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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


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 

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  

ON THE GROUND: Chic Afrique moves natural cosmetics store west to expanded shop on Lancaster Ave.

Chic Afrique has moved to a location that's double in size, but what customers see is only the tip of the company's business. "Ninety percent of our sales are online," reports Victoria Onwuchekwa, founder/chief cook and bottle filler at the natural cosmetics store now located at 3943 Lancaster Avenue.
Now offering over 30 products in its cosmetics line, Chic Afrique began as a kiosk at the Echelon Mall nearly three decades ago. Onwuchekwa had just completed her Master's degree in pharmacology at Long Island University, where she became fascinated by the chemistry of cosmetics. While in search of a dissertation topic, Onwuchekwa's mother, who is a pharmacist, suggested she pick a topic near home, and Onwuchekwa embarked on a study of shea butter, a common ointment in Africa that's been growing in popularity here in the US.

"Science, chemistry and pharmacology came easy to me," says Onwuchekwa. "I decided to do something extra on the side." Combining art and science, she developed simple emulsions that are still the basis for an extensive offering that includes body butter, souffle, lotion, soap, hair oil and butter, shampoo, conditioner and even candles.
Onwuchekwa's philosophy in developing products comes from the life cycle. Watoto has ingredients gentle enough for a baby; Karite is meant for a growing child's scrapes and rashes; Okuma is for a young girl who wants to smell nice; Saronia has a potent scent meant to attract suitors, and Ife, which means love, contains turai, a Senegalese aphrodisiac. Onwuchekwa counts all ethnicities among her loyal patrons, and also offers custom labeling for business to business sales locally, nationally and internationally.
Chic Afrique moved from the Echelon Mall to The Gallery at Market East, first in a kiosk and then in a retail shop. Onwuchekwa then expanded to 7th and Walnut streets for a decade; after a brief period doing only wholesale, she opened up another retail spot at 3874 Lancaster just last year. 
Less than two months ago, Onwuchekwa's landlord called to offer the much more spacious storefront a block west. It allows shoppers a peek into Onwuchekwa's open kitchen/laboratory, which occupies the entire back half of the expansive space. The business also has three employees.
The building was previously occupied by Grace Church and Community Center, as evidenced by the sign that still hangs above the door. Business hours are Monday through Saturday from noon to 7 p.m.

Source: Victoria Onwuchekwa, Chic Afrique
Writer: Sue Spolan

A better way to dispose of food waste in West Oak Lane and Point Breeze

Philadelphia’s Streets Department is teaming up with community groups in West Oak Lane and Point Breeze and a private food waste disposal company to encourage residents  to use sink disposals to get rid of food, instead of merely throwing it away. The voluntary pilot program, called "Clean Kitchen, Green Community" is another step by the Nutter administration to help fulfill its Greenworks sustainability blueprint and make the city the most environmentally-friendly in the nation.

The food disposal pilot relies on the Ogontz Ave. Redevelopment Corporation (OARC) and Diversified Community Services (DCS) to get the word out to residents in West Oak Lane and Point Breeze, respectively. This is a role that both community organizations are happy to play.

"We pride ourselves on being innovators," says John Ungar, the chief operating officer of OARC. Both Ungar and Cheryl Weiss, the executive director of DCS, say their organizations have been busy going door-to-door in the community, striving to convince residents to give the program a try.

One hundred homeowners in both Point Breeze and West Oak Lane will receive a complimentary sink food disposal system and free installation by local plumbers, says city Streets commissioner Clarena I.W. Tolson. The disposals will be provided by Wisconsin-based InSinkErator. The president emeritus of InSinkErator, Jerry Ryder, spoke at the West Oak Lane press conference and demonstration for "Clean Kitchen." 

This pilot is part of the city’s ongoing efforts to bolster its environmental sustainability. While the city has worked to address greening as it relates to stormwater run-off, recycling, and energy efficiency, this program expands the scope to include food disposal.

