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West Powelton welcomes an exciting new live/work space for artists

On February 9, the People’s Emergency Center (PEC) and an enthusiastic crowd of supporters braved a snowy forecast to break ground on a new West Philadelphia housing development that has been years in the making. 4050 Apartments -- named for its location at 4050 Haverford Avenue in West Powelton -- will help lower-income artists who are longtime residents stay in a rapidly gentrifying neighborhood full of university and commercial expansion.

Kira Strong, vice president of community and economic development at PEC, says the movement behind 4050 goes back more than 10 years. Friends of 40th Street sparked the original conversation in response to concerns from residents, artists and local cultural groups that the University of Pennsylvania’s expansion north would push them out of West Powelton.

PEC got directly involved in 2006 with a study funded by the William Penn Foundation to examine the needs of locals. What emerged from the study, according to Strong, is that, "people who are already here -- who are drawn to the area for its great proximity to transit, to Center City, to the universities -- were really nervous about not being able to afford live/work space anymore."

That kicked off the planning and conceptualization process for 4050 Apartments.

All in all, the project represents a total of $7.2 million in investment from a wide variety of funders including PHFA, the Commerce Department, LISC, the PRA, and other local and state-wide banks and agencies. (This will be the sixth housing development PEC has opened since 2011, with previous developments totaling 39 new residential units.)

The three-story structure will total 24,350 square feet and include 20 rental apartments (10 one-bedrooms, five two-bedrooms and five three-bedroom units). It was designed by PZS Architects and will be built by Allied Construction.

According to PEC, Philly’s second-largest community of artist calls the neighborhood home and the construction "aims to preserve an important part of what defines the Lower Lancaster Avenue community" with affordable live/work space. The apartments will feature high ceilings, open layouts and plenty of natural light. There will also be a street-facing community room designed for workshops and exhibitions.

"We heard that from residents," says Strong of the shared space. "[They said], 'We don’t want you guys to build an enclave that’s shut off from the community…We want it to be something that the community really can have as a resource and have access to and engage with."

Strong adds that last week's groundbreaking was no ceremonial event: construction is underway and is projected for completion by this December, with residents arriving in early 2017.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Kira Strong, People’s Emergency Center


New funds move Germantown closer to creating a master plan

Germantown United CDC (GUCDC) is one step closer to the comprehensive neighborhood plan it’s been eyeing for years thanks to a new $25,000 civic engagement grant from the Pennsylvania Humanities Council.

The one-year grant will be split between GUCDC and a local theater-based nonprofit known as Just Act, which uses trained actor-facilitators (in teams of both youths and adults) to help spark community dialogues.

According to the two groups, the dollars will help them "map both the formal and informal networks currently contributing to community improvement efforts in Germantown." The work supported by the grant will be a "community network analysis" that ensures all of the neighborhood’s voices are "well-represented and prepared for their role as stakeholder in the larger effort to revitalize greater Germantown and the neighborhood’s shopping district and commercial sector."

"One thing we’d like to do is have a lot of these groups that may not be talking to each other right now start talking to each other," explains GUDCD Executive Director Andy Trackman.

Just Act Executive Director Lisa Jo Epstein -- who is partnering with GUCDC Corridor Manager Emaleigh Doley to spearhead the civic engagement project -- is on the same page as Trackman. The more people who participate the better, she says. "Then, when a developer comes in, there’s already going to be a new informal network that can say, 'If you’re coming in, you have to also respond to us. You have to do something for us, not for people from the outside.'"

"What I would like for this grant to do…[is] show that Germantown United is really committed to talking to all the voices in Germantown, especially as it relates to our planning of the neighborhood," adds Trackman. "I also would like to see this as a building block, as an attention-getter to get more resources into the neighborhood for this planning process."

