give here; a lot of empty lots," adds Panek. "We're excited for the [proposed] new developments in Logan Square."

Source:  David Searles, Ed Panek, Logan Square Neighborhood Association
WriterGreg Meckstroth

New incentive grants will boost city's commercial corridors

It was 2008 the last time The Merchants Fund partnered with the Department of Commerce to offer ReStore Retail Incentive Grants for upgrading or establishing retail along neighborhood commercial corridors. West Philly's Mariposa Food Co-Op was one of the lucky recipients, successfully utilizing the funds to fill financial gaps and make the project a reality. Since opening, the Baltimore Avenue grocery has quintupled in size, created 30 jobs, remediated a food desert and helped stabilize a commercial corridor. That same level of success is what The Merchants Fund is after with their next round of grants; a Request for Proposals opens August 14.

According to Patricia Blakeley with The Merchants Fund, this year's round of grants is "more of the same" -- applicants must have at least two primary partners: a community non-profit and a future or current retail business owner or arts organization (for-profit or non-profit). Grants of up to $50,000 are available.

"We're looking for shovel-ready projects," explains Blakeley. "We want to sweeten the pot so projects can be completed by summer 2014."

To accomplish that, the ReStore Grants are being offered in tandem with a new program called InStore, a Department of Commerce and Office of Arts, Culture, and the Creative Economy forgivable loan program designed to help businesses with interior improvements. The retail locations must serve a low-to-moderate income population to qualify for the $15,000 to $50,000 grants.

In total, the two programs are offering $800,000 to help establish high-quality retail, encourage business attraction and aid commercial expansion in Philly neighborhoods. While some recipients could potentially benefit from more than one grant, Blakeley says the money will be divided up in a fair and strategic way.

"We haven't figured out the details of who will fund what, but we want to reach all corners of the city," she explains.

A briefing about the two programs will be held on at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday, August 14 at 1515 Arch Street, 18th Floor, City Planning Room (18-029). 

Source:  Patricia Blakeley, The Merchants Fund
WriterGreg Meckstroth

Ready to Hand: Saori, a community textile studio, to open in Graduate Hospital

There's good news for those clamoring for more corner commercial spaces in Graduate Hospital -- Ready to Hand: Saori Philadelphia is set to open at 22nd and Fitzwater along the neighborhood's burgeoning commercial corridor. Local artist and textile expert Leslie Sudock is behind the new venture, which she envisions as a community textile studio. Eventually, the storefront space will be open five days a week for people who want to make art.
 
"I've been looking for almost eight years to open something like this," says Sudock. "There really isn't much in Philly right now quite like it."
 
Initially, the studio will hold five to six classes per week for all ages -- toddlers to kids to adults. Programs and classes will also cater to the local homeless population. Sudock is known locally for her homeless advocacy. Her past venture, Arts Street Textile Studio: Handmade with the Homeless (ASTS), was a South Street storefront that taught the homeless and those transitioning from homelessness to weave, knit, sew, crochet and quilt wearable and useable art.

With that storefront now closed, Sudock is looking to bring its energy and ideas to the new space. And, as the name suggests, she plans to offer Saori, a practice of free-form hand weaving not currently taught in the area.
 
"I really believe in Saori," says Sudock. "It is amazingly therapeutic."
 
When Saori and other classes aren’t in session, Sudock plans to display and sell the art created in the studio. She will be open monthly during First Friday.

The sustainability-minded firm Greensaw Design is currently completing interior work. A grand opening is planned for late September.  

Source:  Leslie Sudock, Ready to Hand: Saori Philadelphia
WriterGreg Meckstroth

Artist Virgil Marti’s first large-scale outdoor sculpture debuts at the Navy Yard

In April, GlaxoSmithKline officially opened its new double LEED Platinum certified facility in the Navy Yard. Designed by architect Robert A.M. Stern, the building has been widely praised for its creativity and modernity. To compliment the aesthetic, a public art sculpture, Five Standards (Dazzle), now stands just outside the building's main entrance. The piece is the first large-scale, permanent outdoor work by Philadelphia artist Virgil Marti.

"My work has often examined how art is understood and utilized in interior spaces," explained Marti in a press release. "In this piece, I was challenged to think about how art functions in exterior spaces in relation to architecture as an adjacent object, like the ships docked nearby."

He references those ships directly in the piece; the name itself pays homage to dazzle, a type of early twentieth century naval camouflage. The sculpture is comprised of five sixteen-by-seven-foot powder-coated steel and mirror-polished stainless steel structures resembling looking glasses; the design fits seamlessly alongside the GlaxoSmithKline facade, crafted to recall a large transparent ship docked in the Navy Yard.

According to the artist, the shadows and reflections of the sculpture produce a sense of flowing water underneath, creating the perfect compliment for the large ship.

The sculpture is managed by the Mural Arts Program and is now on permanent display at 5 Crescent Drive.

Source:  Virgil Marti, Philadelphia Artist
WriterGreg Meckstroth

Catching up with Keep Philadelphia Beautiful

Established in 2007 after years of inactivity (and formerly known as PhilaPride), Keep Philadelphia Beautiful (KPB) works to build and sustain vibrant communities through sustainable initiatives. Now, with a new director on board and a federal campaign helping channel funds, the organization is poised to tackle more complex programs.
 
KPB is the local affiliate of the federal non-profit Keep America Beautiful, a network of more than 1,200 organizations. The national office recently launched "I Want to Be Recycled," a campaign that encourages people to recycle. In Philly, that means continued funding for litter prevention, recycling education and waste reduction.
 
KPB has already helped collect thousands of pounds of trash, removed thousands of tires and generated thousands of pounds of recycling. Those are impressive feats, but new Executive Director Michelle Feldman (former Commercial Corridor Manager of the Frankford Community Development Corporation) wants to amp up KPB's local presence.  

"We're working on partnerships with various city agencies and offices, trying to launch new programs and make organizing community beautification efforts easier for residents," explains Feldman. "We want to encourage innovative ways to keep areas clean."
 
One example is an "art to trash" scholarship program.

"Registrants would submit a piece of artwork made from recycled materials, or materials that would have been thrown out," explains Feldman. "The winner would receive a scholarship for a class -- at an art school, perhaps, depending on who we end up partnering with."
 
The program, which is still in its infancy, would also create a temporary pop-up gallery. "We'd love to involve art in our future efforts, however we can," says Feldman. "We are working on an art and sustainability project coming soon to West Philly.”
 
"We want to keep doing what we have done," she adds. "Be a resource to those looking to spearhead community beautification projects, spearhead our own community beautification projects and be a partner to the City and the Streets Department however we can."

Source:  Michelle Feldman, Keep Philadelphia Beautiful
WriterGreg Meckstroth

On the Ground Redux: Rose Petals Cafe coming to former Flying Kite space on W. Chelten Ave.

In its first year, Flying Kite's On the Ground program has embedded the publication in four neighborhoods, occupying vacant storefronts for 90 days each. Community engagement, positive reporting and reimagining underutilized commercial spaces are pillars of the effort.
 
Now one of our On the Ground storefronts has landed a permanent tenant. After three months of events and outreach at 322 W. Chelten Avenue in Germantown, the folks at Philly Office Retail were able to rent the property to Rose Petals Café and Lounge, a BYOB concept new to the area.  
 
According to Noah Krey with Philly Office Retail, before Flying Kite's On the Ground program, there was no tenant expressing serious interest in the storefront (former home to a regional Obama campaign office). 
 
"Enlivening the space made it an easier sell to prospective tenants," says Krey. That new energy, coupled with Philly Office Retail's commitment to bringing a quality tenant to this stretch of Chelten Avenue, is what helped attract Rose Petals Café.
 
The space is now under construction. Owners Desmin and Jania Daniels, a Mt. Airy couple launching their first restaurant, hope to open by the end of July. 
 
The BYOB ("bring your own bottle"), which Krey calls "a great concept for this part of Germantown," will offer breakfast, lunch, pastries, specialty smoothies and 10 different waffle options. Dinner will be served Friday and Saturday evenings (6 - 10 p.m.) and feature a fusion of Latin and Soul cuisines.
 
The café and lounge will also feature wireless internet and a small stage for live music. The couple eventually hopes to renovate the backyard, adding additional seating and possibly a tiny dog park.
 
Source:  Noah Krey, Philly Office Retail
WriterGreg Meckstroth

Big Green Block celebrates latest innovative sustainability features

On July 20, folks from the New Kensington Community Development Corporation (NKCDC) will join the Philadelphia Water Department, the Department of Parks and Recreation, Mural Arts Program and the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society to celebrate a slew of new features now open on its "Big Green Block." Councilman Mark Squilla, State Representative Mike O’Brien and a representative from Councilwoman Maria D. Quiñones-Sánchez's office will also attend.

