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In Tacony, Torresdale Avenue's rebirth starts with facade improvements

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Tacony, a planned community in Northeast Philadelphia, has a lot to offer -- great access to Center City, historic building stock and a traditional "main street" along Torresdale Avenue. Planners and community advocates are pinning the neighborhood's hopes on that commercial corridor. Thanks to the hard work of Alex Balloon, commercial corridor manager for the Tacony CDC, years of vacancy and neglect are giving way to rebirth.
 
Balloon has helped spearhead a number of initiatives in the past year, including tree plantings and a marketing campaign highlighting the great things Tacony and Torresdale Avenue have to offer.
 
The most ambitious effort is a Facade Grant Program, unveiled last year. The program operates in coordination with the Commerce Department's Storefront Improvement Program, providing business and property owners captial for exterior improvement projects. Many local communities take advantage of this program, but Tacony has a leg up.
 
"We are lucky enough to offer a grant that covers 85 percent of a project's cost," explains Balloon. "Typically, the Commerce Department's program offers 50 percent. The response has been encouraging. Over 20 businesses expressed interest. Since then, some folks have dropped out, leaving us with 17 storefronts that are part of our program."
 
The Tacony CDC worked with the business owners and the Community Design Collaborative to put together designs for the storefronts. The partners held a Design Day late last year to bring the two parties together.

Of those 17 projects, one is complete -- Sannutti Funeral Home on the corner of Torresdale and Princeton Avenues -- and another is under construction: DeNofa's Deli, one of the corridor's anchor businesses. So far, improvements have included removing aluminum, improving signage and windows, and working to reveal the historic character of the corridor's commercial buildings.
 
"There’s been a universally positive response," says Balloon. "DeNofa's owners say customers are already praising the improvements."
 
Fifteen more storefront improvement projects will begin in June of this year; those contracts are currently out for bid.
 
Ultimately, Balloon sees the storefront program as one piece in a larger effort to revitalize Torresdale Avenue. He hopes to leverage the relationships fostered with local businesses, assisting them with visual merchandising and improving product offerings.
 
"It takes more than design to revitalize a commercial corridor," says Balloon. "We need to do a better job marketing ourselves and the assets we have."

Source:  Alex Balloon, Commercial Corridor Manager, Tacony CDC
WriterGreg Meckstroth
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