Doley and Epstein are currently developing a series of community storytelling events; dates and locations TBA.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Sources: Andy Trackman, Germantown United CDC; Lisa Jo Epstein, Just Act

On the Ground: Melding art and sound in the shadow of the Reading Viaduct

The Reading Viaduct Rail Park is entering a transitional stage, and Dave Kyu's latest work is set to take full advantage. An artist with a socially conscious, literary bent, Kyu has been working on interviews and projects with Asian Arts Initiative’s Social Practice Lab for the last few years, including "Write Sky" and "Sign of the Times." (Asian Arts served as Flying Kite's On the Ground home through the end of January.) The former Mural Arts (MAP) project manager of the inaugural Neighborhood Time Exchange project in West Philly, he is still involved with the organization on a freelance basis.

Now Kyu is spearheading a new collaboration between the Friends of the Rail Park (FRP), MAP and the American Composers Forum. According to him, MAP is stepping outside of their usual arts purview to work on unique temporary installations of music, light and projections on the existing urban environment of the neighborhood.

Project details are still being finalized. Ultimately, the initiative will encompass a study from sound engineers as well as commissioned historical research on the neighborhood’s post-industrial history -- those elements will inspire the participating artists.

Kyu explains that this project -- a pilot for something more permanent in conjunction with Phase 1 of the Viaduct -- has its roots in MAP’s first partnership with the Composers Forum in 2014. That project paired four composers with three murals; they performed original music at the murals inspired by their visual/artistic qualities and the neighborhood history they depicted.

"What is the intersection of sound and visual art?" Kyu wonders of the current project, launching this spring. He also notes that people experiencing this work will be witnessing the current state of the Viaduct for the last time -- even though the park itself may not open until 2017, the associated construction will bring big changes before that.

Kyu likes taking advantage of what he calls a major "creative opportunity" in the "mental shift" that’s happening around the Viaduct: Philadelphians have gone from wondering if it’ll ever happen to wondering when it’ll happen, and he wants to explore the space through interdisciplinary arts in the meantime. He is also interested to see the audience for the work. Will it be mostly locals? People from greater Philadelphia? Or will the installations draw out-of-towners, as well? This is all information that will play into developing future Viaduct programming.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Dave Kyu, Mural Arts 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.

The Bacon Brothers headline a February benefit for the new Viaduct park

On February 4, Phase 1 construction of the Viaduct Rail Park will get a boost of star power from the Bacon Brothers at a special fundraiser concert at Union TransferCenter City District (CCD) and Friends of the Rail Park (FRP) are teaming up to present the show.

"Aren’t we all separated from Kevin Bacon by just six degrees?" quips FRP leader Sarah McEneaney. "Both FRP and CCD were thinking about how we could get greater visibility for the project, and what better way to do that than engage a home-grown star who had city planning in his DNA and was involved in the realization of the High Line in NYC?"

Nancy Goldenberg, vice president of planning and development at CCD and executive director of the Center City District Foundation, knew a high school friend of Kevin Bacon, and began to network. The outreach resulted in a visit to the Viaduct for Bacon and his sister Hilda -- they were enthusiastic about the site's potential and agreed to headline a fundraiser.

The older of the two brothers, Michael, is a career musician and Emmy-winning composer. Movie fans, of course, know Kevin from roles in films like Apollo 13, Mystic River and many more. The two grew up in Philadelphia, and some of Michael’s first gigs were at the Electric Factory in the 1960s. They formed their band in 1995 and now tour across the country. The Bacon Brothers released their seventh album in fall 2014.

The show will also include a performance by Lititz, Penn., native Robe Grote (of The Districts) and other well-known local musicians.

"Proceeds from the concert will support both construction and stewardship of the first phase of the park," explains McEneaney. "But the concert is much more about raising visibility and engaging an increasing number of new supporters. We’ve had enormous support from the City, State and several foundations for the project, but now we’re turning to the folks who benefit the most: the individuals who will use it."

This all-ages benefit is taking place at Union Transfer on Thursday, February 4 at 8 p.m. (doors at 7:15 p.m.). For tickets ($35-$125), click here.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Sarah McEneaney, Friends of the Rail Park 

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.

