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The Community Design Collaborative awards $30,000 to Play Space design team winners

Over the last year, we’ve had our eye on the Community Design Collaborative’s international Play Space Design Competition, a major piece of the 18-month Play Space Initiative funded by the William Penn Foundation. Last September, the Collaborative announced the three sites that participating design teams would focus on, and in March, three winners emerged: one for each site. (Infill Philadelphia: Play Space is a partnership of the Collaborative and the Delaware Valley Association for the Education of Young Children.)
"We’re really excited about all of them," says Play Space Program Manager Alexa Bosse. Thanks to supportive partners, the Collaborative was able to award a $10,000 prize to each of the three winning teams.
In all, there were forty submissions from six countries and 17 states. From the fall 2015 announcement of the sites (Parks & Rec’s Waterloo Recreation Center, the School District’s Haverford Bright Futures campus, and the Free Library’s Blanche A. Nixon/Cobbs Creek branch) to the final presentations in March, each proposal underwent a rigorous evaluation process.
Each submission was comprised of a 20-page packet detailing a plan to revitalize or create an eco-friendly 21st-century play space. The Collaborative assembled an expert jury featuring education, health and design professionals who judged the ideas based on cost estimates, maintenance plans, stormwater management and education strategies. The panel narrowed the field to nine finalists: three for each site.
Once they were announced, the Collaborative re-engaged site staffers, students, users and neighbors to vet the finalists' designs and get feedback. For about two weeks, each site had a ballot box courtesy of the Collaborative where locals could submit their votes for the plan they liked best. This yielded about 250 votes in all.
Finally, on March 16 at the Academy of Natural Sciences, an awards jury judged presentations from each team. The winning scores incorporated the initial expert jury’s recommendations, community members' votes, and the awards jury's decision.
"It’s really hard to get funding until you have a design," says Bosse of why the plans produced by the competition are so valuable for the participating sites. As part of the competition’s criteria, budgets could not exceed $1.5 million, reflecting the amount site stakeholders felt they could realistically raise.
And the winning plans? They include stormwater management and educational green space, a new splashpark at Waterloo Recreation Center, a Chutes and Ladders-themed lawn for Haverford Bright Futures, and a one-of-kind new play structure for the Cobbs Creek Library that emerged with the help from Philly second-graders. Stay tuned next week for a closer look at what the winning designs hope to create.
Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Alexa Bosse, Community Design Collaborative

Independence Beer Garden retakes the corner of 6th and Market

Remember those Connect Four battles as a kid? With the rattling vertical plastic board on the carpet or tabletop? Relive all the glory (or defeat) of four in a row over dinner and drinks in Philly’s biggest beer garden, officially open for the season on Thursday, April 21 at 6th and Market Streets.
Chef and restaurateur Michael Shulson's Independence Beer Garden (IBG) had a soft opening on April 16 and 17, drawing thousands of people. According to Director of Operations and General Manager Derek Gregory, the waist-high Connect Four boards -- brand-new this year -- were a big hit.
Larger-than-life games are appropriate for a beer garden of this size: "We’re 25,000 square feet," enthuses Gregory. "It is absolutely enormous."

That means seating and full table-service for up to 600 people at a time, plus standing room. The place can hold up to 2000 people in total, and it’s no sweat for the staff if a group of fifty walks in. Gregory insists that in peak summer season, no other Philly restaurant, bar or beer garden can come close in terms of size or people served.
The place also stands out because of its full-service bar (or rather, four of them), offering cocktails and liquor in addition to beer, and a menu of close to 30 food items available via table service, not standing in line at a food window.
Then there are the games: besides Connect Four, that includes checkers, large and small Jenga, bocce ball, shuffleboard, ping-pong and more (all brand new equipment for 2016).
This is IBG's third season: in 2014, its inaugural run went from mid-July to October. Last year saw an April opening and 2016 is following suit.

"We’re open til Halloween," adds Gregory.
He explains that attendance at IBG is a mix of visitors and residents: a lot of vacationing families grab lunch, but later in the day, Philly’s office dwellers and other professionals come out to play for a largely local evening crowd.
Beginning April 21 and running through the end of October, IBG’s 2016 hours are Sunday through Tuesday, 11:30 a.m. - 10 p.m.; Wednesday and Thursday, 11:30 a.m. - 11 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11:30 a.m. - midnight.
Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Derek Gregory, Independence Beer Garden

Habitat for Humanity's Rock the Block comes to Pottstown

Habitat for Humanity of Montgomery County, which has been holding successful Rock the Block events in Norristown -- in addition to its longtime work of building and rehabbing homes there -- is now setting its sights on Pottstown for a major neighborhood revitalization event.

