Category Archives: Businesses

Is the historic YWCA building on Germantown Avenue really going to be demolished?

If you’re a resident of Germantown, by now you’ve likely heard the news that the former-YWCA building at 5820-24 Germantown Avenue has been threatened with the wrecking ball. You probably also have A LOT of questions about that.

Germantown United CDC (GU) has convened an emergency community meeting on Thursday, January 22 at 6:30 PM to discuss the fate of the historic building, which sits next to Vernon Park on Germantown Avenue and is part of a cluster of large vacancies on the corridor, including Germantown Town Hall and Germantown High School.

Right now, the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority (PRA) owns the YWCA. In September 2014, the PRA put out a Request for Proposals (RFP) for competitive bids from developers to purchase and rehab the building. You can download the RFP (PDF) and browse other PRA materials in detail at phila.gov/pra.

Apparently only one proposal was submitted (oy! what’s the proposal?) and while the PRA likes the proposed development (what’s it like?) they’re having a hard time moving it forward (how come?) so now the PRA might tear the building down if there is no traction (really? why?).

Before I freak out about the building getting demolished or decide to advocate for a project I know nothing about, I plan on attending this meeting on the 22nd and think you should too!

Here are my five questions I’m hoping to get answered:

1. So… What’s been proposed exactly? According to the email below from GU, Mission First Housing Group is the sole developer, and Ken Weinstein of Philly Office Retail and Center in the Park are partners. What do they want to do and how will the existing business corridor and greater Germantown benefit?

2. What is stopping the Redevelopment Authority from accepting the proposal? Generally speaking, if the PRA has a proposal they like, what is the process for moving a proposal forward?

3. I heard Councilwoman Cindy Bass does not support the proposal but no one will say why. Why not? I’d like to hear from everyone at the table. (Actually, is there even a table? Who is ultimately the decision maker here?)

4. The Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority now says the YWCA might have to come down. What’s changed? And is this sudden threat of demolition an attempt to whip neighbors into a frenzy and force stakeholders and the Councilwoman to endorse the proposal, or is the building actually about to fall over? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

5. Back in February 2013 – before the PRA even foreclosed on the property – Ken Weinstein did an interview with Flying Kite Media discussing his vision for the YWCA. I’m confused about who is leading the charge. Please fill us in!

The shuttered YWCA on Germantown Avenue near Rittenhouse Street.

The shuttered YWCA on Germantown Avenue near Rittenhouse Street.

The YWCA building has an awesome history and should be preserved. One of my favorite activities growing up was jumping on the HUGE trampoline at the Y while waiting around for my sister – who was far better at gymnastics – to finish lessons. But forgive me for not immediately laying down in front of the building to save it from demolition. There are lots of crazy stories out there about people in power (who know better) using scare tactics to get what they want and how this unfolded doesn’t feel right. Remember that time the Philadelphia Housing Authority threatened to leave Germantown’s Queen Lane Apartments tower up (yes, up!) because of disagreements with residents? More recently, PRA executive director Brian Abernathy penned an obnoxious op-ed for the Inquirer blaming artist James Dupree for denying an ENTIRE neighborhood access to healthy food, all because the artist didn’t roll-over when the City attempted to seize his studio for a new supermarket. Yuck. Our local government sometimes does reprehensible stuff like this.

I gather there are issues with transparency on all sides. Come out to the meeting with an open mind and do your due diligence to get the facts if the revitalization of Germantown is an issue you care about. Germantown United CDC has confirmed that Ken Weinstein and representatives of Mission Housing First and Center in the Park will be in attendance to discuss the RFP they submitted to the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority. The PRA will also be in the house to talk about the status of the proposal and the condition of the building. Who else will be there? I dunno. Let’s find out!

via germantownunitedcdc.com

Germantown United CDC distributed the following statement via their website and listserve on January 15, 2015:

Join Us to Save the YWCA Building

Date: Thursday, January 22, 2015
Time: 6:30 PM – 8:00 PM; 11:45 PM (hearing begins promptly, GCCS is scheduled first)
Location: First United Methodist Church of Germantown (FUMCOG) at 6001 Germantown Avenue [directions]

“Germantown United CDC (“GU”) recently learned that the old YWCA building on Germantown Avenue, adjacent to Vernon Park, may be threatened with demolition.

Please join us and other community groups, including Germantown Community Connection, for a meeting at the First United Methodist Church of Germantown (“FUMCOG”) on January 22, 2015, 6:30pm, to hear about the threat to this significant historic centerpiece in Germantown’s “Town Center” and the proposal on the table that may save it.