"We want to test an opportunity and an issue for us," says Tolson of food waste. Tolson adds that not everyone is able to compost food waste, and for those who can’t, this program serves as a sustainable means of disposal. "Clean Kitchen" is in line with the Greenworks goal of diverting up to 70 percent of city materials from landfills. 

The press demonstration, which was held at Special T’s Events in West Oak Lane, featured an InSinkErator and plenty of chicken wings and vegetables for dignitaries, guests, and members of the media to hurl down the sink. Speakers, including Mayor Nutter, Senator Evans, and InSinkErator’s Ryder all got to dispose of their food in the sink. Attendees seemed impressed by the sink disposal, even if it was a little louder than a trash can. 

Source: Clarena I.W. Tolson, Philadelphia Streets Department
Writer: Andy Sharpe     

Neighborhood Foods' CSA delivers West Philly's freshest to rest of region

Greater Philadelphia is rapidly becoming more of a hub for urban farming and community-supported agriculture (CSA). Just look at the recently expanded Mariposa food co-op on Baltimore Ave., the active Kensington Community Food Co-op, and the Creekside Co-op groundbreaking in Montgomery County. Another organization that hasn’t received as much publicity is West Philadelphia’s Neighborhood Foods, which is transitioning from just an urban farm to a CSA and is teaming up with other local food venders at Rittenhouse Square.

Neighborhood Foods will be using three different sites in West Philadelphia this year to cultivate fresh food. The main site is Polselli Farm, a two-thirds acre lot at 53rd and Wyalusing at which the group has been farming snce 2010, according to Dylan Baird, the business manager. He adds that his organization annexed two smaller farm sites last year, and will be growing from them starting this year. One site is the popular Walnut Hill Farm, which thrives in the shadows of SEPTA's 46th St. El stop. 

Baird is excited to announce that his urban farm will also feature a CSA this year, which he claims is the city’s first urban farm-based CSA. Members of this CSA will enjoy locally-cultivated fruits, vegetables, and grains, with all proceeds being returned to Haddington, Walnut Hill, and other sections of West Philly. According to Baird, the CSA will run for 22 weeks from the middle of May to October, and more include very affordable prices. Neighborhood Foods is currently looking for members.  

The CSA is now working with other local food sellers at the Rittenhouse Square Farmers’ Market every Saturday. "We are broadening beyond just urban farmed produce and we will be incorporating all kinds of Philly produced products," says Baird. Some examples of this include canned goods from South Philly’s Green Aisle Grocery, bread from West Philly’s Four Worlds Bakery, and jellies from Fifth of a Farm Jams

Proceeds from the Rittenhouse stand enable Neighborhood Foods to continue to grow and sell fresh food at a steep discount in West Philly. "Our business model is such that we sell our food at a premium around the city so that we can subsidize the price of food at our community farmers market as well as our community programs," says Baird.  

Neighborhood Foods is a product of The Enterprise Center CDC and Urban Tree Connection, and features produce that is grown naturally and without chemicals. Baird says that the urban farm benefits from a large local population of senior citizens, who understand the value of fresh vegetables from their early years in the South. 

Writer: Andy Sharpe
Source: Dylan Baird, Neighborhood Foods

Photo courtesy Neighborhood Foods     

Greene Street Consignment to open its seventh location in Chestnut Hill

Greene Street Consignment has been a fixture among those looking to purchase designer clothing labels at cheap prices. So much so that they have branched out from their original location on South Street and opened six locations, ranging from Princeton to West Chester. It’s soon to be seven locations, as Greene Street will become the latest business to set up shop along Germantown Ave. in Chestnut Hill by the end of the month.

The consignment store will open on the 8500-block of Germantown Ave., near Penzeys Spices, The Paperia gift store, and Chestnut Hill West Station. It wasn’t hard for Greene Street to decide to open in the Northwest Philly enclave.

"Chestnut Hill is such a great community of families, shops and new shops that are opening,” says Casey Drucquer, a marketing director at the consignment shop. Drucquer quickly adds that Greene Street’s owner recently moved back to Chestnut Hill herself.