Working to curb illegal dumping on Philly streets

On January 20, Keep Philadelphia Beautiful (KPB) continued its push to produce the city’s first unified front on the issue of litter with a convening of officials and community stakeholders at the Municipal Services Building’s 16th floor Innovation Lab.  

Attendees were from groups as diverse as the Streets Department, the Philadelphia Water Department (PWD), the Tookany Tacony-Frankford Watershed Partnership, the Aramingo Business Association, the People's Emergency Center, the Cambodian Association of Greater Philadelphia, the North Fifth Street Revitalization Project, the Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation (PCDC), the Schuylkill Navy of Philadelphia and the South of South Neighborhood Association.

"How do we do this as a city, and how do the smaller groups work together?" asked Marian Horowitz, an environmental engineer at PWD.

Alan Robinson of the Schuylkill Navy said that when it comes to the city environment, he wishes people would get as excited about reducing and eliminating litter as they are about pop-up parks, pools and gardens.

One of four specialized break-out sessions focused specifically on the problem of illegal dumping. PCDC Deputy Director Rachel Mak led the discussion.

While litter in the streets, sidewalks and waterways is a problem in Philly, illegal dumping is a problem on a larger and much more noticeable scale. People unwilling to dispose of their household or construction trash properly leave bags and piles on public corners or strewn around City trash cans.

Mak highlighted a few sites in the Chinatown neighborhood that research has pinpointed as hot-spots for illegal dumping, including the corners at 10th and Race Streets, 10th and Cherry Streets, and 11th and Wood Streets.

One reason tracking the dumping sites is important, Mak said, is that the installation of cameras can capture illegal dumpers in the act. Printouts of the images can also be distributed throughout the neighborhood.

PCDC also partners with the Streets Department’s Streets and Walkways Education and Enforcement Program (SWEEP) to check illegally dumped material for identifying information that can be used to track down and fine the perpetrators.

Stopping illegal dumping takes a lot of groundwork, persistence, education, and "getting your hands dirty," explains Mak.

"People get used to seeing trash, so they let it go when it happens," adds Horowitz. "People think they aren’t doing anything wrong or no-one will notice.

Later, we’ll take a look at how the new KPB consortium is hoping to mobilize business owners on the issue.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Sources: Rachel Mak, PCDC; and KPB litter convening participants

Development News: High-end residential units coming to Spring Garden Street

On January 11, Interface Studio Architects (ISA) principal Brian Phillips joined Nino Cutrufello and Marcus Toconita of developer Callahan Ward to chat with Callowhill neighbors about a major new residential development.
The Callowhill Neighborhood Association meeting at Brick and Mortar restaurant drew a crowd of locals to view renderings and plans for the new multi-family building slated for 1314-1331 Spring Garden Street. The design features an attractive façade facing both Spring Garden and Nectarine Streets, with utilities located on the roof.  
"We’re excited to build on this lot," said Phillips, the project's lead architect. "It's an exciting piece of the city -- Spring Garden is a powerful urban street with some density."
The 20,000-square-foot development would boast 36 residential units for sale (along with 36 parking spaces). While the project will have a unified look, it will actually consist of four independent structures of nine units each, allowing for an "intimately scaled" feeling for residents, said Phillips.
Phillips also explained that the ground floor units are modeled as loft-style studios, with an open floor plan to appeal to residents with live/work needs. And as the developers test the local market, the design will allow for easy conversion to a ground-floor commercial space, if needed. The upper floors of each of the four segments will have two two-bedroom two-bath units.
The only zoning hurdle so far is an exception needed for the planned surface parking lot -- a contentious issue for a project situated in a high-density neighborhood so close to public transit. The team is hoping for approval later this year, and would like to begin phased construction in late 2016 or early 2017.
The architect and developers addressed locals’ questions, like whether Nectarine Street would be shut down for construction (so far, the answer is no), the location of utilities, the use of a private trash collector, and how the new development will interact with the upcoming Spring Garden Greenway.
And how much will these homes cost? There’s no official answer yet, but as with their other developments in Northern Liberties, Kensington and Fishtown, Callahan Ward's Cutrufello expects something "at the upper end of the market." 
Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Sources: Brian Phillips, ISA; Nino Cutrufello, Callahan Ward
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 new community green space in Frankford embraces the atmosphere of city life