In partnership with Pottstown CARES Community Cleanup Day on April 15, Habitat will bring an estimated 100 volunteers from 11 different community organizations together to perform a wide range of exterior rehab work for homes in need on six blocks (the 300 and 400 blocks of Beech, Walnut, and Chestnut Streets) in addition to a few other local projects.

The organization has already built nine homes in Pottstown.

"We saw that our homeowners really enjoyed living in the community, but there were challenges within the community that they were frustrated weren’t being addressed," says Marianne Lynch, executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Montgomery County. Problems like vacant or deteriorating buildings and trash drive down home values and quality of life. "We began to look into neighborhood revitalization as a solution not only for our homeowners, but to really help the neighbors find their voice and help them deal with the concerns in the communities where we’ve already built, and would like to continue building."

The event in Pottstown will put volunteers to work on jobs such as gutter cleaning, porch painting, trash pick-up, yard clean-up, putting up house numbers and installing smoke alarms.

The Empire Fire Company building at 76 N. Franklin Street will serve as the event’s home base; check-in for volunteers begins at 7:30 a.m. with welcoming words at 8:30 p.m. Work will start at 9 a.m.; lunch will be served from 11:30 a.m. - 12:15 p.m. Ten different local community organizations will set up tables onsite with information on a wide variety of programs for residents. The day’s work will finish around 2 p.m.

According to Lynch, Habitat will continue working actively in Pottstown for at least another two years, with larger-scale repair efforts targeting roofing, HVAC systems, and other issues "that compromise safety, security, or access in the home." Residents will help to identify occupied homes that need the help.

Participants can register on-site day-of, but Habitat recommends e-mailing [email protected] in advance to expedite things.

"We certainly welcome the community to come out and join us that day for volunteering, or for lunch, or both," adds Lynch.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Marianne Lynch, Habitat for Humanity of Montgomery County

Proposed low-income housing development on Wister Street sparks debate in Germantown

How does a community navigate development without the displacement and disruption of gentrification?

This was a major theme on April 6, as Germantowners convened at the Germantown Life Enrichment Center (just a few blocks north of Flying Kite’s former On the Ground digs near Chelten and Pulaski Avenues) to hear from Fishtown's Women’s Community Revitalization Project (WCRP).

A developer of rental properties primarily for low-income women and families, WCRP held the community meeting to discuss affordable housing in Germantown. Their Nicole Hines Townhouse Development -- featuring 35 new "affordable family townhomes" -- has been proposed for 417 Wister Street in East Germantown. WCRP lead organizer Christi Clark led the discussion along with WCRP community organizer Ariel Morales; a long roster of partnering groups also sponsored the gathering.

About fifty attendees broke into groups and then shared their conclusions on two key questions: “What do you love about Germantown that you want to see preserved?” and "What is the need for affordable housing in Germantown [and] parks and green space?"

Talk about Germantown’s attributes raised a wide range of praise, from its historic properties to its cultural diversity, transit hubs, and thriving artist population.

Clark offered some current statistics on the neighborhood to feed the discussion on housing: 45,000 people live in Germantown, comprising 17,500 households. The area has seen a 24 percent drop in median household income since 2000, with almost half of local households spending 30 percent or more of their budget on housing, which leads to widespread economic difficulty, as there aren’t dollars left to flow elsewhere. Germantown used to have a majority of homeowners versus renters, but now the number of renters is on the rise.

True to form, attendees -- most of them longtime residents of the neighborhood -- spoke frankly about their concerns and didn’t shy away from lobbing questions about the Wister Street project (Clark said the units would have a 15-year lifespan as rental properties, after which tenants would have the option to buy) and housing in Germantown in general.

Many participants pointed out that it’s not so easy to define "affordable" -- it means different things to different people, and can be subsidized in a variety of ways. WRCP’s target population is families who make 30 percent of the area median income. In Germantown, that means about $20,000 to $22,000 annually.

Gentrification was another major theme of the conversation.

"Sooner or later gentrification is coming," said Yvonne Haskins, a board member at Germantown United CDC. "We need to think about affordability now...You know [gentrification] after it’s happened. Germantown is very attractive."

Many attendees expressed their frustration with a seemingly endless circuit of community meetings that yield few tangible outcomes for the neighborhood, and a lack of transparency around investments that are made.

WCRP is in its second round of funding applications for the Wister Street development, and will know in June whether the necessary dollars are available. In the meantime, there will be two more meetings in Germantown on April 27 and May 25 from 6 - 8 p,m, locations TBD.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Christi Clark, Women’s Community Revitalization Project

Follow all our work #OnTheGroundPhilly via twitter (@flyingkitemedia) and Instagram (@flyingkite_ontheground).