When Flying Kite last checked in with NKCDC and the others behind the "Big Green Block" initiative, they were prepping for a Volunteer Day to help complete some of the project's Phase Two features. With those now complete, the project's supporters are going to celebrate in style.

"We're having a celebration, ribbon-cutting and tours starting at 11 a.m.," explains Diana Jih with NKCDC. There will also be a resident-driven sustainability workshop on DIY rainbarrels.

Tours will showcase the site's new green features, including the newly opened Mural Arts Spray Park, basketball courts with an innovative stormwater drainage system and a grand re-opening of the Palmer Doggie Depot.

In addition, the Climate and Urban Systems Partnership (CUSP) will offer a presentation on the relationship between green infrastructure and climate change.

The "Big Green Block" initiative has been around for over two years; the area is defined by Front Street, Frankford Avenue, Palmer Street and Norris Street, and includes the Shissler Recreation Center (next door to the Kensington High School for Creative and Performing Arts). Within Sustainable 19125 -- an NKCDC initiative working to make the zipcode the greenest in the region -- the site has become a model location for green infrastructure and sustainable education.

Source:  Diana Jih, NKCDC
WriterGreg Meckstroth

Point Breeze crowdfunds park renovation, starting with the basketball court

The Ralph Brooks Park at 20th and Tasker Streets will undergo an ambitious $275,000 renovation, transforming the basketball court into "Rucker Philly," modeled after the famed court in Harlem. But this isn’t just a project to fix up a basketball court -- if Jeffrey Tubbs and his nonprofit Urban Roots get their way, the project will be the first phase of a much larger neighborhood-wide revitalization effort.

The project's first phase is a head-to-toe makeover of the park, complete with the addition of a rain garden and a community garden, all thanks to donations totaling about $241,495 from the City, the Philadelphia Water Department, Urban Roots, the ACE Mentor Program, I.am.SP and Ritter & Plante Associates.

On May 29, Urban Roots launched a crowdfunding campaign on Lucky Ant to close the gap needed for the first phase's $275,000 figure as well as raise money for future plans.

The Park honors Ralph Brooks Jr., a seven-year-old boy who was tragically shot a block away in 1988.

With future phases, Brooks' legacy will be expanded beyond the basketball court. "If you don't play basketball it doesn't mean this project won't benefit you," says Jessie Fox with Here's My Chance, an organization assisting Urban Roots with their crowdfunding efforts.

Tubbs is looking to transform other city-owned parcels nearby to bring a variety of much-needed services to the neighborhood. These include an urban farm, a senior pavilion, new play equipment, public art, and sidewalk and street resurfacing.

If enough money is raised, plans for affordable housing, a sporting-goods store and a commercial kiosk that sells fresh produce to the neighborhood could come to fruition. Tubbs says the three additional park renovation phases will cost about $700,000.

"Everyone is really excited for the project and the benefits it will bring," says Fox. "The effort is bringing the community back together."

For more information on the project, or if you’d like to make a contribution, click here.

Source:  Jessie Fox, Here's My Chance
WriterGreg Meckstroth

On the Ground: Camden's Kroc Center reaches construction milestone

Wednesday marks a major milestone for Camden's $90 million state-of-the-art Kroc Center  -- City officials and community leaders will gather for the project's official topping-out ceremony.
 
Seen as a key to revitalizing the city's underutilized waterfront in the Cramer Hill neighborhood, the new community center has been in the making for over 8 years. In 2004, the Salvation Army USA announced a $1.6 billion gift from the estate of Joan Kroc (her husband founded McDonald's).
 
Through a competitive process, $59 million of this funding went to Camden to build one of 27 Kroc Corps Community Centers in the country. The remaining $31 million has been raised through philanthropic efforts.
 
Tomorrow's topping-out ceremony hopes to garner even more excitement for the city's newest destination. Once complete, the new center will resemble one in Philadelphia's Nicetown neighborhood, which opened in 2010.
 
Camden's Center -- which Major Paul Cain with the Salvation Army calls "a super community center" -- will be a behemoth. The 120,000 square-foot facility will provide recreational, health, educational, cultural, family and spiritual programming for area residents. Members will enjoy an early-childhood education center, a food pantry, aquatic centers, a worship center, a black box movie theater and dance studios. The Center's grounds will also include a park, outdoor water facilities, sports fields and a playground.
 
"The program model is holistic," says Cain. "The Center will have amenities geared towards the mind, body and spirit."
 
The anticipated membership fee for a family of four is $200; however scholarships will be available for those who cannot afford the fee.
 
"Joan Kroc's purpose for each [Kroc Center] was to provide access to a state-of-the-art facility for underserved communities," adds Cain. "Camden's will live up to that legacy."     
 
For information about joining the new center, visit KrocCenter.org

Source:  Major Paul Cain, The Salvation Army
WriterGreg Meckstroth

Five local schools (plus one district) receive national sustainability award

Representatives from five Delaware Valley schools were in Washington, D.C. earlier this month to receive a 2013 Green Ribbon Schools award; one school district also received a District Sustainability Award.
 
Similar to the Blue Ribbon Awards for educational excellence, the U.S. Department of Education grants the Green Ribbon Awards to schools that work to reduce their environmental footprint; improve the health and wellness of students and faculty; and integrate sustainability education into the curriculum. The region's winners were among 78 schools and districts chosen nationwide.
 
Notably, all Delaware and Pennsylvania statewide nominees this year were from the Philadelphia region.

"It's clear that there is a lot of local energy and interest for promoting sustainability in our schools," says Lori Braunstein with the Delaware Valley Green Building Council, who helped administer the school's applications.

Each honoree was recognized for different reasons. From newer suburban schools with solar arrays to older city schools boasting unique partnerships with the City of Philadelphia, each worked hard to prove its worth as a leader on sustainablity initiatives. 
 
The winning local schools are Albert M. Greenfield Elementary School (Philadelphia School District); Broughal Middle School (Bethlehem Area School District, Northampton County); Nazareth Area Middle School (Nazareth Area School District, Northampton County); and Westtown School (Chester County).
 
Lower Merion School District (Montgomery County) was awarded the first-ever District Sustainability Award.
 
"It's possible the schools can leverage the award to get additional funding or get to the front of the line for other sustainability initiatives," says Braunstein. "This can just be the beginning."

Source:  Lori Braunstein, Delaware Valley Green Building Council
WriterGreg Meckstroth

On the Ground Redux: $2.2 million to fund Maplewood Mall redesign

Maplewood Mall, a historic shopping center in downtown Germantown, is set to receive $2.2 million in city funds for a complete redesign. Councilwoman Cindy Bass and Kevin Dow, Chief Operating Officer of the Department of Commerce, made the announcement this past Saturday.
 
"In its current state, the Mall's design does not live up to its potential," explains Joseph Corrigan, director of communications for Cindy Bass’s Office. "The space could be a great urban place and an anchor for future redevelopment."
 
The redesign will build off the ideas summarized in the recently adopted Central Germantown Business District Beautification Plan, and input will be solicited through an aggressive community outreach process.
 
"The redesign will be driven by the community," adds Corrigan, explaining that once the vision is fleshed out, an official RFP will be released to hire a consulting firm. If all goes according to plan, final design work should be completed by fall 2014.
 
As part of the outreach process, Germantown United CDC and G-Town Radio are hosting a Re-Imagining Maplewood Mall Night Café and Block Party. The free event will take place on Saturday, June 22, 4 to 8:30 p.m. (a rain date is scheduled for June 29). Expect live music, activities for children and food from area restaurants.
 
Through Re-Imagining Maplewood Mall, the CDC hopes to reintroduce citizens to the area as a place to shop and socialize while garnering new ideas for the big makeover.

Source:  Joseph Corrigan, Director of Communications for Councilwoman Cindy Bass
WriterGreg Meckstroth

West Philly's Lea Elementary declared Green School Makeover finalist

In May 2012, Flying Kite covered the Community Design Collaborative's Transforming Urban Schoolyards design charrette, an event that aimed to rethink Philly's most asphalt-ridden schoolyards. West Philly's Henry C. Lea Elementary was one of the lucky recipients of the charrette's ideas. Now, those visions have a chance to come to life -- Lea is one of 10 finalists for a national $75,000 Green School Makeover grant from Global Green USA.

Julie Scott with the West Philadelphia Coalition for Neighborhood Schools (WPCNS) says the Green School Makeover grant will go towards Lea's ambitious sustainability plans. "We would utilize the grant to get a comprehensive recycling program started for the school," she says. "We’d start with relocating the dumpster off the grounds, which is a huge undertaking."
 
The dumpster would be relocated to the school's north yard to create an area for recycling and compost. This initiative would join other in-progress greening efforts. Last November, through a grant from SCI-West, the elementary school (in partnership with WPCNS) built a 1,400-square-foot planting bed, an early-action project identified during the charrette. Additional walking paths and plantings were added in the spring.