According to Ellie Devyatkin, commercial corridor manager at the Frankford Community Development Corporation, the name for Frankford Pause -- a new park coming this spring to a piece of land at Frankford Avenue and Paul Street -- came about because whenever the el rumbles by, locals know to pause their conversation.
It’s going to be a unique and much-needed green space for the Frankford Avenue corridor: the result of dollars from an ArtPlace America grant via the City Planning Commission, and subsequent partnerships between Frankford CDC, the Community Design Collaborative and the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (PHS).  
In the process of pursuing designs for what was originally envisioned as a temporary park, Frankford CDC quickly realized that to secure the necessary funding, they had to think beyond a pop-up.
“We realized that we would need to actually build the park," recalls Devyatkin. "With all the effort that was going into it, it made a lot more sense for it to be a permanent park than a temporary pop-up."
That meant going back to the drawing board, but the work has been worth it. A design grant from the Collaborative made the initial concepts possible, while Locus Partners ultimately drafted the final construction documents. Remaining ArtPlace America dollars will fund the construction --  estimated at about $240,000 -- with additional support from Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sánchez’s office.
The CDC calls the planned park "a new hub of community activity" and a "flexible open space" that can host a variety of gatherings and events. The design features open lawn, flexible seating, a performance stage, plantings and raised vegetable gardens.
The latter will be made possible through $25,000 from PHS, and Devyatkin hopes that maintenance of the plantings and gardens will continue with help from the neighborhood’s many active gardening groups.
Seating will consist of benches made from repurposed plastic milk crates and pressure-treated wood, and wire mesh gabion structures (pressure-treated wood, lacing wire, mesh and rocks).
A distinctive aspect of the space will be bright pink "loops" that surround the space with stripes painted up the sides of the adjacent building and extend over the top of the park in the form of long, durable shade cloths that can be removed in bad weather. There will also be sound-activated lighting triggered by the passing train and other city noises, bringing new awareness to the urban acoustic landscape.
Devyatkin predicts that the park will break ground this spring, with an official opening in June or July.
Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Ellie Devyatkin, Frankford CDC

What will Bridesburg's new park offer the neighborhood?

Last week, we told you about a new 10-acre park slated for the North Delaware riverfront at Orthodox Street in Bridesburg. The project is still in its early planning phase, but ideas for the exciting green space are already taking shape. The Delaware River City Corporation (DRCC) and Philadelphia Parks & Recreation are spearheading the effort, with the help from community stakeholders.

“We’re really excited about the project because it provides that neighborhood access to the river that they haven’t had before,” enthuses Stephanie K. Craighead, director of planning, preservation and property management at Parks & Rec. Bridesburg Recreation Center is nearby, so locals don’t lack for certain recreation facilities -- including a ball field, a pool, basketball and tennis courts -- "but what they don’t have is this wonderful resource at the river."

The new park will focus on more passive recreation with meadows and stormwater management, walking and biking trails, a boardwalk, places to sit quietly, and a healthy waterfront habitat that planners hope will draw birdwatchers.

"Spaces that are contemplative," is how Craighead puts it, along with an area for kids to ride bikes without worrying about car and truck traffic -- a first for the neighborhood. The park will also have raised benches offering river views or amphitheater-style seating for a performance area, along with a plaza for events like a farmers' market. Restroom facilities and parking will be included.

"We hope that a friends group will develop around this park as friends groups have developed around our other parks," she says, "and that we could work with them to schedule special events, and have the park be a very active place that supports the community."

A re-vamp of Orthodox Street will also be included in the designs -- the thoroughfate will welcome pedestrians to the park with benches, shade trees, a safe place to stroll and traffic-calming measures.

