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On the Ground: Germantown's business district gets a facelift

After two-and-a-half months On the Ground in Germantown, the area's many assets become immediately apparent. The rich history, beautiful housing stock and diverse community are enough to make other Philly neighborhoods envious. But it’s also become clear that some of these assets are underutilized.

The City Planning Commission, led by Northwest Community Planner Matt Wysong, is looking to change that, starting with the Central Germantown Business District Beautification Plan, officially adopted last September. The Plan aims to improve Germantown’s primary business district at the nexus of Chelten and Germantown Avenues.

"Downtown Germantown was the King of Prussia of the 1950s," says Wysong. "With investment down and vacancy up, the district needs a facelift."

With the plan as a guide, the Planning Commission will implement a series of short- and long-term physical improvements to the commercial corridor over the next few years. The first, and most dramatic, is the reconfiguration of the plaza-like bus stop at Chelten Avenue and Greene Street.
"We're looking to fix the function and use of the space -- the basic things," explains Wysong. "We want to make spaces live up to their potential."
The improvements will increase transit access and safety for bus riders, and a pedestrian plaza will be created, tying into nearby Vernon Park, another open space Wysong believes is currently underutilized.
"The plaza can become a back door to Vernon Park," he says. "We want to take the vibrancy of Chelten and integrate it into Vernon Park."
The plaza’s final design has yet to be completed. The Planning Commission and Germantown United CDC held a design charrette at Flying Kite’s On the Ground space (322 W. Chelten Ave.) in February to jumpstart the process.
The Commission is also looking to implement streetscape improvements on Chelten between Germantown and Greene. New street trees, addition plantings and enhanced newspaper stands are all potential ideas.
Wysong says that even more dramatic improvements are set to take place longterm. Facelifts to Maplewood Mall and other targeted areas throughout the district will take place over the coming years.
"These current improvements are pilot projects," says Wysong. "They’re getting the ball rolling. By next summer, if all goes according to plan, you’ll really start to notice a big difference."

Source: Matt Wysong, Philadelphia City Planning Commission
WriterGreg Meckstroth
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