East Girard Avenue in Fishtown has the bones of a great commercial corridor. The blocks between Front Street and I-95 feature a tight knit collection of businesses and great architecture, with easy access to public transit. The booming development in the surrounding neighborhood has led to an influx of restaurants, shops and bars.
The New Kensington Community Development Corporation (NKCDC
) is working hard to steward that development. Recent tangible accomplishments include a hyper-pedestrian streetscape plan and "Take Me to the River," a gateway feature connecting East Girard to nearby Penn Treaty Park. Now, with two big initiatives in the pipeline, NKCDC looks to improve the intangible: East Girard’s image.
The first, LISC Corridors of Retail Excellence -- LISC CORE for short -- is the result of a grant from LISC
. According to NKCDC's Angie Williamson, the group will utilize the funds to make "a big impact with small investments" along the corridor.
One example is a Model Block Initiative on visual merchandising, focused on the stretch of Girard between Oxford and Marlborough Streets. Quite simply, NKCDC hopes the campaign will become "an example for others along East Girard to follow." To achieve that goal, NKCDC hired local architects David Quadrini and Brian Syzmanik. They'll work with the block's businesses to improve window displays and facades, and connect pedestrians on the sidewalk with activity inside.
"Sometimes it’s as simple as leaving the lights on at night or placing the cash register in just the right place," explains Williamson. "We’re trying to help local businesses develop an understanding of visual merchandising and design, skills they can use years from now."
The Model Block program should be complete by early summer, about the same time the CDC’s other large initiative will be complete. That project, Girard Avenue East District Marketing, is being funded by another healthy grant, this time from the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development
"It’s purely a marketing plan," says Williamson, "but there will be quite a bit of urban design components as well." Local firms Letter 27
and Interface Studio LLC
, known for their graphic design prowess and branding expertise, have been tapped for the job. They hope to establish East Girard as a destination beyond its immediate neighborhood.
Beyond the summer, Williamson and NKCDC have their eye on the ultimate selling point for the corridor: the Front and Girard El SEPTA stop. "It’s a big gateway opportunity for us," says Williamson, noting that its current condition leaves something to be desired. "Once you enter East Girard from the El, we want as nice an experience as possible, so that’s what we’ll focus on improving in the future."
So far, no funding has been identified for such an ambitious project, but Williamson remains optimistic that dramatic improvements can be made in the not-too-distant future.
For more on the NKCDC's efforts in Fishtown, check out our feature on Executive Director Sandy Salzman.
: Angie Williamson, New Kensington CDC
: Greg Meckstroth