While Greene Street Consignment is a used clothing store, it’s one with exacting standards. Drucquer reports that her store won’t accept any articles of clothing that are older than two years, and demands that everything sold be in immaculate condition. The store carries adult’s clothing in every size from small to extra large. Drucquer says that the store typically offers Gap, Gucci, Prada, and Anthropologie clothes. For those looking to sell clothes, Greene Street doesn’t require appointments and rewards a 40% commission on items that are sold.  

Drucquer emphasizes that a portion of Greene St.’s proceeds go to a good cause. As a matter of fact, the owner of the store's sister recently founded a fourteen-acre farm in Chester County, called the Greene Street Animal Rescue, dedicated to sick pets.

"Since the opening a few months ago, they have taken in eleven dogs which normally would have been euthanized,” she says. Part of the consignment shop’s profit goes to this, and the store also solicits tax-deductible donations. 

Writer: Andy Sharpe
Source: Casey Drucquer, Greene St. Consignment  

Photo courtesy of Greene Street Consignment 

New Manayunk coworking space for woodworkers is first of its kind in Philadelphia

The Delaware Valley's first coworking space for woodworkers opened earlier this month, and is already proving quite popular. Philadelphia Woodworks is a membership-based co-working arena and educational facility across from the Ivy Ridge train station on Umbria St. in Manayunk. According to Emily Duncan, the business manager at Woodworks, the facility already boasts twenty members, sixteen of which are certified in woodworking. Along with coworking, Duncan says classes are expected to begin in a few weeks.

Philadelphia Woodworks emphasizes that anyone can become a member, as long as they don't have an inordinate fear of splinters. The center is indeed welcoming to professionals and novices alike. "You can do it and we can help you," coaxes Duncan. This is one reason why the workshop will hold classes. Duncan continues by saying members and other people interested in woodworking can even suggest classes. Michael Vogel, who's the founder and president of Woodworks, also emphasizes that classes are run with their students' schedules in mind.  

The woodworker's paradise is concentrating on partnering with local businesses that work with wood. For example, Duncan gives a shout-out to Provenance Architectural Salvage in Northern Liberties, who she says will stock re-used materials. Vogel also points out that some classes will be affiliated with other relevant organizations, including the Center for Art in Wood and the Wharton-Esherick Museum in Valley Forge. The Independence Seaport Museum has even expressed interest in helping with education at Philadelphia Woodworks.

This "gym for woodworking," as Vogel puts it, has all of the latest woodworking tools throughout the 6,600-square foot facility. 4,500 of which are devoted to shop space, which includes professional industrial grade power and hand tools; milling machines that can smooth wood; sanding, shaping, and edging stations; dust collection; and air filters. In addition, the space comes equipped with Golden Boy, the shop manager's adorable pug, who can be found strutting around the shop. Finally, Duncan adds that there will be plentiful locker and cubby space for tool storage.

Vogel and Duncan both stress that the woodworking space is truly unique for Southeastern Pennsylvania. Duncan says the closest place of its kind is all the way down in Rockville, Md. The next closest is a long ride north in Connecticut. Because of this, Vogel chose the location because of its convenience to the entire region. "You can get from Cherry Hill to West Chester in a half hour [depending on traffic] because of our proximity to 76," he mentions. As Duncan points out, not only is it easily accessible by car, but it's also in propinquity to the Schuylkill River Bike Trail and the train.

To complement the shop, Philadelphia Woodworks also features a member's lounge, with a kitchen, TVs, and a "clubhouse atmosphere," says Duncan. There is also a lumberyard and sheetwood store on site. If you're interested in becoming a member, you'll want to act fast as space is filling up. There's currently no cap on the amount of members that can be accommodated, but Duncan and Vogel agree they'll eventually have to find one. 

Writer: Andy Sharpe
Sources: Michael Vogel, Emily Duncan, and Golden Boy the pug, Philadelphia Woodworks

PhillyCarShare rolls out new office and electric cars

Ten years since launching here, PhillyCarShare (PCS) is still rolling along with innovation, with some recent maneuvers that make their service more convenient, sustainable and in tune with the city it serves.