On the Ground is made possible by the Knight Foundation, an organization that supports transformational ideas, promotes quality journalism, advances media innovation, engages communities and fosters the arts. The foundation believes that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more, visit knightfoundation.org.

A $740,000 revamp is coming for Germantown's Chelten-Greene Plaza

In December 2014, work was underway to redesign a busy but troubled piece of Germantown's Chelten Avenue corridor (near Flying Kite’s former On the Ground home), but there weren’t yet funds in place to implement the changes. Now, thanks to major dollars from the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC), construction could begin next year.

DVRPC is awarding a total pool of $7.6 million to 11 "Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP) projects" throughout southeastern Pennsylvania, including five Philadelphia initiatives. These include $370,000 for the Chelten-Greene Plaza Reconstruction to, in the words of DVRPC, "improve and connect a busy bus stop to Vernon Park."

“The TAP funding allows us to finalize construction documents and actually go forward with construction,” says Philadelphia City Planning Commission Northwest Philadelphia Planner Matt Wysong. There are also matching dollars from the Commerce Department in the mix, bringing the project's total budget to $740,000.

The northwest corner of Chelten Avenue and Greene Street usually hosts a crowd of SEPTA riders waiting for the many bus lines that pass through the intersection. It’s also adjacent to the southeast corner of Vernon Park, but a wrought-iron fence separates the sidewalk from the green space; a low brick wall in the middle of the un-landscaped space is also part of the original flawed design. A drop in the pavement grade between the wall and an adjacent building attracts trash and illegal activities.

Because of the building next door, that drop is an engineering problem the redesign can’t completely solve, but once the brick wall is gone, it will be possible to smooth that section of pavement so the drop is less obvious and to add landscaping features.

"We want to redesign it in a way that maximizes the space, utilizes it to its fullest, [and] allows for some sort of programming to happen there," explains Wysong. That could mean a food truck or some other type of vendor. "Right now, Vernon Park has a very unceremonious entrance along Greene Street." When the existing iron fence is removed, the plaza will be "a promenade to connect to Vernon Park."

There’s no official construction timeline yet. This month, city partners including the Streets Department and the Mayor’s Office of Transportation and Utilities will meet to iron out the details. Wysong estimates that work could begin in early 2017 and be finished within six months.

He touts the renovation as "very much a community-driven design. I’m pleasantly surprised at the enthusiasm I’m seeing now that funding was announced. The space [is] small, but it’s got a lot of meaning to a lot of people."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Matt Wysong, City Planning Commission

Bartram House reopens to the public in April after $2.7 million in renovations

While Bartram’s Garden has been gearing up for new visibility and an influx of visitors thanks to construction of the Bartram’s Mile segment of Schuylkill Banks, its historic house has been closed for renovations.

On April 1, it will be reopen with a compelling mix of old, new and new-to-us environments and programming. (This spring, our On the Ground program will land nearby in Kingsessing.)

"We’ve been fundraising since 2010," explains Bartram’s Garden Assistant Director Stephanie Phillips. With help from a $1 million state Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program grant -- which Bartram was required to match -- the budget for the revamp grew to $2.7 million. The design phase commenced in 2014, and construction took place throughout 2015. The improvements range from a new roof and interior renovations to a cutting-edge geothermal heating and cooling system – the latter quite a feature for a house dating back to 1731.

"It was a great opportunity for us," says Phillips of bringing in the geothermal system. It’s not the first area historic site to install one, but probably the largest, with four main buildings and all the site’s historic outbuildings now on green climate control.

It was a special challenge, geologically speaking, because if you go back several hundred thousand years, the area wasn’t dry land at all: It was under an ocean.

"What we didn’t know was that Bartram’s Garden was on the site of a large sand dune," explains Phillips. If you need to dig 12 wells to a depth of 500 feet each, you have quite a job on your hands once you hit that ancient sand. Ultimately, they had to line the wells with steel casing and import a specialized Canadian drill.

New programming includes a Women of Bartram’s Garden tour -- as Phillips says, "broadening how we tell our story" -- which up until now has focused mostly on farm founder John Bartram, a famous botanist and co-founder of the American Philosophical Society with Benjamin Franklin. When Bartram was traveling in search of his prized plants, his second wife Ann Mendenhall, with whom he had nine children, managed their 200-acre farm. Their son William Bartram took over the site, and after 1810, his niece and John Bartram’s granddaughter Ann Bartram Carr continued the family legacy. She added ten greenhouses to the site.

A recreation of Ann Bartram Carr’s original portico and garden, which graced the western entrance of the house in the 1800s, is still under development at the site. Carr was an extraordinary figure in the art and horticulture world. New outdoor spaces and programming will introduce the public to her story.

