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Entrepreneurship : Development News

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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

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

 

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.

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

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 

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


 

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 

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

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  

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

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

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

 

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
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