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On the Ground: Wayne Junction upgrades spark private investment

The Wayne Junction SEPTA Station renovation has been underway for a little over a year and already developers and community groups are buying up nearby property, anticipating increased demand for living and working close to one of Philly's busiest transit hubs.  
The Frank Furness-designed station was rebuilt in 1900. It sits at the nexus of Germantown and Nicetown, and serves five different regional rail lines, making it one of the most heavily trafficked train stations in the city. Now, a $25 million renovation will bring the neighborhood anchor into the future, and hopefully spark the area's transformation.

Though progress has been slow, private investment has begun to pick up on the Germantown side of the station, notably in the Wayne Junction Industrial Historic District. Lower Germantown has tremendous potential -- it is rife with beautiful, historic, underutilized buildings. Last year, developer Ken Weinstein of Philly Office Retail bought the former Max Levy Autograph Co. building on Roberts Avenue.
"I was really encouraged by SEPTA's investment in upgrading Wayne Junction," says Weinstein, "otherwise I wouldn't have bought the building."
This past summer, Weinstein and company got to work removing asbestos and clearing the vacant structure of hazardous materials. Weinstein hopes the building can eventually be utilized as offices, lofts and artist studios.
Weinstein has also bought other buildings close to Wayne Junction, including the former Germantown Settlement Charter School (that project was detailed in a recent issue of Flying Kite). Transit proximity was a key factor for the school's new tenants, GreatnessIsInYou!, a community performance space, and the non-profit New Directions for Women.
On the south side of Wayne Junction, the public sector has entered the fray. Nicetown Court II, a collaboration between the Nicetown Community Development Corporation and Universal Companies -- with funding help from the city, state and federal governments -- is currently under construction. Once complete, the project will bring 50 units of low-income housing and retail to the 4400 block of Germantown Avenue.

That development is being built adjacent to the 37-unit first phase, Nicetown Court I, which opened in 2011.
Matt Wysong of the Planning Commission says the projects are "completely remaking" this section of Germantown Avenue, and hopes their transit-oriented design will promote and inspire similar development north of Wayne Junction, something Weinstein would no doubt welcome with open arms. 
"The market [for significant private development] isn’t quite there yet," says Wysong, who believes that market is likely years away. But with Weinstein readying his properties for the completion of Wayne Junction’s renovation in 2014, that development could be a bit closer. 

Source:  Ken Weinstein, Philly Office Retail; Matt Wysong, City Planning Commission
WriterGreg Meckstroth
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