"[The improvements] really coincide with the arrival of the Bartram’s Mile trail," adds Phillips. They will create "a much more welcoming experience" for visitors who arrive via the new amenity. For a long time, the west side of the house has been "treated more like a public park, and now it’s going to be treated more like a botanical garden."

Watch Flying Kite for more news at Bartram’s and developments on the Bartram’s Mile trail.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Stephanie Phillips, Bartram’s Garden

Follow all our work #OnTheGroundPhilly via twitter (@flyingkitemedia) and Instagram (@flyingkite_ontheground).

On the Ground is made possible by the Knight Foundation, an organization that supports transformational ideas, promotes quality journalism, advances media innovation, engages communities and fosters the arts. The foundation believes that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more, visit knightfoundation.org.

Will the 30th Street Station District Plan reopen a subway concourse?

This spring, Philly has been buzzing about the future of 30th Street Station. On March 16, the partners in the Philadelphia 30th Street Station District Plan held their penultimate public open house in the Amtrak station’s north waiting room, soliciting feedback on a master plan that encompasses about 640 acres in the area between 22nd Street, Walnut Street, 36th Street, Spring Garden Street and the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. There will be one more public meeting later this spring; the release of a final District Plan is slated for summer.

The proposals encompass major SEPTA and Amtrak station upgrades along with revamped public space and retail/commercial development. And anyone who has exited SEPTA’s 30th Street subway station, climbed the stairs to street level, crossed 30th Street, and walked into the Amtrak or Regional Rail station to catch the next train should be particularly excited about one aspect of the plan: reestablishing an underground concourse connection between the two stations.

Public feedback has repeatedly identified this concourse as a priority for frequent station users. But according to Daniel O’Shaughnessy, a senior planner on the project with consulting architectural, design, planning, and engineering firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP (SOM), building one -- or re-opening the passage that existed until the 1980s -- has a lot of challenges.

The old concourse, little more than ten feet wide and including a 90 degree bend, presented crowding and safety issues. Today, Bridgewater’s Pub in the 30th Street Station food court stands over two disused stairwells that used to carry commuters down to the connector. Currently, a rental car parking lot resides underneath the western apron of 30th Street Station’s footprint.

The District Plan includes the ambitious combination of a wider brand new concourse with underground retail options along the way to the Market-Frankford and trolley lines, all lit with a large skylight near the corner of Market and 30th Streets.

An Amtrak representative at the open house referred Flying Kite to SEPTA for specifics on the logistics and financials of the proposed concourse, but no one from SEPTA was on hand to comment.

Planners have a lot of enthusiasm for the possibility, though the practicalities aren’t settled.

"The end result, we hope, is that the connection is easier," explains O’Shaughnessy. "Modes that seemingly should connect through 30th Street Station could connect again."

The proposed skylight would be an important part of the overall plan, he explains, though it would be a "balancing act" between west side public space, short-term parking needs and the need for light in a below-grade space. But being able to step off the Market-Frankford line underground and still see 30th Street Station through the skylight would give a whole new feel to this major Philly gateway, O’Shaughnessy added.

“It could be a real asset to see where you are," he says. "If we can achieve way-finding through the architecture, that’s a big win."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Daniel O’Shaughnessy, SOM

After Hidden City, any progress for Germantown's Town Hall?

In 2013, the Hidden City Festival built a lot of buzz by re-opening the old Germantown Town Hall to the public for the first time in over fifteen years; the building was abandoned in 1997.
After five weeks of programming at the neo-classical national historic landmark at Germantown Avenue and Haines Street, an avid neighborhood consortium formed. Helmed by local artist and architect Charlie McGloughlin, The Town Hall Collaborative -- along with participating groups like the Germantown Artists Roundtable and others -- sought to keep a public spotlight on the building, in hopes of finding a use for it.
So, has there been any progress on a new life for the iconic building constructed in the 1920s? (The site's original Town Hall was built in 1854 and demolished in 1920.)
Due to growing responsibilities at his day job, McGloughlin is no longer leading efforts to re-animate the building. As he told Flying Kite in a February email, "No one else really stepped forward to lead the Collaborative."
Meanwhile, efforts to find a buyer for the 20,000-square-foot City-owned building (dubbed surplus public property) continue, with PIDC handling the marketing and sale. The Fairmount Park Conservancy has also stepped in on the marketing side.
"We continue to show the property," says Senior Director of Preservation and Project Management Lucy Strackhouse. Potential buyers have mulled everything from senior or veterans' housing to artist studios, and there has been an uptick in interest since the recent recession eased.