The company opened up a much more convenient office and customer service center on a stretch of Chestnut St. left vacant by the Borders closing. It has also completely revamped its auto line-up with late model cars and added American-made electric vehicles to their fleet.

The agency opened up an easily-accessible office last month at 13th and Chestnut Sts., in an area that's been punctuated by the shuttering of Borders Books. Previously, PCS members had to trudge up 10 stories at 9th and Sansom Sts. to pick up key fobs or speak to an agent in person.

"The office remains convenient to mass transit but is conducive to walk-in customers so we can better serve immediate customer needs," says Lisa Martini, a spokeswoman with PCS' owner Enterprise Holdings.

Along with PhillyCarShare's new and more visible office, the agency is acquiring new cars that command attention. Martini says the firm is renting four Chevy Volts, which are $39,000 American-made electric cars. All four of the Volts are available to share at 11th and Filbert Sts., which is by SEPTA's Market East Station and Reading Terminal Market.

"PhillyCarShare Volts are being introduced in anticipation of the City of Philadelphia's installation this spring of 18 charging stations in nine locations," continues the spokeswoman. 

Enterprise confirms it's interested in dramatically expanding the portion of the PhillyCarShare fleet that is electric. Martini says she hopes the electric vehicles will tantalize current PhillyCarShare users and lure new people to join the car sharing network. She says the number of electric vehicles that are ordered depends on member feedback. If you're a PhillyCarShare member and you like the Chevy Volt, make sure to let the agency know about it. 

In addition to the electric cars, the resurgent car sharing business has replaced all of its autos and added new pods in Philly. In contrast to many of its older cars that lined city streets just eight months ago, the agency now uses 2011 and 2012 cars, vans, SUVs, and pick-ups. Martini highlights some of the new pods across the city, which were added to Market East, the Navy Yard, Mantua, and Cedar Park. All pods have been removed from SEPTA train station parking lots for the past month while both sides renegotiate their contract. Martini is unable to say when those pods will be restored.

Writer: Andy Sharpe
Source: Lisa Martini, Enterprise Holdings

One of area's few suburban food deserts, Chester, gets a lift from Philabundance's nonprofit grocery

It’s a well-known fact that many low-income neighborhoods in Philadelphia are food deserts, meaning there is no grocery store or other source of fresh foods nearby. The city of Chester in Delaware County must be the Gobi Desert of food deserts, as the entire city is currently without a supermarket. This is despite the recent construction of both a soccer stadium and a casino. However, this is about to change as Philabundance, with the help of the Delaware Valley Regional Economic Development Fund, recently acquired a building to open up a non-profit grocery store.

The grocery store will be called Fare and Square, and will be located on Ninth St., a few blocks south of Highland Ave. Lindsay Bues, a spokeswoman for Philabundance, reports that Fare and Square will sell both deeply-discounted and free food, and will accept and teach the community about Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. “This model promotes food equality by offering a full range of food products at one convenient location on a regular basis while allowing people to maximize their purchasing power,” reports Bues.

Chester’s first grocery store is made possible through a $1 million grant through the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. This grant will comprise a good chunk of the $4.5 million price tag behind offering fresh food. According to Bues, the store will take up 13,000 sq. ft. and provide 30 new jobs, many of which will go to local residents. The store will likely open its doors in about a year.

Local and federal lawmakers are still trying to get a bigger supermarket to open in Chester, and it sounds like they might be close. Two chains that might be interested in opening are Shop Rite and Fresh Grocer, although nothing is firm at this moment. There’s no word on what will happen to Fare and Square when a larger grocery store does set up shop. 

Writer: Andy Sharpe
Source: Lindsay Bues

Adaptive re-use: Center City developer looks to transform GHo church into luxury residences

Since 1889, the intersection of Grays Ferry Ave. and Fitzwater St has been graced by a church. For decades, the St. Anthony of Padua Roman Catholic Church occupied the crossroads, until the Greater St. Matthew Baptist Church moved in soon after the start of this century. Yet, Greater St. Matthew recently had to sell the building, which might mark its conclusion as a place of worship. In fact, Center City developer Ben Weinraub is looking to convert the church into luxury apartments.

