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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
 

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

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 

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

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 

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 

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

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.

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.
 

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

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

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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.

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
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