"The dilemma is that almost everyone who sees the building says we can’t do this without some kind of public subsidy," explains Stackhouse, noting the extensive renovations needed. The challenge lies in coming up with "a use for the property that makes sense for the neighborhood, for Germantown itself, and have some funding."
The closure and sale of Germantown High School makes the vacancy and declining condition of the Town Hall a double punch for the corridor.
"The Conservancy’s been interested in the building because we’ve worked with historic properties throughout the city," says Strackhouse. "It’s such a large, iconic building just up the street from Vernon Park -- where we’ve been working with the Black Writers Museum -- so we’re very concerned that it’s just sitting there deteriorating."
According to Strackhouse, zoning specialist Patrick Jones from 8th District Councilwoman Cindy Bass’s staff has also been working to facilitate a sale, but Bass’s office did not return a request for comment.
"It’s disappointing," says Strackhouse of the current lack of progress. "We’re hoping we’re going to find that knight in shining armor that’s going to come in and rescue the building, but so far that hasn’t happened."
Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Lucy Strackhouse, the Fairmount Park Conservancy

Follow all our work #OnTheGroundPhilly via twitter (@flyingkitemedia) and Instagram (@flyingkite_ontheground).

On the Ground is made possible by the Knight Foundation, an organization that supports transformational ideas, promotes quality journalism, advances media innovation, engages communities and fosters the arts. The foundation believes that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more, visit knightfoundation.org.

Pop-up beer gardens coming to Philly parks this summer

This summer, there'll be one more reason to get out to local parks, large and small: The Fairmount Park Conservancy is partnering with Parks & Recreation to bring pop-up beer gardens to sites throughout the city.
"We think it’s a great way to engage new audiences in the city parks," says Conservancy Associate Director of Business Development Elizabeth Moselle. She hopes the beer gardens will draw visitors to "see places they otherwise wouldn’t have gone to," with some possible sites including well-known "high-traffic" parks as well as "hidden gems."
At this point in the vendor selection process, 18 potential sites have been identified, including Paine’s Park, Schuylkill Banks, Clark Park, Belmont Plateau, Shofuso Japanese House & Gardens, Smith Memorial Arch (near Flying Kite’s former On the Ground digs in Parkside), FDR Park, Hawthorne Park and more.
Moselle says this list might get narrowed down as the vendor selection process continues, but there will be a minimum of 12 locations.
According to its Request For Proposals (RFP), the City is hoping for "innovative reuse of outdoor space [that] invites people to experience an old Philadelphia tradition in the parks," in honor of German immigrants’ biergartens of the mid-1800s.
The RFP is ultimately seeking one vendor that will operate pop-ups at each site on successive weeks. These events will be for a minimum of three days and a maximum of five, with options for hours starting at noon and running no later than 11 p.m. The chosen vendor may subcontract elements like additional food services -- including food trucks -- and they’ll be responsible for needs such as lighting, security, sanitation and trash. A February meeting for interested vendors drew about 80 participants; answers to all the questions they submitted are available online through amendments to the RFP.
The RFP also emphasizes that access to all the pop-up sites and adjacent land and trails will be open and free to the public, like entry to any Philly park.
To ensure that neighbors and park groups were open to the pop-ups, picking the sites involved a "pretty robust outreach process," explains Moselle. A "stewardship team" at the Conservancy, overlapping with Parks & Rec, keeps this kind of communication going with 110 parks throughout the City. 
Vendor applications are due by 10:30 a.m. on March 31. Moselle says there’s no announcement yet of a timeline for selecting a vendor or opening the beer gardens, so stay tuned.
Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Elizabeth Moselle, Fairmount Park Conservancy 

Construction on the Museum of the American Revolution will be completed this year

Anyone passing through historic Old City these days has probably noticed a major project at the corner of 3rd and Chestnut Streets. It's the future site of The Museum of the American Revolution, and construction has been ongoing for 20 months.

The new tourist attraction is landing in Independence National Historical Park thanks to a land-swap with the National Park Service -- they gained a new parcel in Valley Forge in exchange for opening up the site to the new four-story 118,000-square foot museum. The site was long home to a Park Service visitors’ center built in the 1970s for America’s bicentennial. That closed about fifteen years ago and was demolished to make way for the new museum.

"We wanted a building that reflected classic design, to fit and honor the history of the neighborhood," says CEO Michael Quinn of engaging Robert A.M. Stern Architects for the $150 million project, currently funded at $124 million with a matching grant of $12 million underway to close the gap.

"We took an approach [to the layout] that we think is going to be really effective," continues Quinn. The site's main exhibit space will be on the second floor, with a core gallery of about 16,000 square feet integrating immersive multi-media experiences with a range of notable artifacts, including George Washington's original tent which served as both his office and sleeping quarters during the Revolutionary War.

The ground floor will feature a lobby, museum shop, 180-seat introductory theater, 5,000-square-foot gallery for temporary exhibitions, and a café that will spill out along 3rd Street.