Once complete, the space will reorient the schoolyard as the primary entrance, leading visitors through a garden that would double as an outdoor area for science classes. In addition to the recycling program, the school also hopes to add additional stormwater mitigation features and rooftop solar panels.

The school is still actively searching for other ways to fund its master plan. If you're interested in getting involved in any way, please complete this brief survey or email contactwpcns@gmail.com for details. 

Source:  Julie Scott, West Philadelphia Coalition of Neighborhood Schools
WriterGreg Meckstroth

'Designed for Habitat' launches locally at the Center for Architecture

Architects, designers, community leaders and affordable housing advocates take note: On Tuesday, June 18 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the Center for Architecture, the Community Design Collaborative (CDC) and Habitat for Humanity are holding a local launch for the acclaimed book Designed for Habitat.
 
The book profiles 13 smartly designed Habitat housing projects.

"Taken together, the projects illustrate that high quality designs are possible with Habitat Homes," says David Hinson, author and current head of the School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape Architecture at Auburn University. "Current conventional thinking in the design industry often assumes otherwise."
 
The 13 projects were chosen not just because they feature innovative design choices, but because of their collaborative nature. "Affordable housing in this country can always be improved upon and good design alone isn’t enough," adds Hinson. "Smart collaboration is key."
 
Located across the country, the homes represent a wide range of Habitat projects, from large and urban to small and rural. Two of them are local -- one in North Philadelphia, the other in West Philly. Hinson, a former Philadelphian himself, is quite familiar with both buildings.
 
The first, Project 1800, delivered a new dwelling and site design prototype for a post-industrial neighborhood in North Philly. The project's 15 new homes and five rehabilitated row homes provide an effective solution in a blight-ridden urban district.

The other project, the Stiles Street Homes, brought nine new-construction Habitat units to Parkside in West Philly. According to Hinson, this project shows how advocates can navigate the waters of community resistance and NIMBY-ism. Through a collaborative process and community outreach, they managed to deliver a context-sensitive solution.

At the event, Hinson will talk about these two projects in detail, as well as the 11 others outlined in Designed for Habitat. CDC board member Daryn Edwards will then moderate a panel featuring Hinson, Jon Mussleman, Maarten Pesch, Megan McGinley and Sally Harrison.

Source: David Hinson, author & head of the School of Architecture, Planning & Landscape Architecture at Auburn University
WriterGreg Meckstroth

On the Ground: Camden commercial properties receive big makeover

The Camden Business Façade Improvement Program has been up and running for almost two years, and helped nearly a dozen business owners finance the reconstruction and rehabilitation of their facades with $25,000 grants. In the next few weeks, the program is getting a big push across the city -- an additional 40 to 50 storefronts are expected to undergo renovations in the next calendar year.
 
"Expect to see a lot of dramatic changes in Camden," says Vince Basara, coordinator of the Urban Enterprise Zone (UEZ) program in Camden. "The most noticeable improvements will happen on the 200 block of Market Street in Downtown Camden."
 
That stretch -- just a few short blocks from Flying Kite's On the Ground space -- is almost entirely owned by a single entity, making it easier to move forward. Basara expects to start the renovation process in the next two weeks
 
The program benefits UEZ business members who have participated in the city's energy-efficiency retrofit program, Camden POWER (Program Offering Widespread Energy Recovery), for commercial buildings. Most properties taking part in the program are along commercial corridors, though neighborhood and corner stores throughout the city will also be improved. 
 
Grantees have already installed new roofs and awnings, completed brick and masonry repair, replaced windows, improved signage, and added other historically sensitive treatments that conform to overlying design standards for the neighborhood.

"So far, there's been a lot of positive reaction to the completed storefront's improvements," says Basara. "With so many other storefronts in the pipeline, we’re expecting to make a big difference [over the coming year]."   

Source:  Vince Basara, Urban Enterprize Zone Program Coordinator, City of Camden
WriterGreg Meckstroth

City Planning Commission hosts 'Visions for our Metropolitan Center'

On June 17 at the Center for Architecture, representatives from the Philadelphia City Planning Commission (PCPC) will be joined by the Citizens Planning Institute, local developers and public officials to discuss "Visions for our Metropolitan Center."
 
A large portion of the conversation will center on the recently completed Central and University Southwest District Plans, which cover the area between the Delaware River and 40th Street, and from Girard Avenue to Washington Avenue. With 335,000 jobs and 120,000 residents, it's the largest job center in the region and the third-largest residential downtown in the country.
 
With 18 district plans in some stage of development as part of the Philadelphia 2035 comprehensive planning process, planners were looking for a chance to highlight their latest ideas. 

"The [district plan roll-out] process can get a bit repetitive," says Laura Spina, Center City Planner for PCPC. "For the Central and University Southwest District plans, we wanted to make the presentation a little more lively."

The program also includes a talk by Pearl Properties’ Jim Pearlstein and the graduation of another class of Citizens Planning Institute students, the education and outreach entity of the PCPC.
 
Doors will open at 5:30 p.m.; the program begins at 6 p.m. Click here to secure your ticket.

Source:  Laura Spina, Center City Planner, Philadelphia City Planning Commission
WriterGreg Meckstroth

Conceptual designs unveiled for Spring Garden Connector

Design work is moving forward on the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation's (DRWC) latest streetscape project along Spring Garden Street. Late last month, DRWC and project designer RBA Group held a public open house to showcase the team's progress.
 
The presentation focused on two key improvement areas: streetscape enhancements along Spring Garden Street between Columbus Boulevard and 2nd Street, and a new lighting and public art installation by artist Leni Schwendinger under the I-95 overpass and Spring Garden transit stop.
 
The goal, according to DRWC's Karen Thompson, is to connect neighborhoods west of I-95 to the Delaware River. As part of the Master Plan for the Central Delaware adopted in 2012, similar efforts have been implemented on Race Street in Old City and Columbia Avenue in Fishtown.
 
Upwards of 40 people came out for the open house, which steered clear of design details and focused instead on the project's initial concepts.

"We had a good turnout and a positive response," says Thompson. "With the public on board, we can move forward on the project's next steps."
 
Those include developing an action plan to refine details of the $2 million streetscape project -- figuring out curb cuts concerns, identifying street trees and planting species, and developing a concise multi-modal connection.  
 
The team is also working to make sure their work goes hand-in-hand with the already-complete Spring Garden Street Greenway Plan set to run from the Delaware River to the Schuylkill River.
 
For the lighting improvements, Schwendinger and DRWC will meet with SEPTA and PennDOT to nail down specifics. The design will have to take into account the fact that the overpass will be redone in 2018 as part of the Revive 95 project. Thompson anticipates that the installation will be taken off for the highway project and then reinstalled once work is completed.

Source:  Karen Thompson, Delaware River Waterfront Corporation
WriterGreg Meckstroth

On the Ground Redux: Frankford Friends School celebrates contemporary addition

When the Frankford Friends School decided to add seventh and eighth grade to their traditional Pre-K-through-sixth enrollment, they needed more space. They embarked on an ambitious expansion of their historic campus on Orthodox Street in Frankford. Following years of work and a $2 million capital fund campaign, that addition officially opened in 2012. One school year later, the building's unique design and modern aesthetic are a huge hit.
 
"When people walk into the light-filled multipurpose room, they’re amazed," says Amy O’Leary, director of development and alumni relations at the school. "The design of the space is exactly what we needed."

The building was designed by renowned local architecture firm DIGSAU. In addition to the large multipurpose room, the new 6,000-square-foot structure features a dedicated music room and three classrooms for grades seven and eight. The building also reduces energy use through a variety of innovative strategies and features teaching gardens on the southern side of the facility.

"Ultimately, we wanted to add something new and tie the existing buildings together," says James Unkefer with DIGSAU. "We wanted to reinforce the campus feel."

This was achieved by expressing the school's Quaker roots in modern ways -- they incorporated a generous amount of glass and steel, with an exposed wood skin.

Though striking, the new building isn't meant to stand out. "The design is simple and doesn’t compete with the neighboring Quaker meeting house," explains Unkefer. That traditional wood frame building is the centerpiece of the school's campus.

"The structure is also outward looking," adds Unkefer. "A lot of openness and natural light is utilized to make the space look and feel ‘social.'"

The school's 2012 enrollment of 142 students was the highest in its 179-year history. O’Leary says the new school has received so much buzz that enrollment is already up for next year. She is aware of a number of families that recently relocated to Frankford to be near the school.

Source:  James Unkefer, DIGSAU; Amy O'Leary, Frankford Friends School
WriterGreg Meckstroth

On the Ground Redux: PEC planning efforts transform Lancaster Avenue

On May 21, the People’s Emergency Center (PEC) officially accepted a $750,000 grant from the Wells Fargo Regional Foundation to help restore the legacy of West Philly's Lancaster Avenue as a thriving commercial corridor. First on the docket is the restoration of historic Hawthorne Hall.