"Our North Delaware Riverfront Greenway trail is going to run right along that location," adds DRCC Executive Director Tom Branigan. "This will become a trailhead park for the Greenway."

Now that an official concept has been developed with community input, Branigan says DRCC will pursue funding for design and construction from sources like the William Penn Foundation, the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and the City of Philadelphia.

Without hard plans, the final cost is hard to estimate, but organizations estimate it at up to $7 million, with an additional $1.5 to $2 million needed for the Orthodox Street upgrades. If all goes well, official design on the park could begin this year, and Branigan estimates that construction could launch within two to three years.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Sources: Stephanie K. Craighead, Philadelphia Parks & Recreation; and Tom Branigan, Delaware River City Corporation


Your chance to vote on where Philly needs new transit shelters

SEPTA riders, neighborhood groups and City Council members have long been calling for more transit shelters, and late last year a platform finally launched for residents to have their say.

According to Angela Dixon, deputy director of the Mayor’s Office of Transportation and Utilities (MOTU), the City of Philadelphia has over 8,000 surface transit stops. Only 300 of those have covered transit shelters, and an effort is afoot to double that number while also replacing all existing stops. Residents are voting on where the new shelters should go.

"This network was established over 25 years ago and is well past its useful life," says Dixon. In 2014, the City kicked off a competitive RFP process for managers of a new Street Furniture Concession Agreement that will last for 20 years. Intersection was ultimately chosen and authorized to develop, install and maintain the new shelters, which will be funded by an advertising program, not taxpayers.

A public voting website to determine the placement of the new shelters was a stipulation of the Concession Agreement; it launched in late October 2015. The criteria were determined with several factors in mind: the ridership at the individual stops, requests received from a variety of public and private sources, available space, and the stops’ proximity to sites like hospitals, senior centers, shopping centers and community centers.

The website’s "add a shelter" feature also allows voters to suggest a location not currently on the map. MOTU reviews these submissions and decides, based on ridership at the site and other factors, whether they’ll be added to the official voting roster. Site users can also leave their comments.

Dixon confirms that people are interacting with site already, but it’ll get a boost early this year with a new ad campaign on buses, existing shelters and libraries.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Angela Dixon, the Mayor’s Office of Transportation and Utilities

A new park for Bridesburg on the banks of the Delaware

The first phase of the new Delaware Avenue extension officially opened in December, and it isn’t the only change coming to Bridesburg. The sole Philadelphia neighborhood that lies east of I-95, the community has long been divided from the Delaware River by the historic industrial center there. Now a proposed 10-acre riverfront park could change all that.

Over the last several months, the Delaware River City Corporation (DRCC) and Philadelphia Parks & Recreation have been engaging residents in a planning process (aided by dollars from the William Penn Foundation). Those meetings culminated in the presentation of a final concept and master plan on December 16 at American Legion Post 821.

According to land owner Parks & Rec and DRCC, the proposed space for the park is a "blighted and unused tract of former industrial land" at the end of Orthodox Street.

Stephanie K. Craighead, director of planning, preservation and property management for Parks & Rec, argues that the site has been underutilized for years.

"There are some limitations to how close to the river you could get, because of how the site was used prior to our acquiring it," she says. In particular, a lot of concrete has been dumped at the river’s edge there, which rendered it unstable for major development.

Tom Branigan, executive director of DRCC, has become very familiar with Bridesburg residents and businesses over the last five years. Throughout many community and civic meetings, "they were always frustrated that things were happening all around them, but nothing was happening in Bridesburg," he recalls.

The momentum behind the park project really began when Taucony-headquartered Dietz & Watson lost a New Jersey distribution center to fire a few years ago. The City of Philadelphia and the State of Pennsylvania worked to incentivize the company to locate its new distribution center near its headquarters across the Delaware in Philadelphia.

During that process, PIDC purchased a piece of the former Frankford Arsenal property adjacent to the Dietz & Watson headquarters. Known as the Frankford Arsenal Boat Launch, it had been scheduled for development as a shopping center, and was made available to the company to buy for its new distribution center. But that particular spot had been targeted by federal dollars for use as a recreational area, not a commercial one.