"We wanted to contribute to the dynamism of the urban environment," says Quinn.

The lower level will offer two large classrooms and the top floor will house the museum’s offices and event space, including room to seat 180 for dinner. Out of about 85,000 "usable" square feet of space, 30,000 are dedicated to visitors, education and experiences -- a very high ratio of visitor orientation.

According to Kirsti Bracali, a project manager with consulting firm Dan Bosin Associates, the design also incorporates eco-friendly elements such as a green roof and state-of-the-art stormwater management, air-cycling, and heat-recovery systems.

The building meets and exceeds Philadelphia Water Department (PWD) stormwater requirements and is working toward LEED certification. There’s a green roof on 90 percent of the spaces over the museum -- it handles rainwater as well as deflects heat. It’ll also be a nice splash of green for taller adjacent buildings to look down on.

The museum's recovered stormwater will have year-round use in cooling towers, via a large underground cistern. With its museum-quality air requirements -- temperature and humidity control is essential for preserving the artifacts on display -- it’s notable that the site will use collected stormwater to help with climate control.

"This is the first time it’s been done in Philadelphia," says Bracali of the system, which the museum has been working with PWD to implement.

The museum’s offices should be occupied by September of this year; opening day is planned for 2017.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Sources: Michael Quinn, Museum of the American Revolution; Kirsti Bracali, Dan Bosin Associates 


Joynture Work Habitat comes to the Pearl Building on South Street

In autumn 2014, the former Pearl Arts & Crafts building on South Street got new life as a dance and fitness complex, but the venture was short-lived. Now, a co-working space focused on young and growing companies is set to open in May.

Joynture Work Habitat, which operates under the umbrella of software design and development company EWS, already has one location on Wall Street in New York City; it will open another in Lahore, Pakistan this year.

EWS Vice President of Business Development and Joynture co-founder Kyle Riggle says the company has been looking to expand to Philly for the last year.

"The reason we’re interested in Philly is just because the tech scene here is really starting to come alive," says Riggle. "I think that’s kind of the market we like to go after."

The hunt for a space began in Center City and then moved to Old City without turning up the right spot in terms of size, price, lease length and "a landlord willing to work with the type of business that we want to run," explains Riggle. "That’s not easy to find."

A Northern California native who came to the East Coast to attend Columbia University, Riggle lived in New York City for the past six years before buying a house in Philly’s Point Breeze neighborhood. He was strolling South Street one day late last year with his brother when he saw a sign in the Pearl building window. He met with the owner the next day for a tour.

"It had a lot of character and a lot of potential," he recalls. "Right when I saw it, I knew I could do something cool with it if I could make the numbers work."

The lease for Joynture’s new Philly location was finalized last December.

With the support of EWS, members will have access to a host of technical resources: membership benefits include big discounts from Amazon Web Services, Zipcar, UPS, B & H, and more.

The space will be a mix of private offices available for rent and co-working space. There will be an event area on the first floor and offices on the second. The 9,000-square-foot third floor can be tailored for multiple tenants looking for anything from 500 to 2,000 square feet. Startups interested in getting into the new Joynture space can e-mail [email protected] to get the ball rolling.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Kyle Riggle, Joynture Work Habitat


Camden tax credits spur ambitious renovation of the Ruby Match Factory

Camden, a former Flying Kite On the Ground neighborhood, is "a pretty spectacular site, in basic real estate terms," enthuses developer Jackie Buhn, principal and CEO of the Philly-based AthenianRazak LLC. Camden's burgeoning business and cultural sectors have Philadelphia right across the bridge, gorgeous views, coveted waterfront space and steep tax credits designed to anchor a range of industries there.

All those factors have led to the Ruby Match Factory project. This 1899 waterfront warehouse has been getting buzz recently with the announcement of plans to renovate it into an airy mixed-use loft-style retail and office space -- the first of its kind in contemporary Camden. When completed, the 74,500 square-foot building (with a total of 71,000 square feet of offices and a planned 3,500 square-foot restaurant and art gallery) will have a newly added second level offering views of the entire space.

"It’ll be pretty dramatic," says Buhn.

The basic design of the building's interior is complete; it features open trusses and high ceilings, and room to accommodate eventual tenants' needs.

Part of the draw for those future tenants is the Camden GROW NJ State Tax Credit Program, an element of the New Jersey Economic Opportunity Act of 2013. According to the Cooper’s Ferry Partnership, these credits "provide unprecedented incentives for businesses to bring jobs to Camden – or keep them there."

Businesses with at least 35 employees (and companies in "targeted industries" with as few as 10 workers) leasing space in the city are eligible for these credits -- they can apply for them based on the number of jobs they’ll create in the fifteen years following their application. The credits can be applied to nonprofit and for-profit ventures alike.

