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On the Ground: Development planned for neglected Germantown YWCA

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Germantown’s long-vacant YWCA site might finally be coming back to life -- there are plans to transform the Vernon Park landmark into a mixed-use senior housing project. Developers Philly Office Retail are in the preliminary stages of securing the property for redevelopment, and in doing so, erasing the building's stigma as one of Germantown Avenue’s most high profile vacancies. But don't pop the champagne just yet.

"A lot has to happen to secure the property," explains Philly Office Retail's Ken Weinstein. The development team still has to finalize site plans, gain support from the community, line up site control and win low-income tax credits to move forward with intended plans.

"The goal is to pull this together by October when the application for low-income tax credits is due," says Weinstein. Weinstein is already working with his architect and believes the community will support the project. He is also confident that the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority (PRA) will foreclose on the vacant property.

In 2006, PRA lent the now-defunct Germantown Settlement community group $1.3 million to buy the YWCA and redevelop it as a community center. Germantown Settlement never made one mortgage payment on the property, and the structure was left to deteriorate. (Click here for the whole sordid history.)

To this day, the property is still owned by Germantown Settlement. 

According to Weinstein, the RDA has not yet moved to take back the property back because there’s been "no serious interest" in redeveloping the site. Now that Philly Office Retail is on board, the RDA is looking to move forward quickly with foreclosure proceedings.

Unfortunately, the structure has suffered severely from those years of neglect -- there were even a couple of fires. It remains to be seen if it can be saved. "I’ve never demolished a property in 22 years of doing business," says Weinstein, "but the building is in very bad shape."

No matter what happens with the original building, the end result will be a mixed-use senior facility that would compliment the pedestrian atmosphere of Germantown Avenue and serve local residents who need affordable housing. Weinstein is partnering with nearby senior care facility Center in the Park and Mission First Housing Development Corporation to earn the necessary tax credits to finance the project.

Ultimately, the development plan is about delivering a quality project for Germantown. "If we want to turn the area around, we need to do something here," says Weinstein.

Source:  Ken Weinstein, Philly Office Retail
WriterGreg Meckstroth  
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