The grant is the result of a year-long "Make Your Mark" neighborhood planning process facilitated by PEC. The program brought together stakeholders to discuss a vision for improving the community. The group agreed that it was important to revive the corridor as a cultural destination studded with restaurants and retail locations, fueling economic growth. The grant, part of nearly $1.5 million in total funding to support PEC, is the latest step towards that goal.

"We're very grateful for the investment," says Farah Jimenez, president and CEO of PEC. "It's the culmination of various communities working together for a common purpose."

The redevelopment of historic Hawthorne Hall is a priority project (as identified by the planning process) -- the building is seen as the gateway to the revamped corridor. PEC has purchased two major sections of the Hall for redevelopment. The first, 3849 Lancaster Avenue, has commercial space on the first floor and a theater space on the second.

PEC envisions a sit-down restaurant on the ground floor and a performing arts venue upstairs. For now, the theater will be a site for the Hidden City Festival, allowing visitors to explore the historic space before renovation.

The second section, 3859 - 61 Lancaster Avenue, will be used for two years by Mighty Writers for its afterschool program.  Four housing units on the second and third floors will be part of the future redevelopment.

In addition to these projects, Jimenez says the grant will help PEC hire additional staff to coordinate, organize and implement these exciting projects. 

Source:  Farah Jimenez, President and CEO, People's Emergency Center
WriterGreg Meckstroth

On the Ground Redux: Big money and big change coming to Frankford

The Lower Northeast District Plan was officially adopted by the Planning Commission last fall, and its designers are now turning their attention towards implementing its ideas. Working with the Mayor's Office of Grants, the Commission has developed a series of partnerships to secure funding -- they recently earned over $600,000 from federal agencies and private foundations.
 
"The Plan has been a guide for everything we do," explains Ian Litwin with the Planning Commission. "We are building on the strengths that Frankford already has which can catalyze future development."
 
The grants were awarded for three key initiatives: 

- A $75,000 grant from the William Penn Foundation and the Parks and Recreation Department will fund study of the options to return Frankford Creek to its natural state, connecting Frankford to the Delaware River and East Coast Greenway. A recommended trail alignment and suggested next steps will come from the study, which is already underway.

- A $200,000 EPA Brownfields Area-Wide Planning Grant will fund a planning study and develop reuse alternatives for three catalyst industrial sites in Frankford and Bridesburg along the Frankford Creek. The plan will lead to recommended site designs and create the possibilities for myriad implementation grants.

- A $335,150 grant from ArtPlace America will support Destination Frankford, an initiative to improve Frankford's commercial corridor through artfully designed signage and street furniture; a Globe DyeWorks storefront for local artists; and an arts-focused marketing campaign and website. The initiative will also create art installations in Womrath Park. Of 1,200 submissions across the country, Destination Frankford was one of 40 to receive grants. The initiative will kick-off on June 1.

"It’s an exciting time in Frankford," says Litwin, an urban planner by trade. "With so much implementation happening, I feel like my new title should be 'doer.'"

Source:  Ian Litwin, City Planning Commission
WriterGreg Meckstroth

Youthbuild students renovate Nicetown homes with a focus on sustainability

Over the next ten months, approximately 120 Youthbuild Philadelphia students will transform two vacant homes in Nicetown into models of sustainable living. The homes, located at 2006 and 2008 West Wingohocking Street, are the latest projects in a neighborhood experiencing a swell of investment.
 
The homes sit directly across the street from Wayne Junction Station, where SEPTA is investing $18 million in intermodal improvements. Down the street is Nicetown Court I, a mixed-use mixed-income project completed in 2011; Nicetown Court II, a 50-unit mixed-use development, is currently under construction.

Youthbuild Philadelphia, an offshoot of YouthBuild USA, is a charter school that gives students the opportunity to earn high school diplomas or GEDs while exposing them to real world trades such as construction.
 
For these homes, Youthbuild has partnered with the Saint-Gobain Corporation Foundation, an arm of the world’s largest building materials company (their North American operations are based in Valley Forge), to ensure the structures are built with a sustainable, energy-efficient ethos.
 
"This project gives us the chance to pair young adults side-by-side with top-notch building scientists and experts," says Carmen Ferrigno, Saint-Gobain's vice president of communications. "It is a great opportunity for the kids to see people with careers in this field and see what it is like to have this type of job."
 
The Nicetown project will be the second completed by YouthBuild and Saint-Gobain as part of a three-year partnership. Accoding to Ferrigno, the first project -- located on Greene Street in Germantown -- "really surprised" his company with the impact it had on the young adults.
 
"We saw it was a very important experience for them to learn a new trade," says Ferrigno. "One student latched on to welding and has now earned an apprenticeship with a local union."
 
And ultimately, those stories are what the partnership is all about.

"These students go through a transformation," adds Ferrigno. "Using top-of-the-line building materials, we're pairing kids with experts to learn not just a new trade but the latest innovations in our industry."

Source:  Carmen Ferrigno, VP of communications, Saint-Gobain Corporation Foundation
WriterGreg Meckstroth

On the Ground: Civic leaders push Haddon Avenue Transit Village

Last September, a Delaware County-based grocery chain signed a letter of intent to open a new supermarket in Camden's Haddon Avenue Transit Village, signaling progress on the long-delayed project. Unfortunately, they've since backed out of the deal. Undeterred -- and with a potential $50 million in state tax credits in their pocket -- civic leaders and project boosters are moving forward.

The Transit Village is a passion project for its advocates, Grapevine DevelopmentCooper's Ferry Partnership, the City of CamdenCamden CountyOur Lady of Lourdes Medical Center and the Delaware River Port Authority (DRPA). The development's first phase calls for 30-to-40,000 square feet of office space (mostly for Our Lady of Lourdes),100 housing units, a 50,000-square-foot grocery and a parking garage.

"Once we get a grocery store committed -- and the retail plan largely complete -- we can move forward," says David Foster, president of the Cooper's Ferry Partnership. "We envision breaking ground later this year or early next year."

The site's 15 acres are in a prime location right between Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center and the Ferry Avenue PATCO rail station, which connects directly to Center City. The plans include streetscape and pedestrian improvements to Haddon Avenue.

According to Foster, the roadway improvements will eventually tie into the area's trail system, including the Camden Greenway, making the Transit Village a focal point in the regional trails network.

Source:  David Foster; President, Cooper's Ferry Partnership
WriterGreg Meckstroth

It's ribbon-cutting time at Paine's Park, Philly's new skateboarding mecca

On May 22 from 4 to 6 p.m., the Philadelphia skating community will converge on brand new Paine's Park for a ribbon-cutting ceremony. The park, which incorporates sustainable design elements while accommodating both pedestrians and skaters, is already garnering national attention as the first -- and largest -- open space in the country designed specifically for skateboarders.

Franklin’s Paine Skatepark Fund Executive Director Claire Laver says the ceremony is particularly significant considering the project's long history.

"It's a momentous occasion," she says. "After nearly a decade of planning and fundraising, we’re finally opening the park."
 
The park cost $4.5 million to build; the money was raised through a variety of funding sources. To help with the finishing touches, the Fund launched a Kickstarter campaign earlier this year, earning over $10,000.

The design also accommodates pedestrians and other uses; it features pedestrian seating areas, a 360-degree observation deck, an amphitheater for outdoor events, and connections to the Benjamin Franklin Parkway and Schuylkill Banks. In a nod to other public spaces popular among skateboarders, the design incorporated reclaimed granite slabs from LOVE Park and eight benches from Dilworth Plaza.

A number of events are already lined up for the space. On Go Skateboarding Day (June 21), the Zumiez Couch Tour will swing through Paine’s Park as part of their nine-city tour; in October, the park will host the finale of the second annual Philly Cup Skateboard Series.

Source:  Claire Laver, Executive Director, Franklin’s Paine Skatepark Fund
WriterGreg Meckstroth

$20 million condo project to replace old Main Line YMCA near Suburban Square

A large-scale condominium project is set to break ground early next year in Ardmore on the Main Line. The $20 million development is being built by Cornerstone Communities and the Provco Group, and will replace the existing Main Line YMCA on St. George's Road, a facility that's been there for 57 years.
 
Once complete, the project will feature 32 condos in a four-story development. The site is across from shopping mecca Suburban Square and adjacent to a SEPTA rail station, a carrot for this sort of high-density transit-oriented development.
 
The Y will vacate their current digs at the beginning of October for greener pastures in Haverford. With that move in the works, the parent organization, the Philadelphia Freedom Valley YMCA, approached SSH Real Estate to find a suitable buyer.

"Immediately, we had a lot of interest," explains SSH's Adam Gillespie. "It's right at the doorstep of one of the Main Line’s best retail complexes and transit is close by."

In all, the firm received 13 offers -- some for residential projects, others from those looking to reuse the Y as a community center and health complex.

"After the property was on the market for two months, we decided to go with the offer that had the best terms and best chance of coming to fruition," explains Gillespie.