PIDC had an answer: Let Dietz & Watson develop the former Frankford Arsenal land, and transform a comparable piece of nearby riverfront into a recreation space. PIDC owned the land at the end of Bridesburg’s Orthodox Street, and transferred it to the City of Philadelphia for development as a new recreation site.

And so the groundwork for Bridesburg’s new park was ready. Next, we’ll take a look at what DRCC and Parks & Rec are planning for the space.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Sources: Stephanie K. Craighead, Philadelphia Parks & Recreation; and Tom Branigan, Delaware River City Corporation

Pennsylvania Horticultural Society Neighborhood Placemaker Grants are back

The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (PHS) is gearing up for its second round of Neighborhood Placemaker Grants. PHS Associate Director of Civic Landscapes Tammy Leigh DeMent says the organizations expects them to be even more popular than last year’s awards, which drew about 150 entrants.

The call for proposals (released on December 22) asks applicants how they plan to make their "neighborhood uniquely beautiful through horticulture."

The 2016 program has a total budget of $75,000, half of which is funded through the Philadelphia Department of Commerce, with the other half coming from PHS. Ultimately, this will be divided into two or three separate awards. PHS is hosting an information session at 5 p.m. on January 6 at its Center City headquarters (100 N. 20th Street), but attendance is not required to apply -- a summary of the Q&A will be posted on the PHS website.

The initial application process is simple in its goals but broad in scope. Because of the competitive nature of the program, PHS is not asking for full applications right out of the gate. Instead, interested groups (which could range from schools and churches to Community Development Corporations, garden clubs, park groups and more) should submit Letters of Intent that answer five short questions. According to DeMent, these include basic info on the concept, how it will impact the neighborhood and how the project aligns with the PHS mission.

"There should be some longevity within the project itself," she adds, explaining that the initiatives should not be temporary in nature, a requirement of the Commerce Department dollars. "It has to have at least a five-year lifespan."

"It’s really focused on any neighborhood in the city that has an idea for creating a new place, a green space for communities to gather,” she adds. It could be a garden, a park, a schoolyard, a neighborhood gateway or even a traffic triangle, like one developed into a new community space honoring U.S. veterans in Feltonville thanks to 2015 grantee Esperanza.

Another of last year’s grantees, the Somerset Neighbors for Better Living, launched a grassroots community planters program to beautify and unify the neighborhood. The planters and materials, offered free to residents, became a trademark of homes there, drawing interested neighbors into more conversations with each other and creating engagement with local happenings.

PHS will be accepting Letters of Intent for its Neighborhood Placemaker Grants through February 12.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Tammy Leigh DeMent, Pennsylvania Horticultural Society


New road means an easy ride between I-95, Bridesburg and Port Richmond is finally a reality

On December 8, Mayor Michael Nutter and other local leaders cut the ribbon on a significant first step for the Delaware Avenue Extension in Philly's Bridesburg neighborhood. According to Denise Goren, director of the Mayor’s Office of Transportation and Utilities, this waterfront project is the first entirely new road constructed in the city in the last 30 years.

The opening of this first phase of the project -- a .6-mile stretch of two-lane road (flanked by broad space for bikers and pedestrians) eventually slated to extend two miles -- is an important piece of Northeast Philly’s larger Delaware Riverfront Greenway, itself a piece of the region’s burgeoning Circuit and the East Coast Greenway.

Phase 1A of the Extension is also a vital new connection between the Bridesburg and Port Richmond neighborhoods -- it runs between the river and Richmond Street, from Lewis Street in the south to Orthodox Street in the north, and includes a new bridge over the Frankford Creek. The project has been in the works for over 15 years.

At the ribbon-cutting ceremony, Mayor Nutter called the effort "much more than just a road project."

"All users have the right to use our roadways safely," he said of the mixed-used nature of Delaware Avenue’s new stretch; in its next phase, it will reach north between Orthodox Street and Buckius Street.