Weinraub, the owner of Vintage Residential Management, is keen on "adaptively re-using" the church to create one- and a few two-bedroom apartments. This means "saving the interior and exterior [of the holy place] as much as possible," he points out. One way in which Weinraub hopes to do this is by carving a patio out of the roof and parapits. He also seeks to utilize the former church's tower as an overlook space, although that would depend on the fire code. 

The building is comprised of two facilities, which are the erstwhile sanctuary and rectory of the church. The developer is proposing 29 apartments to be built where the sanctuary used to stand and eight apartments where the rectory was housed. Weinraub is currently hoping to get a variance from the Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA) for converting the sanctuary into apartments. 

The developer is passionate about maintaining the character of the holy place. He endeavors to use a great deal of stone in constructing the apartments, and hopes to create wrought iron balconies. Weinraub is also skeptical about creating off-street parking for the units. Some neighbors have suggested he include basement parking, although that would mean he would have to significantly alter the interior of the building, thus hindering the efforts to preserve the church's character. 

In lieu of parking, Vintage Management hopes to encourage residents to bike, carshare, and walk. Weinraub hopes to invite PhillyCarShare and Zipcar to turn two of the old church's anointed parking spaces into pods. He also hopes to provide ample bike storage. In addition, the developer anticipates that many residents will be graduate students or workers in University City, meaning a relatively short pedestrian commute over the South St. Bridge.       

Writer: Andy Sharpe
Source: Ben Weinraub, Vintage Property Management

PIDC looking for public input with Lower Schuylkill River Master Plan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reading Terminal Market expansion will include more vendors, demo kitchen and event space

Philadelphia's most notable farmer's market will get a little bigger in 2012. Come April, the Reading Terminal Market will be ready to unveil space for four to five new vendors, a demonstration kitchen, multi-functional event space, and expanded restrooms, according to general manager Paul Steinke. The expansion will catapult the back of the market, known as the eastern end, into the spotlight. It comes on the heels of the opening of Molly Malloy's, which has proven a popular gastropub.  

Steinke is quick to point out the cornerstone of the soon-to-be expanded market, the Rick Nichols Room. This event space "will feature a permanent, museum-quality exhibit on the history of the market," promises Steinke. The space is named in honor of recently retired local food critic Rick Nichols, who wrote about all things edible in Philadelphia for 15 years. The space is being created in conjunction with the Philadelphia History Museum at the Atwater Kent. The space will double as a meeting and party zone, available for rental by groups.

Reading Terminal currently has no shortage of applications from businesses that want to take advantage of the new vendor space, assures Steinke. He says the market is looking for businesses that complement the "culinary and ethnic diversity." It looks like no decision has yet been made on new vendors. The market also promises to double its restroom capacity and provide cooking classes and chef presentations when it finalizes its expansion.

One of the greatest challenges in expanding the market has been maintaining the building's historical character. To make sure this happens, the market put the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia's Eugene LeFevre in charge of the renovation. LeFevre has specialized in renovating classic buildings, including the Mellon Independence Center and the Morris House Hotel, for 25 years. Steinke underscores the added difficulty of working on a historic building. "You never know what you're going to find when you work on a historic building," he says.

While the current expansion of the eastern portion of the market is indeed exciting, many would like to see the Reading Terminal expand on the other side of Filbert St. Steinke recognizes this, and says the market has been in talks about taking over the property across Filbert. The property is owned by the city's Redevelopment Authority. Despite these talks, there are no solid plans for the market to venture across the street at this time. It looks like the Reading Terminal Market will have to conduct one expansion at a time. From now until April, that expansion will be the eastern wing.  