The Lower Merion Planning Commission agrees with Gillespie, and recently gave their stamp of approval for the project. While some zoning hurdles still remain, the development team is looking to break ground early next year. 

Source:  Adam Gillespie, SSH Real Estate
WriterGreg Meckstroth

Local designer tackles rooftop food production in EAT UP

On the heels of South Philadelphia High School's crowdsourced fundraising campaign for its Greening Master Plan and rooftop farm, Lauren Mandel, one of the project’s landscape designers, has released EAT UP.

The first full-length book about rooftop food production, EAT UP was published internationally by New Society Publishers, a carbon-neutral publishing house.

Mandel divides the book into three sections: one for small-scale rooftop gardeners, one for large-scale farmers, and one for urban planners and designers interested in implementing rooftop farming on a neighborhood scale.

The book is the culmination of three-and-a-half years of research for Mandel, who works as a project manager and rooftop agriculture specialist at the local green roof firm Roofmeadow. She started the book while still studying landscape architecture at Penn.

"EAT UP started as an academic exercise, asking 'Is rooftop agriculture viable?'" explains Mandel. "After quickly learning it was, I realized that what people need is an accessible, comprehensive resource on the matter."

In an increasingly urban America, more and more people are turning to their roofs as platforms for growing local, sustainable food. Places like New York, Portland and Chicago all have burgeoning rooftop agriculture communities. In Philly, the movement is just taking off.

"Small-scale home gardens are popular here," says Mandel. "For large-scale projects, we’re not quite there -- but we're on the cusp.”
  
EAT UP is available in print and ebook from New Society Publishers, Barnes and Noble, Amazon.com and local book stores.
 
Source:  Lauren Mandel, project manager and rooftop agriculture specialist, Roofmeadow
WriterGreg Meckstroth

On the Ground: North Camden's Respond Bakery brings fresh food to the community

When Respond Bakery opened its doors at 9th and Pearl Streets in North Camden, it was the first full-service bakery in the neighborhood in nearly 50 years. After three months -- and enough bread and pastries to serve a small army -- it's clear the new business is a big hit.

The bakery is an extension of the nonprofit Respond Inc., an organization that, among other services, provides a 16-week Culinary Arts Job Training Program. Overseen by Chef Kendall Elliott, the course is free for all students, who typically range in age from 17 to 25.

"Many of these kids dropped out of high school or were recently incarcerated," explains Wilbert Mitchell, executive director of Respond Inc.. "This program gives them marketable skills to take into the marketplace."

In addition to employing seven local people, the bakery, which officially opened February 14 of this year, is an opportunity for students to put their skills to use in a real world setting. 

"The purpose of the bakery is to sell the students' goods made in the program," says Mitchell. "Plus, the bakery serves the neighborhood. It’s hard to get fresh bread in North Camden."

The bakery also serves various pastries, muffins, cakes, healthy snacks and the Camden Cookie, a signature item that has already become synonymous with the bakery. In addition to participating in local farmers' markets, the bakery also caters large events, makes custom cakes and bakes enough bread to feed 800 kids per day at Respond Inc.'s childcare facility. Flying Kite served their delicious sourcream pound cake at our recent Camden kick-off meeting.

Monday - Friday, 7 a.m. - 6 p.m.; Saturday, 7 a.m. - 3 p.m., closed Sunday. 

Source:  Wilbert Mitchell, Executive Director, Respond, Inc. 
WriterGreg Meckstroth

Delaware River Waterfront Corp. preps pedestrian-friendly improvements

With two new projects -- one in Fishtown and one in South Philly -- the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation (DRWC) is taking big (and small) steps towards making the waterfront more functional, accessible and pedestrian-friendly.
 
In Fishtown, DRWC's board recently approved a $290,000 contract with artist Donald Lipski to install a piece honoring the legendary treaty between William Penn and the Lenni Lenape Native American Tribe at Penn Treaty Park. Sculptures of five bronze turtles, a lit-up fiberglass turkey and a wolf will be installed along Columbia Avenue east of I-95. Evoking the symbols of the three Lenni Lenape clans, the project has also received a $60,000 National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Art Works grant.

When complete, the public art installation will join a streetscaping design by landscape architect Bryan Haynes in a coordinated effort to connect the waterfront to Fishtown via Columbia Avenue. The streetscaping plan includes new street trees, rain gardens for stormwater management and underpass lighting, among other elements.

Further south, DRWC is turning Pier 53 at Washington Avenue into the next Race Street Pier, with an ecologically-minded twist. The land at the foot of the historic pier is already a park -- the recently completed Washington Avenue Green. The Pier's new design (just unveiled by DRWC and lead designer Applied Ecological Services) is Washington Avenue Green's Phase II.

"The design was influenced by four goals," says DRWC's Lizzie Woods, restoring the health of the river through ecological uplift, historical sensitivity, providing public access and providing a place where people can touch the water."

Pier 53 served as an immigration station for Philadelphia between 1873 and 1915. In addition to elements reflecting this unique history, other aspects of the $1.5 million project include native gardens, floating wetlands, rain gardens, gathering areas and rubble meadows.

According to Woods, three elements of the park's design are currently unfunded: the boardwalk, a "welcome spire" at the Washington Avenue Green entrance and a "Land Buoy" sculpture at the water's end of the pier. DRWC is currently conducting a cost analysis for these improvements and hopes to identify funding soon.

The goal is to start construction on Pier 53 within six months. Currently, DRWC is seeking a slew of permits from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to move forward. The open space should be ready for public enjoyment in early summer 2014. 

Source:  Karen Thompson and Lizzie Woods, Delaware River Waterfront Corporation
WriterGreg Meckstroth

Drexel students craft vision for North 5th Street in Olney

The stretch of North 5th Street that runs through Olney is brimming with over 200 businesses and situated in the heart of one of the city's most diverse neighborhoods. For business owners there, it's imperative to stand out in the crowd. Now, help is on the way -- during the month of May, the North Fifth Street Revitalization Project (N5SRP) is partnering with Drexel's Design and Merchandising Program to completely revamp storefront windows.
 
Since its inception in 2005, N5SRP has been dedicated to improving the physical environment and increasing economic activity along North 5th Street. The Drexel partnership -- now in its second iteration -- is an exciting tool, offering fresh ideas to help beautify the corridor and directly assist merchants in the process.
 
One of the college’s longest-running community engagement programs, the visual merchandising studio has provided students the opportunity to design window displays for more than a decade.

"In the recent past, similar projects took place in Old City and Northern Liberties," explains Philip Green, interim director of N5SRP. "It's exciting to once again bring the project up north."   

Olney's initiative will officially kick-off on May 14 with a background presentation to the participating Drexel students on the corridor and businesses. "From there, student groups are responsible for contacting their assigned businesses and setting up a meeting to discuss the window concepts," explains Green.
 
The four participating businesses -- T-House (a t-shirt shop), 5th Street Furniture Outlet, Advanced Family Dentistry and Gibson School of Music and Arts -- are a varied bunch. "We're very excited to see what the students come up with," says Green. "We're hopeful the ideas are as diverse as the businesses participating."

After the students have developed sketches and identified the materials necessary to make their designs a reality, installation will begin on May 28Students, businesses owners, N5SRP staff and community members will then meet on-site to give a final critique.

Source:  Philip Green, Interim Director, North Fifth Street Revitalization Project
WriterGreg Meckstroth

Germantown United CDC to host community forum on sustainability

If you’re a Northwest Philly resident looking to be a bit more green in your daily life, you're in luck. On Wednesday, May 8, the Germantown United Community Development Corporation (GUCDC) is hosting a community forum -- entitled "It IS Easy Being Green" -- focused on how residents and businesses can have a positive environmental and economic impact on their community.

The event is the second annual community forum sponsored by GUCDC, a relatively new organization dedicated to the well-being of Germantown.

"We planned the first forum specifically to introduce GUCDC to the community," explains GUCDC's Garlen Capita. "We wanted to answer the question, 'What does a CDC do?'"
 
According to Capita, that event was so successful that they decided to use the same format this year while shifting the focus to sustainability. Like last year's forum, this gathering is all about educating and disseminating information to the community.

"We want everyone who lives and works in Germantown to know that they have the power and the tools to improve the quality of life in their community," says Capita. "Hence the title, ‘It IS Easy Being Green.'"

The forum will begin at 6 p.m. with a "trade show" of organizations involved in sustainability and community issues. Participants include Awbury Arboretum, the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, Friends of Vernon Park, Kelly Green, PhilaNOMA, Rebuilding Together Philadelphia, the Sustainable Business Network, Tookany/Tacony-Frankford Watershed, and Wyck Historic House and Garden.
 
At 7 p.m., a panel will foster a community discussion on the sustainability issues confronting Germantown. The moderator will be Robert Fleming, associate professor of sustainable design at Philadelphia University. Other panel members include Dwayne Wharton, director of external affairs at the Food Trust, representatives from the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society and Christine Knapp from the Philadelphia Water Department.