Other speakers at the event included Deputy Mayor of Environmental & Community Resources Michael DiBerardinis and former U.S. Congressperson Robert Borski (founder and chair of the Delaware River City Corporation).

Tom LaCroix of the Bridesburg Business Association also spoke, expressing gratitude for the improved safety and quality of life for Bridesburg residents that the Extension promises. It gives trucks and other industrial vehicles an easy route to I-95 without rumbling through the busy Richmond Street corridor where children are often crossing the street. It’s also a big relief to the community, which has experienced terrible traffic congestion anytime a nearby accident on I-95 rerouted highway traffic through the riverfront neighborhood.

"This is just a godsend," he insisted.

Construction on Phase 1B of the Extension is scheduled to begin in 2017; the road will open the following year.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Sources: Mayor Michael Nutter and Delaware Avenue Extension speakers


Almost 150 new apartments and fresh retail spaces proposed for Callowhill complex

Chinatown North/Callowhill residents are considering a significant new mixed-use development in the neighborhood. Last week, architects from the Chadds Ford-based T.C. Lei Architect & Associates met with representatives of the Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation (PCDC), the 5th Republican Ward and the Callowhill Neighborhood Association to introduce their plans and take questions.

The design features four independent buildings: two seven-story apartments towers and two five-story buildings with apartments above and a total of 12 new commercial spaces fronting Callowhill on the first floor. Financing is still being worked out.

PCDC hosted the Civic Design Review, which was required by the Philadelphia City Planning Commission in light of the complex's large footprint (173,913 square feet in four buildings) and high number of proposed residential units. The meeting drew a variety of community stakeholders. Architects Michelle Kleschick and Vernon Lei of T.C. Lei joined general contractor Alex Chau in presenting plans for the facility and its construction; the property owner/developer is Wing Lee Investment, L.P.  

The proposed project will sit on a rectangular parcel of what is now a mix of warehouses and industrial space, a lumberyard and vacant lots at 900-934 Callowhill Street. The area is bounded by Carlton Street, N. 9th Street, Callowhill and Ridge Avenue, and existing structures would be razed.

All residential units (146 in total) would be market-rate two-bedroom rentals of about 880 square feet. An open-air cruciform courtyard and central elevator/stairwell tower would complete the interior of the site, which is being designed with an estimated $20 million total budget. The development would include about 14,000 square feet of commercial space and over 135,000 square feet of residential space.

The green-roofed complex would hold 90 percent of its own stormwater with the help of a filtering and retention matrix. According to Lei, the commercial storefronts are slated to be "mom and pop neighborhood-size spaces" of about 1,000 square feet, with the option for open construction that would allow stores, service providers or restaurants of up to 2,000 square feet.

Chau explained that the steel-and-concrete construction would be consistent with the look of other modern residential towers in the city, while Lei touted the potential for a "beautiful" new commercial space along Callowhill boasting an "Asian motif" on the façade.

Meeting attendees had a variety of questions for the presenters, including parking options (ample spaces are slated for a below-ground garage), the potential disruptions of construction, specifics of the façades, trash removal and target tenants.

An official City Civic Design Review hearing is pending, date TBA. If the proposal moves forward, Chau hopes to break ground in spring 2016, with total time to completion of three to four years.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Sources: T.C. Lei & Associates and partners

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.


Neighborhood Time Exchange challenges plans for Lancaster Avenue storefront

In March, Flying Kite took you to an innovative new part of the local creative economy. Lancaster Avenue’s Neighborhood Time Exchange (NTE) paired three different cohorts of artists with studio space, a stipend and a roster of community-driven improvement projects in nearby Belmont, Mantua, West Powelton, Mill Creek and Saunders Park. In April, we checked back in with program and its projects, which included a revamped classroom for special-needs kids, a civil rights documentary and new cultural and historical explorations of the area.

NTE is a partnership of the Mural Arts Program (MAP), the Ontario-based Broken City Lab, the People’s Emergency Center (PEC) and the City’s Office of Arts, Culture, and the Creative Economy.