Here’s what we know at this point:

The Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority (“PRA”) owns the Old YWCA after it foreclosed against Germantown Settlement four years ago. Last Fall (September 2014), the PRA put out a Request for Proposals for competitive bids from developers to purchase and rehabilitate the structure at 5820-24 Germantown Avenue. Given the historic nature and significance of the building, the RFP stated that the “City may be willing to subsidize masonry and structural improvements in an amount not to exceed $1,000,000.” Following the release of the RFP, a site visit was led by the PRA for interested developers to have an opportunity to tour the building. The site is in a significant state of disrepair resulting from eight plus years of vacancy, two fires, and multiple acts of vandalism. Despite considerable developer interest initially, only one developer submitted a proposal to the PRA.

A proposal by Mission First Housing Group, to acquire and develop 50 one bedroom senior apartments for low and moderate income older adults (62 and older), was submitted. While Mission First Housing Group will work closely with Philly Office Retail and Center in the Park, Mission First will be the sole developer of the site. Seniors will have access to on-site programming provided by Center in the Park. Philly Office Retail owns the remainder of the block along Germantown Avenue, up to West Rittenhouse Street, and plans to construct market rate residential and commercial uses, concurrently with this project. Mission First proposes utilizing Low Income Housing Tax Credit financing similar to what was used for the Presser-
Nugent properties on Johnson Street that served to save those buildings.

As Corridor Manager, GU feels obligated to convene a meeting of stakeholders to hear all the facts, to understand the existing proposal, and to create a community coalition to save the Old YWCA. At this point, the only proposal legitimately before the PRA, based on response to the competitive RFP process, is the one submitted by Mission First. GU supports a fair and open process that allows community voices to be heard without advocating for a specific proposal. Our goal is to save the YWCA from demolition and ensure that this Germantown gem is preserved and put to productive use. So, who is Mission First (we all know Center in the Park)? What is the proposal? Is this something our community should support? These questions – and any that you wish to raise – are welcome at the meeting on January 22nd 6:30pm at FUMCOG.

PLEASE HELP SAVE THIS SIGNIFICANT BUILDING FROM THE WRECKING BALL!!

PLEASE JOIN US TO DISCUSS AND DECIDE AS A COMMUNITY WHAT IS BEST FOR GERMANTOWN’S COMMERCIAL CORRIDOR.”

cg-facebook

Are you on Facebook?

The Changing Germantown Facebook group offers a broad view of development activity at play in and around Northwest Philadelphia’s Germantown neighborhood and insight into what community stakeholders are thinking. Members are invited to freely post photos, articles, comments and opinions related to urban planning and design, community development, and zoning issues in Germantown.

Join facebook.com/groups/ChangingGermantown.

Making Art on Germantown Avenue

IMG_6521If you are wondering what’s behind that giant black screen at 6350 Germantown Avenue, I can tell you it’s not a junkyard. Although that might be up for interpretation. The property is the studio of visual artists Kate Kaman and Joel Erland. I stopped by for a somewhat bizarre little visit after the Germantown Town Hall workshop today. The space is open to the public this weekend for Philadelphia Open Studio Tours from October 10-11, noon to 6pm.

As I rambled around the studio, I was excited to see a small mockup of the large scale work The Unseen World, which may have caught your eye if you travel along North Broad Street between Germantown and Center City.

IMG_6522

The suspended illuminated sculptures are on display inside the atrium of Temple University’s newish School of Medicine building and visible from the street. Turns out they’re bacteria! And this is a Kaman + Erland work! The artists worked closely with the architecture and engineering firm Ballinger while creating the piece, which is a signature feature of the building’s public spaces.

Now you know what’s behind the screen. Visit http://ekeart.com for more on their work.

And thanks to Germantown Artist Round Table‘s Paula Paul for the POST reminder, and for handing me a photo copy of the guide page listing all of the studios in Germantown participating! Get to know your neighborhood artists. 

More photos

New Parking Lot Coming to Germantown Avenue Commercial Corridor

The 5300 block of Germantown Avenue will soon be home to a new 19-space surface parking lot at the corner of W Penn Street, joining two existing lots that front the commercial corridor within a single block. The grassy property is owned by developer Ken Weinstein, who is also renovating the six story building across the street at 5301 Germantown Avenue.

There is much possibility in Philadelphia’s vacant land, so the idea of yet another private lot is nothing short of a buzzkill to this stretch of the corridor, which is showing a glint of possibility marked by new businesses, new construction projects and renovations.