Also on the panel will be Aine and Emaleigh Doley, sisters and co-organizers of the West Rockland Street Project. They are working with neighbors to revitalize their block using nothing but dedication, plants and trees, and some serious elbow grease.

"We want people to know that if Aine and Emaleigh can do it, they too can turn their neighborhood around," says Capita.

The event is free and open to all. It will be held at the Flying Horse Center (312-316 W. Chelten Avenue). Please RSVP to info@germantownunitedcdc.org.

Source:  Garlen Capita, GUCDC
WriterGreg Meckstroth

In Tacony, Torresdale Avenue's rebirth starts with facade improvements

Tacony, a planned community in Northeast Philadelphia, has a lot to offer -- great access to Center City, historic building stock and a traditional "main street" along Torresdale Avenue. Planners and community advocates are pinning the neighborhood's hopes on that commercial corridor. Thanks to the hard work of Alex Balloon, commercial corridor manager for the Tacony CDC, years of vacancy and neglect are giving way to rebirth.
 
Balloon has helped spearhead a number of initiatives in the past year, including tree plantings and a marketing campaign highlighting the great things Tacony and Torresdale Avenue have to offer.
 
The most ambitious effort is a Facade Grant Program, unveiled last year. The program operates in coordination with the Commerce Department's Storefront Improvement Program, providing business and property owners captial for exterior improvement projects. Many local communities take advantage of this program, but Tacony has a leg up.
 
"We are lucky enough to offer a grant that covers 85 percent of a project's cost," explains Balloon. "Typically, the Commerce Department's program offers 50 percent. The response has been encouraging. Over 20 businesses expressed interest. Since then, some folks have dropped out, leaving us with 17 storefronts that are part of our program."
 
The Tacony CDC worked with the business owners and the Community Design Collaborative to put together designs for the storefronts. The partners held a Design Day late last year to bring the two parties together.

Of those 17 projects, one is complete -- Sannutti Funeral Home on the corner of Torresdale and Princeton Avenues -- and another is under construction: DeNofa's Deli, one of the corridor's anchor businesses. So far, improvements have included removing aluminum, improving signage and windows, and working to reveal the historic character of the corridor's commercial buildings.
 
"There’s been a universally positive response," says Balloon. "DeNofa's owners say customers are already praising the improvements."
 
Fifteen more storefront improvement projects will begin in June of this year; those contracts are currently out for bid.
 
Ultimately, Balloon sees the storefront program as one piece in a larger effort to revitalize Torresdale Avenue. He hopes to leverage the relationships fostered with local businesses, assisting them with visual merchandising and improving product offerings.
 
"It takes more than design to revitalize a commercial corridor," says Balloon. "We need to do a better job marketing ourselves and the assets we have."

Source:  Alex Balloon, Commercial Corridor Manager, Tacony CDC
WriterGreg Meckstroth

Saint Benjamin's, Philly's only nano-brewery, expands in South Kensington

For Tim Patton, owner and founder of local nano-brewery Saint Benjamin's Brewing Company, it only took a year to find the perfect warehouse space in which to expand his small-scale operation. He ended up with a historic gem on North 5th Street -- the former Theo Finkenauer Brewing Company, built in the late 1800s.
 
"I was specifically looking in South Kensington for the brewery's permanent home," says Patton, explaining that the neighborhood's price points fit his budget. "[The site's] history combined with its location -- north of Northern Liberties and west of Fishtown -- drew me to the building. It was everything I wanted."
 
Kensington has a rich history as a center for brewing not just in Philly, but on a national scale. The neighborhood has changed since then, and so too has its brewing tradition: In the 1900s, many breweries left or closed for good.
 
In recent years, a resurgence in local beer culture combined with a plethora of vacant warehouse facilities has reignited the brewing tradition in a major way. Patton hopes his move is part of that movement. Once complete, the brewery will use organic and sustainable ingredients as much as possible. There will also be a 30-to-35 seat pub selling locally sourced foods on-site.

"I'm hoping to start construction this year and complete the brewery by fall," says Patton. "The pub will open shortly after that."
 
To get there, Patton is crowdfunding the restoration of the building's historic facade. He is using Lucky Ant and hoping to raise $20,000 in 21 days (the campaign ends May 8).
 
Lucky Ant offers specific rewards and deals to the local community in exchange for donations. In Patton's case, contributors will receive free merchandise, free food, major discounts and other perks.
 
Visit luckyant.com/saintbenjamins to donate.
 
Source: Tim Patton, Saint Benjamin's Brewing Company
WriterGreg Meckstroth

The Philadelphia School's innovative expansion earns LEED Silver rating

When The Philadelphia School (TPS) opened its brand new Ellen Schwartz and Jeremy Siegel Early Childhood Education Center at 2501 South Street last September, the project received praise for transforming a neighborhood eyesore into a multipurpose space for students and community gatherings. The hype was channeled mostly towards the building's concept -- a country classroom in the city -- but now, after earning a LEED Silver rating, the project has solidified its sustainability bonafides.
 
TPS, a K-8 educational institution, was founded in 1976 in an old pie factory at 2501 Lombard Street. Local parents were concerned about families fleeing the city for better education opportunities elsewhere. Since then, the school has grown in leaps and bounds, expanding into the entire pie factory.
 
In the late 2000s, still in need of space, TPS looked to an adjacent South Street property with aspirations of creating an education campus for up to 450 students. Now complete, the Schwartz Siegel Building houses four ground-floor classrooms, two for preschool and two for kindergarten.
 
"The new campus is a physical translation of the school's progressive education philosophies," explains Tom Purdy of Purdy O’Gwynn Architects, the firm behind the design.
 
The campus features a 3,100-square-foot eco-friendly school garden, outdoor play spaces that are easily accessible from the classrooms, flexible-use L-shaped classrooms, working gardens, porches to bridge the gap between inside and out, a shared art room and lots of natural light.
 
"We feel we produced a really nice building," says Purdy. "We wanted to be a good neighbor, but still create something clearly different and modern."
 
Construction managers Wolfe Scott & Associates didn’t stop there with smart design principles. The school's sustainable strategies include a large stormwater retention basin under the parking lot, geothermal wells beneath the gardens that heat and cool the building, recycled and regional material usage and stringent waste management practices.
  
Source
: Tom Purdy, Purdy O'Gwynn Architects
Writer: Greg Meckstroth

Farmer's Road Drive Thru serves up local sustainable fare in former KFC

When Farmer’s Road Drive Thru celebrated its grand opening this past Sunday in Chadds Ford, it was the culmination of one of the region’s most ironic adaptive reuse projects. Housed in a former KFC, the new restaurant will feature familiar comfort foods but with a non-fast food twist: healthy, local and sustainably-sourced ingredients.

Courtney Rozsas, owner of Lotus Farm to Table in Media, is the woman behind the concept. She’s had the idea for a healthy fast casual drive-thru for quite some time.

"I've been looking for the perfect location for three years," explains Rozsas, calling the restaurant's site at the intersection of Routes 1 and 202 in Delaware County "the perfect fit."

Inside, a large mounted chalkboard proclaims, "Know where your food is from" and includes a list of the restaurant's purveyors. More than eighty percent of the produce used will be sourced locally, along with 100 percent of the meat and poultry.
 
Ryan Sulikowski, executive chef of Lotus Farm to Table, is overseeing the kitchen.

"I wanted to create a family-friendly restaurant focusing on familiar comfort foods presented in 'better for you' ways," explains Rozsas. "[Sulikowski] was brought on because he likes to take familiar flavors and add a twist."

Sulikowski's menu will feature upgraded takes on classics such as a Stadium Dog -- an all-natural grassfed beef hotdog, sodium-free sauerkraut and low-sodium yellow mustard on a rye pretzel hotdog bun. More out-of-the-box items include the Apple Sandwich, made with local cheddar, local organic American cheese, Granny Smith apple, raw honey and maple sourdough bread.
 
Other touches include an oatmeal bar at breakfast -- it does double duty as a homemade pickle bar at lunch and dinner -- and a build-your-own healthy bento box for kids. Sulikowski and Rozsas are also offering gluten-free, vegan and vegetarian options.

"We're catering to individuals who are conscious of what they put in their body," says Rozsas. "We hope that's everyone!"
 
210 Painters Crossing, Chadds Ford, PA
Monday - Saturday 7 a.m. - 9 p.m.; Sundays 7 a.m. - 2 p.m.
 

Source:  Courtney Rozsas, Owner, Farmer's Road Drive Thru
WriterGreg Meckstroth

Author of Ed Bacon biography to speak at Center for Architecture

William Penn's vision for a gridded five-square city may have laid the original groundwork for Philadelphia, but it was Edmund Bacon, another urban planner, who shaped much of the city as we know it today.