The inaugural cycles of NTE residencies wrapped up in September, and in November Flying Kite stopped by the storefront at 4017 Lancaster Avenue -- also our former On the Ground home -- where an exhibition of participating artists' work is on display. (There’s still time to check it out before a free closing reception on Friday, December 11 from 6 - 9 p.m.)

Dave Kyu, a MAP project manager for the initiative, has plenty to say about the ways NTE has affected the future of the formerly vacant storefront.

After the program had been running for a while, he noticed something shift. When they first launched, he recognized everyone coming in the door at open studio hours: an arts crowd familiar with the project and the artists. But about halfway through, he saw new faces. Word about the project had gotten out, and curious members of the community were coming to see for themselves.

PEC owns the building and offers longterm low-income transitional housing above the street-level storefront. The influx of people into the space is opening up some new lines of thinking about the fate of the commercial space.

"They’ve been trying to figure out what to do with this storefront," says Kyu. (He’s seeing the first NTE through, but recently left MAP to pursue a long-simmering book about the communities of our national parks that will be published by Head and the Hand Press.)

For a long time, there was hope of attracting a place for residents to get dinner. There’s not too many sit-down restaurants on that stretch of Lancaster and with the right tenant, the space could become a social and economic anchor for the neighborhood.

But NTE’s success in drawing new crowds in connection with the artist residencies has organizers thinking: Could it have a life as an arts space instead? Already, the Black Quantum Futurism Collective, an NTE cohort, has scheduled a performance there for December 17, which will be a fundraiser for victims of domestic abuse.

Moving forward, Kyu says PEC would like to continue an incarnation of NTE in the area, while MAP also wants to expand. Look out for new cohorts of NTE coming to Taucony and the Southeast by Southeast project, a formerly vacant property at 8th and Snyder Streets offering a full roster of programs for refugees from Bhutan, Burma and Nepal living in South Philly.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Dave Kyu, Neighborhood Time Exchange

Parkside finally welcomes centennial village, a major new mixed-use development

Flying Kite may have left our On the Ground home in Parkside for our next stint in Callowhill, but we still have our eye on the news for 52nd Street, and the latest is a long-awaited cluster of major developments on and around the triangle of Parkside Avenue, 52nd Street, and Columbia Avenue. Mayor Michael Nutter, Councilman Curtis Jones, and others were on hand for a December 1st groundbreaking, with construction commencing this spring.
Centennial Village, a combination of mixed-use apartment buildings, single family homes, and new commercial spaces in West Parkside (planned since 2006), is going up thanks to a partnership with non-profit developer Community Ventures, the City of Philadelphia, and Parkside Association of Philadelphia.
Community Ventures program director Troy Hannigan says the project will include 52 long-term housing units, some of which will accommodate seniors and special-needs citizens, whose income is 20 to 60 percent of the neighborhood median level.
There will be a 30-unit apartment building on the west side of 52nd Street, which will also include the largest of four commercial spaces, which will range in size from about 800 square feet to 4500. The Parkside Association will occupy one of these spaces as its new office, and no tenants have been secured yet for the others, but Hannigan is optimistic.
“We’re hoping for a restaurant on the corner of 52nd and Parkside,” he says.
On the east side of 52nd Street, there will be another mixed-use building: six apartments above and two commercial spaces below, as well as several new single-family homes nearby.
All in all, Hannigan says, Centennial Village will encompass two revamped park spaces, six rehabbed buildings, and three new constructions, with a total budget of about $21 million. Construction will last an estimated 12-16 months.
Hannigan notes that Mayor Nutter has been especially devoted to this development in his own former Councilmanic district.
Centennial Village’s primary financing source is through the low income housing tax credits program of PHFA, but there is also funding from City agencies, and dollars from the West Philadelphia Empowerment Zone for the development of the commercial units, along with investor PNC bank.
“It’s an example [for] mixed-use development throughout Philadelphia,” Hannigan says.
Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Troy Hannigan, Community Ventures
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