Source: Paul Steinke, Reading Terminal Market
Writer: Andy Sharpe

SEPTA's bus fleet to become more eco-friendly thanks to two grants

Despite a budget shortfall, SEPTA will be able to resume purchasing hybrid diesel-electric buses thanks to two grants from the US Department of Transportation. For the first time ever, SEPTA will purchase hybrid 60-foot accordion buses, which are the longest buses in the system. SEPTA’s current assortment of hybrid buses is about 30 percent more fuel efficient than equivalent clean diesel buses.

SEPTA is the beneficiary of $15 million in federal funds to cover the difference in cost between hybrid and clean diesel 60-foot buses. Luther Diggs, who’s in charge of operations at SEPTA, says it will stretch out the acquisition of these longer buses over four years, with the first year’s purchase entirely hybrid. Over the four years, SEPTA will be replacing 155 longer buses, with an option for 65 more. The percent of these that are hybrid will depend on how much more grant money becomes available. 

This opens the possibility that additional bus routes might see these longer buses. "We have some additional need for 60-foot buses," confirms Diggs. He suggests that the Route 47 bus, which was the subject of the failed skip-stop pilot and more successful attempts to speed it up, might end up seeing longer buses. Also, he hints that the extremely well-traveled Route 17 bus, which runs up and down 19th and 20th Sts. in South Philadelphia and across Center City, might be another new candidate for the 60-footers.

Shortly after the $15 million grant was announced, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) announced another grant of $5 million to pay for additional hybrid 40-foot buses, the most prevalent of SEPTA's fleet. This is welcome news for many local environmentalists, who earlier this year were dismayed to hear that funding difficulties meant SEPTA would cease acquiring standard-size hybrid buses. According to Diggs, SEPTA will resume purchasing these hybrid buses in 2013, and only purchase hybrid 40-foot buses in 2014. 

Diggs is convinced that hybrid buses represent the most financially sensible way for SEPTA to green its bus fleet. Diggs says SEPTA did examine running buses using compressed natural gas (CNG) in the mid-1990s. However, hybrid buses were ruled more effective than their CNG counterparts because of "infrastructure, residential neighborhoods, and cost," says Diggs. While some transit agencies in California and Texas use CNG, there are legitimate concerns about the cost of putting in CNG infrastructure and the health risks associated with natural gas.  

Source: Luther Diggs, SEPTA
Writer: Andy Sharpe 

Art gallery and store purchase the former downtown location of the Please Touch Museum

The I. Brewster and Company art gallery and store will be moving from its current location at 2200 Market St. into the former site of the Please Touch Museum on the 200 block of N. 21st St. This will put the gallery and store close to the museum district on the Ben Franklin Parkway. When they do move shop, the store expects to be an interesting addition to the neighborhood.

The listing agents for the erstwhile Please Touch Museum site were Joe Muldoon and Chris Lange of Binswanger. Muldoon says the gallery and store will be fitting in its new location. "The use is similar to other Museums on and around the Parkway," praises Muldoon. He adds that the gallery will be much smaller than the Parkway museums. The realtor fully expects the neighborhood to appreciate the new use of the property.

I. Brewster is notable for its gargantuan inventory of Louis Icart paintings. Icart is a famed fashion sketcher who drew during the French Art Deco period. I. Brewster’s owner, Nathan Isen, actually wrote a book about Icart, which is now in its fourth printing. The gallery and store also features work from Andy Warhol, Marc Chagall, Jasper Johns, and a host of other artists. Altogether, I. Brewster contains over 40,000 works of art.

Muldoon says that the owners of the Please Touch Museum were a pleasure to work with. Even through a tough economy, which resulted in far less interest in the property, the museum remained helpful and supportive. Museum leadership was also cognizant that certain uses would be rejected by neighborhood groups, which made it even more difficult to sell the space.

The bottom line is I. Brewster’s move has the realtor and the museum upbeat. "This is one of those situations where everyone involved appears to have won," says Muldoon.  No word yet on when they will open, although they already have "moving" signs in the windows at their current outlet. What’s clear is that it is likely only a short matter of time before the Parkway area sees some more art.

Source: Joe Muldoon, Binswanger Real Estate
Writer: Andy Sharpe
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