On May 16, writer Greg Heller will discuss Bacon at the Philadelphia Center for Architecture -- he is author of the first biography on this beloved yet controversial figure.

To people outside planning, architecture and urban enthusiast circles, the name "Edmund Bacon" might not ring a bell. And that's a shame -- as director of the Philadelphia City Planning Commission from 1949 through 1970, he oversaw the planning and implementation of dozens of redesigned urban spaces, included the restored Society Hill, Penn Center and the shopping center at Market East.

Following his public office tenure, he became well known as an outspoken urban advocate. In 2002, at the age of 92, he skateboarded across LOVE Park to protest the city's ban on boarding in the park. 

In 2005, Bacon passed away at the age of 95, leaving behind a legacy that extended beyond his professional accomplishments.

"When he passed away, there were a lot of interesting articles that came out about his life," says Heller. "It was clear people perceived him as something more than just a governmental figure. He was a local legend."

Heller didn’t want the biography to be "totally academic," acknowledging that despite his iconic status to some, there are many potential readers who are not familiar with Bacon. The biography begins with exploration of Bacon's significance to modern day Philadelphia. Heller then delves into his two-decade tenure as city planning director, a period of great change in urban areas and significant federal investment.

Heller also paints a personal portrait of a man determined to transform planning ideas into reality in Philadelphia. Heller spent a lot of time with Bacon, and saw his dedication firsthand.

When Heller was in college working on his thesis, he wrote Bacon a letter, hoping to gain insight into his research topic. After interviewing Bacon a few times, Heller was invited to take a year off from college to help the retired planner write his memoirs. Heller agreed.

"After he passed away in 2005, I was approached by a publisher to write this biography," adds Heller. That was in 2007. Six years later, the book is finished and the legend of Ed Bacon lives on.

6 - 7 p.m. May 16 at the Center for Architecture (1218 Arch Street); free but registration is required. The new book will be available for sale at the event and Heller will sign books after his talk.

Source:  Greg Heller
WriterGreg Meckstroth

Camden SMART stormwater initiative hosts slate of Earth Day events

When it comes to stormwater management strategies, there's "smart" and then there's Camden SMART. The city's progressive strategy -- the acronym stands for "Stormwater Management and Resource Training" -- is a public-private partnership created to grapple with the area's severe flooding issues.

This week, SMART is partnering with the City of Camden to sponsor a series of events in honor of Earth Day 2013. Throughout the week (which runs through April 27), activities will enlist the community to help clean up, rebuild and strategize plans for a more sustainable Camden. Monday, the kick-off took place at Camden City Hall, where Mayor Dana L. Redd led a tree planting in honor of late Camden School Board President Aletha R. Wright.

Then, on Wednesday, April 24 at 10 a.m., folks from SMART are partnering with the Camden Board of Education to plant a rain garden at Pyne Poynt School, located in the heart of North Camden.

Other activities include a clean-up of Woodrow Wilson High School and Dudley Grange Park (Friday, April 26, 9 a.m. to noon), an environmental movie screening and several neighborhood greening events.

Earth Week is just the latest in a long list of milestones and triumphs for Camden SMART. Since 2011, the program has garnered numerous partners and major stakeholders, including the Coopers Ferry Partnership, the City of Camden, Camden County Municipal Utilities Authority, Rutgers Cooperative Extension Water Resources Program, the New Jersey Tree Foundation and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.
 
In 2012, SMART received the 2012 New Jersey Governor's Environmental Excellence Award, in part for constructing 19 rain gardens throughout the city, an effort that has lead to 1.5 million gallons of stormwater staying out of the sewer system each year.

"Unlike Philadelphia, Camden isn't mandated by the federal government to control our combined-sewer outflows," explains Meishka Mitchell, vice president of the Coopers Ferry Partnership. "Instead, Camden SMART is a community-led effort to combat the city's serious flooding issues."

To continue its fight against flooding, SMART has a busy agenda for 2013, including more rain gardens, rain barrel systems for residents and separating stormwater pipes from sewer pipes in certain neighborhoods.
 
"With the city being recently certified through the Sustainable Jersey program, Camden is becoming recognized as a sustainable city," says Mitchell. "That's important because [stormwater management and environmental stewardship] is a paramount issue facing our city."
 
Source:  Meishka Mitchell, Vice President, Coopers Ferry Partnership
WriterGreg Meckstroth

On the Ground: Details emerge on Chelten Avenue 'Model Block' improvements

In an effort to soften the sometimes hectic Chelten Avenue commercial corridor, the business district is getting a makeover.

In March, we reported that the City Planning Commission (CPC), led by Northwest Community Planner Matt Wysong, was working to improve Germantown's primary business district. The planning staff completed the Central Germantown Business District Beautification Plan last September and now implementation details are emerging.

"We’re starting with a model block," explains Wysong. "It will be Chelten Avenue between Greene Street and Germantown Avenue."

First up will be the planting of mature street trees, a project run by the Philadelphia Parks and Recreation Department -- and coming out of their operating budget.

"The beautification improvements of the model block are meant to be the connector between Maplewood Mall and Vernon Park," explains Wysong, referencing two major neighborhood landmarks.

Street trees will also be planted along Greene Street this fall; that project is being managed by Germantown Tree Tenders.

Then, in spring 2014, the City will shift its focus directly to the Chelten and Greene intersection. The Department of Public Property will work with the Coleman Library to enhance its corner entrance.

"We want the library to be an example of what an open and transparent building is meant to be along the model block," says Wysong. "We’ll remove the existing fence and improve its curb appeal so people are more aware it's open."

The plan's most ambitious project also focuses on the Chelten and Greene intersection -- at the northwest corner, immediately adjacent to Vernon Park, CPC plans to renovate the outdated bus plaza. Due to its complexity, Wysong is saving this improvement for last (Summer 2014) and, because of cost restraints, CPC is hoping to turn the project into a DIY effort of sorts.

Parks and Rec will be tapped to supply soil and materials, and CPC is currently looking for partners to either donate funds or dedicate time and labor to help construct the new platforms. The new plaza will act as a gateway to Vernon Park (Mural Arts is also being enlisted in this effort) while providing a needed transit improvement and public space amenity for Chelten Avenue.

Source:  Matt Wysong, Philadelphia City Planning Commission
WriterGreg Meckstroth

Construction begins at Oxford Mills, new live-work concept for educators

A new live-work development for educators is holding its official groundbreaking ceremony Wednesday in South Kensington, bringing the innovative development concept -- the first-of-its-kind for the region -- that much closer to reality.

Local developers Gabe Canuso and Greg Hill of D3 Real Estate (formerly of Brown Hill Development), in collaboration with their Baltimore-based partner Donald Manekin, are responsible for bringing the idea to Philly from Baltimore. Billed as an educational nirvana, the $35 million mixed-use development will offer Philadelphia teachers a 25 percent reduction in rent while commercial spaces will be outfitted for nonprofit, education-focused organizations.

According to Canuso, anchor tenant Teach for America has already committed to leasing 13,000 square feet of space. As for the rest of the 160,000-square-foot development -- which spans two buildings -- expect additional commercial space, over 100 apartments, shared amenity/break-out rooms, courtyards, a café and free parking.

When Oxford Mills opens in April of next year, it will be the first time Manekin has tested his concept outside of Baltimore. There, he has been successful creating a site-specific community of educators, providing the customized physical space necessary for such an ecosystem to take hold.

Canuso and Hill, who in the past have focused more on luxury properties, were looking to do more "socially conscious" work and were intrigued by the concept. "We loved the idea," says Canuso. "It helps support an industry of people who are doing great work."

The development team looked at over 20 buildings in the region before landing on the Oxford Mills site between Oxford and Jefferson Streets in South Kensington. One of the buildings, a former a textile mill, dates back to 1875; the other was built around 1915. Due to the site's history, the developers were able to land historic tax credits and new market tax credits. Those financial perks enabled the for-profit developers to follow through with the rent reduction guarantee for educators.

Canuso says that in addition to Teach for America, there has been exceptional interest in the other commercial spaces from education nonprofits, local schools and the School District. The response from the education community has been so positive that Canuso and Hill are already thinking of bringing the idea to West Philly in the future.

For now, Canuso and company are focused on getting the word out on Oxford Mills. The groundbreaking ceremony will include an appearance from Mayor Nutter along with music, food, drink, and performances and art work from local students.

Source: Gabe Canuso, D3 Real Estate
Writer: Greg Meckstroth

After successful first phase, NKCDC's Big Green Block thinks bigger

When the $43 million Kensington School for the Creative and Performing Arts (KCAPA) was completed in 2011, it became the first public school in the country to earn LEED Platinum certification (the highest designation under LEED). Fortunately, the school was just the first in a series of eco-friendly projects that have transformed nearly 20 acres of land adjacent to the Berks SEPTA stop in Fishtown.
 