According to Cooper’s Ferry, the credits can be worth between $10,000 and $15,000 per employee annually for 10 years. These aren’t given in cash, but awarded against New Jersey taxes owed. In the case of a business whose tax credit exceeds their tax obligation (Buhn points to nonprofits, which may not be aware of their eligibility for the program), the credits can be sold for cash, coming to about 90 percent of the credits' value. 

So how does this factor into the price per square foot for companies paying rent in Camden? Cooper’s Ferry posits that a company with 100 employees is awarded an annual tax credit that averages to $12,500 per employee. If the profit from the sale of those credits is treated and taxed as capital gains (nonprofits are not subject to tax on the credits), that could amount to a net of $900,000 per year for 10 years -- or $9 million total. In light of that credit, if the building you’re leasing has about 175 square feet per worker, 17,500 square feet of space in Camden could mean paying just $51 per square foot in rent for 10 years.

In the case of the Ruby Match Factory's future tenants, Buhn argues that "because of the tax credits, it’s essentially free." They’ve run many different scenarios, and one came to just $4 per square foot per year for the life of the program.

"It’s a good deal, it’s a great location, and it’s a beautiful space," she adds.

Companies who want help determining their eligibility for the credits should call Cooper’s Ferry Partnership at 856-757-9154.

AthenianRazak can’t currently announce more details about the design or the tenants -- which are still being secured -- but once everything is in place, a "conservative" timeline for construction is just ten months.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Sources: Jackie Buhn,
AthenianRazak; the Cooper’s Ferry Partnership

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On the Ground is made possible by the Knight Foundation, an organization that supports transformational ideas, promotes quality journalism, advances media innovation, engages communities and fosters the arts. The foundation believes that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more, visit knightfoundation.org.

The new yard at West Philly's Lea School has a lot to offer students and the community

Last week, we took a look at how city-wide cooperation between several groups and agencies laid the groundwork for a much-needed new schoolyard at West Philly’s Henry C. Lea School.

Thanks to grants from PECO and the Philadelphia Water Department Stormwater Management Incentive Program (SMIP), design was underway in spring of 2014. Then lead project designer Sara Pevaroff Schuh of SALT Design Studio learned that, in addition to Lea’s older existing play structure, the space would be getting a brand-new setup -- the School District planned to relocate one from the recently closed Alexander Wilson School.

"Since we had this SMIP grant, they were [only] going to put the new rubber surface right under the new play structure," says Julie Scott, co-chair of the Green Lea project spearheaded by the West Philly Coalition for Neighborhood Schools. "[But] we really wanted it to be a green project and be cohesive,” 

With Schuh’s help, the relocated addition was placed next to the old one, which rested on an aged and impermeable tiled surface. Funds raised by the Coalition paid for the removal of the asphalt under both sites, and new continuous permeable rubber surfacing went everywhere.

"The kids had no idea it would be like a tumbling mat for them outside," enthuses Schuh. "It’s purple, red, and blue," with a design reminiscent of ripples from a raindrop.

Other beautification and stormwater management measures include three additional rain gardens on the site along 47th Street and 19 new trees. The yard also got a new entrance on the corner of 47th and Spruce.

During one community planting day last fall, volunteers put in 1200 plants (another workday is planned for April of this year). The Philadelphia Orchard Project has gotten involved as well, adding edible plants to the yard including chokeberries and blueberries.

"It’s pretty dramatic," says Schuh. "It basically went from being a one-acre asphalt schoolyard to…[having] a little urban forest on it now -- and it’s the kind of urban forest that works in a schoolyard."

Input from the community informed the design. 

"They wanted a place for neighborhood folks to gather," she says. "For parents to be able to have a social space while they waited for their kids [or] when they came to meet with teachers."

Meanwhile, school staffers needed unobstructed sight-lines and a flexible space.

"As designers, we wanted to really create room for different sorts of activities in the landscape…that would be educational tools for teachers throughout the school day," adds Schuh.

There’s already been a major uptick in community use of the yard outside of school hours.

A few minor projects remain -- painting the basketball court, additional planting and dumpster enclosures -- but Lea’s new schoolyard is largely complete as of 2016. Scott estimates the cost of the project at $850,000, including the original design grant and volunteers' time.

"We felt like the yard was a very large signal," she says, "a way of saying to the community that this is a really great place to send your kids."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Sources: Julie Scott, West Philly Coalition for Neighborhood Schools; Sara Pevaroff Schuh, SALT Design Studio

Lights up on the next phase for Fabric Row

Last summer, we looked at the transformations taking place on South 4th Street’s Fabric Row, and now a big piece of those plans is complete. On February 8, representatives from the South Street Headhouse District (SSHD), the Commerce Department, the Streets Department and First District Councilman Mark Squilla officially brought up the lights on a major new streetscape improvement.

