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Wilmington, DE : Development News

7 Wilmington, DE Articles | Page:

One of area's few suburban food deserts, Chester, gets a lift from Philabundance's nonprofit grocery

It’s a well-known fact that many low-income neighborhoods in Philadelphia are food deserts, meaning there is no grocery store or other source of fresh foods nearby. The city of Chester in Delaware County must be the Gobi Desert of food deserts, as the entire city is currently without a supermarket. This is despite the recent construction of both a soccer stadium and a casino. However, this is about to change as Philabundance, with the help of the Delaware Valley Regional Economic Development Fund, recently acquired a building to open up a non-profit grocery store.

The grocery store will be called Fare and Square, and will be located on Ninth St., a few blocks south of Highland Ave. Lindsay Bues, a spokeswoman for Philabundance, reports that Fare and Square will sell both deeply-discounted and free food, and will accept and teach the community about Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. “This model promotes food equality by offering a full range of food products at one convenient location on a regular basis while allowing people to maximize their purchasing power,” reports Bues.

Chester’s first grocery store is made possible through a $1 million grant through the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. This grant will comprise a good chunk of the $4.5 million price tag behind offering fresh food. According to Bues, the store will take up 13,000 sq. ft. and provide 30 new jobs, many of which will go to local residents. The store will likely open its doors in about a year.

Local and federal lawmakers are still trying to get a bigger supermarket to open in Chester, and it sounds like they might be close. Two chains that might be interested in opening are Shop Rite and Fresh Grocer, although nothing is firm at this moment. There’s no word on what will happen to Fare and Square when a larger grocery store does set up shop. 

Writer: Andy Sharpe
Source: Lindsay Bues

Northern Delaware burger icon expanding all over Philadelphia area

If you're jonesing for a hamburger, you may soon have a new fix nearby. Jake's Wayback Burgers, which started in 1991 as a few ultra-popular burger shacks in Northern Delaware, recently opened locations in Delaware, Chester, and Montgomery Counties, and plans to open its first location in Philadelphia soon.

These locations include Northeast Philadelphia, West Chester, and Chadds Ford. Northeast Philadelphia will be the business' first foray into the city, and will be located at Welsh Rd. and Roosevelt Boulevard. According to Jake's the target opening for the Northeast location will be in two to three weeks.

Jake's Burgers has been a staple in New Castle County, Delaware, consistently garnering local awards. As Gillian Maffeo, the marketing director at Jake's, puts it, the restaurant has a "cult following" in the First State. The original location in Newark hasn't changed very much, as it still has just four tables inside, picnic tables outside, and the original hand-made burgers and milkshakes. These burgers and milkshakes have attracted the accolades of Delawareans, as they have repeatedly been voted the "best burger" and  "best milkshake" in the state by Delaware Today and Delaware News Journal readers. This is despite stiff competition from another old-fashioned burger joint, The Charcoal Pit.  

The restaurant is currently flipping burgers in Wayne, Willow Grove, Springfield (Delaware County), Exton, Kennett Square, and Pottstown. Some of these locations have only been open a few months, while others have been open for a couple of years. With this in mind, there are a number of locations that will be opening in the coming months.

Maffeo is most enthusiastic about the role Jake's plays in the surrounding communities. Individual restaurants do everything from "fundraising events to cancer and diabetes walks," said Maffeo. The marketing director added that some Jake's locations will be serving turkey burger dinners at local homeless shelters for Thanksgiving. She was also especially proud of the diabetes walk that employees at the Exton location participated in.

To emphasize the popularity of Jake's burgers and milkshakes, the restaurant has begun to feature a "burger of the month" and a "milkshake of the month." While hamburgers and milkshakes will always be Jake's most notable offerings, the restaurant has expanded its menu beyond just those. The burger joint now sells all-beef hotdogs, turkey burgers, various sandwiches, and salads.

Source: Gillian Maffeo, Jake's Wayback Burgers
Writer: Andy Sharpe

Goal! DVRPC examines how a Chester train station can best serve soccer fans and office workers

Don’t let Chester, Delaware County’s suburban location fool you; it’s a patchwork of neighborhoods afflicted by crime and poverty. Just in the past couple of weeks, Chester saw six people shot and a man commit suicide after a traffic stop by ingesting cocaine. With those woes in mind, the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC) recently undertook a study analyzing how a train station can connect fans of the Philadelphia Union soccer team that plays there, office workers, and perhaps even future Chester residents.