Dubbed the "Big Green Block," the site is defined by Front Street, Frankford Avenue, Palmer Street and Norris Street, and includes the Shissler Recreation Center (nextdoor to KCAPA). Within Sustainable 19125 -- a New Kensington Community Development Corporation (NKCDC) initiative to make the zipcode the greenest in the region -- the site was identified as a model location for green infrastructure and sustainable education.

NKCDC worked with the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (PHS) and the Philadelphia Water Department (PWD) to develop a green infrastructure master plan for the block. Sold on the project's potential, the Department of Parks and Recreation and Mural Arts were quick to provide additional capital support through partnerships that have resulted in $2 million worth of investment overall.

Pedestrian pathways connecting to the Berks Market-Frankford Line stop, rain gardens, tree trenches, land stabilization, an improved sports field and educational murals have all been developed at the site. According to NKCDC's Shanta Schachter, these improvements have kept "90 percent of the site’s stormwater out of sewer pipes" -- and that's just from the first round of improvements.

For phase two of the Big Green Block, more than 60 residents participated in vision sessions to identify the community's needs. PHS translated the ideas borne from that process into a landscape plan. Through NKCDC’s ongoing strategic partnerships with the city and other stakeholders, phase two construction is underway.

The improvements reflect the space's history as a former rail yard -- new benches are being made locally to reference sealed railroad ties and the long-buried cobblestones from the site have been re-exposed. The vacant lot on the south end of the block is also being reimagined as a playfield for young kids and improved dog park, complete with additional seating and plantings.

Just weeks from completion, "the space already looks really great," says NKCDC's Diana Jih. "The improvements build off how the community user groups (Palmer Doggie Depot and Fishtown Athletic Club) we partnered with were using the site and adjacent land already.”

On April 20, NKCDC will hold a volunteer day from 10am-1pm to put the finishing touches on the playground and dog park. The day's agenda includes planting native species, and spreading mulch. The ongoing maintenance of the site is all volunteer run, so there’s a need for  as much support needed as possible.

No official ribbon-cutting date has been set, but NKCDC expects it will occur in early June. "The site will be open at the beginning of May," adds Schachter. 

Moving forward, even more improvements are planned. The site's basketball court will be reconstructed to better capture stormwater runoff from the rec center's roof and an improved spray park with education elements will be built thanks to Mural Arts and PWD.  

Source:  Diana Jih and Shanta Schachter, NKCDC
WriterGreg Meckstroth

South Philadelphia High School crowdsources greening master plan

The South Philadelphia High School campus features little green space and few outdoor play areas. This means that there are limited opportunities for hands-on learning outside of the classroom and few options for community gatherings.

To remediate the situation, the Lower Moyamensing Civic Association is partnering with the school to make the grounds more green and less gray. On April 9, they are launching a Greening Master Plan crowdsourced fundraising campaign. The organizers promise to transform the school's campus into a model of sustainability for both students and the community at large.

The campaign -- which is being hosted on Projexity.com -- aims to raise $26,300. That money will fund the planning process as well as a garden coordinator position at the school. Philadelphia-based design and engineering firm Roofmeadow will be in charge of developing a cohesive vision for the campus.

When completed, the renovated space will feature ground-level rain gardens, street trees, expanded vegetable gardens and a rooftop farm that will serve as an interactive educational platform. The salaried garden coordinator will maintain the improvements and lead programming for both students and the community.

According to Kim Massare, president of the Lower Moyamensing Civic Association, the fundraising drive arose out of necessity. "The school yard is already informally used as a park in the neighborhood," says Massare. "The Master Plan will formalize that activity."

The fundraising campaign will last 60 days, and be followed by a one-month design process led by Roofmeadow. Once that work is complete, grants and other funding opportunities will be sought.

For more information or to make a tax-deductible donation, click here.

Source:  Kim Massare, Lower Moyamensing Civic Association
WriterGreg Meckstroth

On the Ground: A three-month snapshot of development in Germantown

Flying Kite has been 'On the Ground' in Germantown for three months now, capturing a fluid snapshot of the neighborhood’s development scene. To put it simply, change is happening. Fast. Historic (often vacant) properties are being redeveloped, the area's rich housing stock continues to be refurbished and the commercial corridors are getting a facelift. 

"The neighborhood has come a long way in the past 20 years," says Noah Krey with Philly Office Retail, a local community-minded developer and Flying Kite's landlord in Germantown. "We’ve made leaps and bounds."

The proof is apparent -- we’ve covered a number of impressive projects changing the face of Germantown.

- The Waldorf School of Philadelphia is taking over the long-abandoned St. Peter's Episcopal Church at Wayne Avenue and Harvey Street.
 
Germantown’s long-vacant YWCA site might finally be coming back to life as a mixed-use senior housing project.

The Kendrick Mill building at 6139 Germantown Avenue has been rehabbed and now enjoys high occupancy rates -- tenants include local artists and designers.
 
GreatnessIsInYou!, a local non-profit, is moving into the chapel at the abandoned Germantown Settlement Charter School on Germantown Avenue, with plans to utilize the space as a performing arts venue.
 
- The City of Philadelphia is actively implementing a series of beautification and streetscape improvements along Chelten and Germantown Avenues.


Krey believes these projects and many others (both private and public) are occurring all at once because of the neighborhood’s location -- investment on all sides of the area in the past 10 years is finally converging on Germantown. With the $33 million Wayne Junction SEPTA Station renovation underway, Krey thinks the neighborhood might get the push it needs to pass the tipping point.

Flying Kite’s current space at 322 W. Chelten is being shopped around to restaurant tenants (along with a space at 6734 Germantown Avenue). According to Krey, both locations have received a significant amount of interest.

Meanwhile, in Lower Germantown, Philly Office Retail is in negotiations with a major national tenant, hoping they'll move into 5847 Germantown Avenue, a 30,000-square-foot facility. "We’re a long way away -- and unable to divulge details -- but we hope to have a tenant for the property," says Krey. "It would be a major boon to Germantown."

These developments fit the development patterns taking hold in the neighborhood. Lower Germantown around Wayne Junction, with its large stock of warehouses and industrial buildings, is looking to become an office, industrial, medical and residential hub. Meanwhile, Chelten and Germantown Avenues are aiming for an entertainment district feel, complete with restaurants, arts venues and commercial properties.

"We’ll always invest in Germantown," says Krey. "There’s tremendous opportunity for growth." 
 
Source: Noah Krey, Philly Office Retail
WriterGreg Meckstroth

PHS to host nationwide Civic Horticulture conference in May

This spring, the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (PHS) is bringing together prominent landscape architects and civic horticulture enthusiasts for a three-day conference showcasing Philly landscapes. The event will launch Friday, May 17 in Center City.  
 
The conference, Civic Horticulture -- which is being held in conjunction with the Cultural Landscape Foundation -- will feature nationally recognized speakers discussing how Philadelphia has used civic horticulture (a discipline that bridges aesthetics, economics and ecological systems) to successfully shape the city's urban resurgence.
 
"The conference builds off what we've done to transform the city's public spaces," says Drew Becher, president of PHS. "A lot of the speakers have never been to Philly, so this gives us an opportunity to show how other places can learn from our example."
 
Free expert-led tours will follow the conference. Dubbed What’s Out There Weekendthis series of tours will showcase more than two dozen significant examples of Philadelphia's standout landscape architecture, including hidden gems in Fairmount Park, on the grounds of the Rodin Museum and at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.  
 
The conference will take place in tandem with the unofficial unveiling of a draft form of PHS’s new civic landscapes plan for Philadelphia, developed with PennPraxis. The plan is the first of its kind in over 20 years.
 
"In the late '80s or early '90s, a plan was completed that laid out landscape projects in and around Center City," explains Becher. "More recently, we looked at the plan and said, 'Wow, we completed a lot of the projects.' We decided a new plan was needed."
 
The new plan, which is still months away from being completed, includes proposals that are divided into three categories: image makers, place makers and partner makers.

With place and partner makers, improvements will be made to specific neighborhoods or significant plazas -- this is where small moves and neighborhood partnerships can make a big difference. Implementing a pocket park or a streetscape improvement program are examples of work in this category.
 
Image maker improvements, meanwhile, aim to improve the look and feel of major transportation areas and corridors in the city. Areas of interest include Philadelphia International Airport, Amtrak’s northeast corridor rail line in North Philadelphia, Girard Avenue over the Schuylkill River, Vine Street in Center City and Broad Street from Passyunk Avenue up to Temple University.
 
For these corridors, improvements could include illumination enhancements, gateway and signage improvements, art and object installations, planting and surfacing improvements, or landform creations and creative screening.
 
"[At the conference in May], we will introduce the many ideas in the plan and begin to reach out to the public for feedback," adds Becher. "From there, we’ll put together a cohesive plan and begin its implementation." Extensive public outreach is expected to begin in earnest in September.

Source: Drew Becher, Pennsylvania Horticultural Society
WriterGreg Meckstroth