The corridor now has 38 LED pedestrian lights and 12 LED overhead lights between Lombard and Christian Streets. The project also includes the planting of 20 new trees, fixes for deteriorating curbs and sidewalks, and new decorative crosswalks. Made possible by NTI Commerce Department funds secured through SSHD, the renovations extend to several nearby blocks of South Street, with 130 existing lights on South between Front and 11th Streets being upgraded to LEDs.

Philly is "considered one of the best walkable cities in this country," said Streets Department Commissioner Donald Carlton at the lighting ceremony at 4th and Bainbridge Streets. This improvement was a long-needed upgrade to one of the region’s most historic commercial corridors.

SSHD Executive Director Michael Harris added that the project would have "transformative impact" on the area. Elena Brennan, SSHD Board Chair and owner of the nearby Bus Stop Boutique, agreed.

"It’s really near and dear to my heart," she said of the lighting improvement. Nine years ago when she first opened her store the lack of adequate lighting was a big problem for nighttime shoppers and shop-owners. "This street now is going to be brilliant."

"Lighting is the key to safety," explained Councilman Squilla in his remarks -- it increases visitors' comfort and foot traffic, and boosts business on a corridor.

He acknowledged some of the project's challenges, including its winter construction timeline (which may have impacted holiday sales). But with years to come of attractive well-lit walkways in good repair, the temporary inconvenience of construction will pay off for shoppers and business owners alike.

As we discovered back in summer 2015, the roster of businesses on the corridor is evolving: shifting to include a range of eclectic upscale boutiques and restaurants alongside the traditional textile stores. Councilman Squilla lauded the burgeoning intergenerational feel of Fabric Row, where legacy businesses are increasingly joined by new ones.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Sources: 4th Street Lighting and South Street Lighting Celebration speakers 


How West Philly's Lea School got a brand new yard for everyone

Remaking a local school space -- and erstwhile one-acre asphalt lot -- took the efforts of a citywide coalition reaching back five years. Late last year, West Philadelphia's Henry C. Lea School (which boasts about 550 students in kindergarten through eighth grade) completed the final phase of a years-long improvement project for its schoolyard at 4700 Locust Street.
"It was a major accomplishment to see another schoolyard in Philadelphia go from being an asphalt lot to something different, something that actually provides kids a really stimulating place," explains lead project designer Sara Pevaroff Schuh, principal at SALT Design Studio.
The initiative got its start through the West Philly Coalition for Neighborhood Schools, which launched in 2010. Before achieving its nonprofit status, the group applied (under the umbrella of the nearby Enterprise Center) for a design grant for the schoolyard from the Community Design Collaborative.
In 2011, the Coalition officially became a nonprofit organization and the Collaborative grant was awarded: Lea’s yard became part of a design project (alongside Germantown’s John B. Kelly School) culminating in a 2012 charrette that yielded a new master plan.
By fall of 2012, the Coalition had the Collaborative’s official report in hand. According to Julie Scott, co-chair of the Coalition’s Greening Lea project, "We did a little pilot project using the master plan as a guideline." The group took on a manageable slice of the bigger vision and informed the community (many of whom had already participated in the charrette process) of the coming change. The Coalition chose to depave and plant a section of the yard bordering Spruce Street.
They approached the School District with their plan, hoping to get the depaving and planting done over the course of a few weekends with help from volunteers. The District came through, handling the depaving and the installation of a new hose, while local volunteers took care of the new plantings.
That enabled the next big steps: a pair of grants in 2013. First came a PECO Green Region grant and then a Philadelphia Water Department Stormwater Management Incentive Programs (SMIP) grant. (The University of Pennsylvania also contributed $75,000 towards the yard's completion.) 
The SMIP dollars were longer in coming, but the PECO dollars -- $10,000 that was matched through community fundraising spearheaded by the Coalition -- let the group begin planning their latest landscaping and water management schematics. They put out an RFP in spring of 2013 and SALT came on the scene in early 2014.
"It had been a while since that plan had gone through the community process by the time we came on board, so we went through another round of community engagement," recalls Schuh. A new school principal also meant some adjustment of the vision.
But things began to move quickly thanks to an unexpected element in the design. The Alexander Wilson School at 46 and Woodland was among those closed by the District -- and just after community members had invested in a brand-new play structure. In the midst of planning, the District decided to relocate the Wilson structure to Lea, a sudden challenge for the designers.
Next week, we’ll take a look at Lea’s new landscape, which benefits students, parents and community members.
Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Sources: Julie Scott, West Philly Coalition for Neighborhood Schools; Sara Pevaroff Schuh, SALT Design Studio

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