The DVRPC study, called the “Chester Riverfront and Community Rail Access Study,” researched how Chester’s currently struggling Highland Avenue Station can better serve residents, visitors, and workers. Presently, “Highland Avenue is one with (a) very low number of boardings (84 boardings per day in 2009) and might be considered a candidate for closure under other circumstances,” says Dr. Joseph Hacker, manager in DVRPC’s Office of Transit, Bicycle, and Pedestrian Planning.

Yet, the Union’s soccer stadium, PPL Park, stands in the way of closure, as does the recently built office complex Wharf at Rivertown. Due in large part to these destinations, DVRPC looked into rebuilding a station at Highland, or moving the station to one of two nearby locations, Townsend/Engle Streets or Flower Street.

Hacker thinks a rebuilt or relocated Highland Ave. train station could be a catalyst for some new housing development, which is something not often heard of in Chester. Specifically, Hacker points to Rivertown as an area that could be ripe for new housing. “It is my understanding that SEPTA would be eager to partner on a new station if there was a coterminous development supporting a new investment,” said DVRPC’s manager. “A $27 million investment (the cost to build a new station) is not warranted by the weekly soccer ridership.”

According to DVRPC, distance and accessibility to PPL Park and the Wharf at Rivertown are two of the greatest factors that went into the study. Accessibility is defined as “the legibility and the safety of the path between the station and the respective destination,” in the words of Hacker.

In fact, DVRPC’s current Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) addresses the Chester study. Both the Flower and Townsend/Engle St. sites have improved pedestrian crossings over a freight line leading to the PPL Park and Rivertown programmed into the TIP. As for the Highland Ave. site, there is a TIP item concerning signage and streetscaping there, to make for a better walking environment.

While Chester continues to be plagued by high crime and low incomes, a train station might lay down the track for the resuscitation of the suburban city. While a rebuilt or relocated Highland Ave. Station would be a good thing for Union fans and office workers, it could be a marvelous thing for residents. 

Source: Dr. Joseph Hacker, DVRPC
Writer: Andy Sharpe

SEPTA receives $6.4M in federal grants to develop transit asset management system

Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey announced last Tuesday that Pennsylvania would receive $47 million in federal transit and infrastructure grants as part of the Federal Transit Administration's State of Good Repair program. As SEPTA updated its hybrid bus fleet two years ago, the lion's share of the funding went to Pittsburgh's Allegheny County Port Authority for a clean diesel fleet of their own. But SEPTA didn't come away empty handed, receiving $8.1 million for two infrastructure improvements a long time coming.

The first grant will revamp SEPTA's Parkside Bus Loop, helping reconnect this West Philly neighborhood. But the second, more universal improvement will aid in future upgrades. Using $6.4 million, SEPTA will install an asset management system to aid in record-keeping as many of Philadelphia's transit assets come up for repairs.

"A lot of our infrastructure dates back to the early 1900's and were taken over from other private companies," says SEPTA CFO Richard Burnfield. "What the FTA was trying to focus on is knowing what you have out there in the field before you can make an assessment as to what your overall needs are, coming up with a plan for when things should be replaced."

The system will help SEPTA keep better records so when funding is available, the authority can make a more organized, more compelling case for further federal dollars as the fleet is upgraded.

"Right now, we do a very good job of managing our assets so while the records are not as computerized as we'd like them to be, we have so much knowledge within our engineering staff that I feel we make excellent decisions," says Burnfield. "But I think this will help us going forward so we can do a second check on things as our staff reaches retirement."

Source: Richard Burnfield, SEPTA
Writer: John Steele

Subject of a popular blog, green building project 60 Bragg Hill finally underway in Chester County

When it comes to sharing experiences, Barney Leonard just can't help himself. As a veteran of corporate communications, Leonard has spent his career blogging and filming for profit. After five years searching for a home in Chester County, Leonard and his wife stumbled on a piece of land with views of the Brandywine River, nestled in the wooded seclusion of Pocopson Township near Chadds Ford. They decided to build their dream home and they decided to build it green. Leonard began chronicling the experience on a blog, 60BraggHill.com, named for the lot, in order to make some extra revenue and gain community support. This week, after three years of well-documented battles with state and federal regulators and Mother Nature herself, construction began on 60 Bragg Hill, the most sustainable property in Chester County.

"We decided that, not that we are tree huggers, but if you are going to start from scratch, why not be smart and use green building techniques," says Leonard. "What we didn't realize is how difficult that would be to do. We just broke ground but it took a long, long time."

As his project ran into several roadblocks, the blog became increasingly dramatic, gaining hundreds of weekly readers. For one thing, the wood from their property had been pillaged by loggers, leaving only stumps and remnants that had to be collected for construction. The property nudged up against the natural habitat of the endangered Bog Turtle, living in nearby wetlands. It wasn't easy being green, especially with an audience. But eventually, local construction companies began helping out, hoping to show off their sustainable abilities, and community support kept pressure on the powers-that-be. Today, Leonard firmly believes that without the blog, he never would have gotten this far.

"I will say this: the government agencies who issue permits and environmental groups who provide clearances for land disturbance tend to be highly conservative and overly cautious because these issues are new," says Leonard. "I want to go through this so maybe it will be a little bit easier for the next guy."

Source: Barney Leonard, 60BraggHill.com
Writer: John Steele

Amtrak stops at 30th Street Station to announce high-speed rail plan

In science fiction novels and books about the future, a few technologies are boilerplate: flying cars, meals in pill form and the ability to teleport instantly from place to place. National commuter rail company Amtrak took another step toward teleportation on Tuesday with its announcement of a high-speed rail vision plan. In Tuesday's news conference from University City's 30th Street Station, with Governor Ed Rendell on hand, Amtrak officials laid out their goal to create a line with average speeds well over 130 mph, saving passengers between one and two hours on average.

"Amtrak is putting forward a bold vision of a realistic and attainable future that can revolutionize transportation, travel patterns and economic development in the Northeast for generations," says Amtrak President and CEO Joseph Boardman.

The plan, entitled A Vision for High-Speed Rail in the Northeast Corridor, proposes a full build-out to be completed by 2040. Its construction, Amtrak says, would create more than 40,000 full-time jobs annually over a 25-year period, building new track, tunnels, bridges, stations, and other infrastructure. Predictably, the cost for such a project is high, $4.7 billion annually over 25 years. But Amtrak's feasibility studies peg the Northeast as a "mega-region" capable of drawing the type of rail traffic to make such an investment profitable. And with some premier legislative voices like New Jersey's Frank Lautenberg and Massachusetts' John Kerry already voicing their support, we may be teleporting out of 30th Street Station sooner than we think.

"Amtrak's High Speed Rail plan will create jobs, cut pollution and help us move towards a modern and reliable transportation system network in the Northeast," said Kerry in a recent statement. "As countries around the world continue to build out their transportation systems, we
cannot afford to fall further behind. This is an important down payment on the massive commitment necessary to bridge our infrastructure gap." 

Source: Joseph Boardman, Amtrak
Writer: John Steele

World Cafe Live founder Hal Real helps save the Queen (Theater in Wilmington)

Of all the stations on all the car stereos in all the world, Philadelphia entrepreneur Hal Real's dial happened to stumble on 88.5 one afternoon and a live music institution was born. An avid concert-goer, Real became frustrated with Philadelphia's smoky stages. When he heard WXPN's World Cafe, hosted by David Dye, he knew he had found his live music muse.

Six years later, World Cafe Live is one of the most popular music venues in Philadelphia, driving a nightlife crowd to a sparse section of UPenn's campus. Earlier this summer, Real began a crusade to bring live music to another underutilized area as his company, Real Entertainment Group redevelops the historic Queen Theater in Wilmington, Del. Real created Light Up The Queen, a non-profit redevelopment group designed to restore this storied theater to its former glory.

"You can't have a monumental building like that sit there like a piece of urban blight," says Real. "It needs to come back to life."

Opened as a vaudeville theater in 1917, the Queen went dark in 1959. But as downtown Wilmington begins a $325 million Market Street redevelopment, buildings like the Queen have been targeted for demolition. Real believes the hype in Wilmington and hopes his venue can help draw visitors from nearby Philadelphia and South Jersey. The Light Up The Queen foundation has already hosted musical acts like Trombone Shorty at public locations around Wilmington to promote the new venue.

"Geographically, Wilmington is smack in the middle of New York City and Washington, DC. It is five minutes off of I-95 and a 10-minute walk to the Amtrak train station," says Real. "That's why Wilmington is going through this great renaissance. Lots more acts would be willing to play Wilmington if they had a venue."

Source: Hal Real, Real Entertainment Group
Writer: John Steele
7 Wilmington, DE Articles | Page:
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