While a parking lot may not sound very exciting, Weinstein’s development in its entirety remains one of the most significant along the corridor in years. It has however proved difficult to get much information about.

Future surface parking lot on the 5300 block of Germantown Ave at E Penn St, looking towards 5301 Germantown Ave.

Future surface parking lot on the 5300 block of Germantown Ave at Penn St, looking towards the Hosley Temple Church and 5301 Germantown Ave.

In the summer, a group of concerned Germantown residents (myself included) and business owners frustrated by a lack of transparency reached out to the Department of Licenses and Inspections and various other agencies of the city with questions about the development process and potential impact on the neighborhood.

The primary concern is what appears to be the subversion of the city’s zoning process which in effect has prevented public notifications about the nature of the building use, stifling dialogue and community input. L&I’s decision-making overlooks many principles of comprehensive planning set forth in the new zoning code.

Site of the forthcoming parking lot 5300 block of Germantown Ave at W Penn St

Site of the forthcoming parking lot 5300 block of Germantown Ave at W Penn St

The parking lot and the six story building sit on a largely historic stretch of Germantown Avenue at opposite corners of Penn Street just one block away from Germantown Friends School, Cunningham Piano, and Grumblethorpe. A misleading sign posted on the building facade advertises it will house new market rate apartments and a cafe/restaurant space. The primary use of the building however is a 100-bed residential shelter that will serve more than 600 people each year. When pressed for more information about the additional use, Ken Weinstein has stated that he cannot legally discuss it. The building has been partially occupied since July and the commercial space is nearly complete and seeking a tenant. The listing from Philly Office Retail says “DRIVE BY TO SEE THE ACTION!!!” Spread the word…

The parking lot, which is not yet under construction, will be located on the contiguous parcels of land at 5322, 5324 and 5326-28 Germantown Avenue at W Penn Street, across the street from the building under discussion. The two other large private lots on the block serve Germantown Friends School and St. Luke’s Episcopal Church. Hosley Temple Church and the new Around The Clock Home Health Care office (currently under construction) have wide driveway entrances on the Avenue and private parking lots tucked away behind their buildings. The entire block has free on-street parking throughout. Which begs the question – how many parking lots are too many for one block of Germantown Avenue? Surface lots on city blocks create distance between destinations and add little to the streetscape. This dead space no doubt impacts the surrounding business corridor and overall pedestrian experience. A walk along the neighboring 5400 or 5200 blocks of Germantown Avenue tell a different story.

5300 Block of Germantown Ave - Google Maps - Lots

“Yay, surface parking,” said nobody ever.@dragonballyee via Twitter. Note, map satellite image does not show the new construction between Hosley Temple Church and the Germantown Friends School parking lot on the east side of Germantown Avenue.

News of the parking lot is but one conundrum. If you’re anything like me, you probably have a lot more questions about how each component of the 5301 Germantown Avenue development will fit together. But good luck getting your questions answered.

In the interest of a more transparent process, included below is our most recent correspondence about the development with L&I.

Germantowners should have a voice in the rebuilding of our neighborhood and the right to know and ask questions about new developments that impact where we live, work and play – for better or worse.

An informed citizenry is an asset to the revitalization of Germantown.

Read more

What’s Happening at 5301 Germantown Avenue?

5301 Germantown Ave

5301 Germantown Avenue

A group of Germantown residents, business owners, and property owners have submitted a letter of inquiry to L&I Commissioner Carlton Williams calling for a review of the commercial and residential development at 5301 Germantown Avenue.

In the letter, of which I am a co-signer, the group questions the process through which zoning was obtained and whether or not the project is consistent with the goals of developing mixed-use commercial districts.

At six stories (that’s soaring in Germantown), the building sits on a largely historic stretch of Germantown Avenue below Chelten Avenue and is perhaps the biggest non-commercial redevelopment in years. Yet significant aspects of the project remain shrouded in secrecy.

As advertised on a sign posted to the building facade, 5301 Germantown Avenue is said to feature a 1,600 sq ft cafe or restaurant space on the ground floor and 11 market rate apartments (one and two-bedroom units). The primary use of the building however is reputed to be a 100-bed residential shelter, managed by an unnamed non-profit. The developer, Ken Weinstein of Philly Office Retail, has stated publicly at several community meetings that he cannot legally disclose the name of the non-profit tenant or the nature of the additional residential use. This has baffled residents living nearby, generating unnecessary confusion about the development. The distrust and frustration could no doubt have been mitigated by a more transparent development process.

Interestingly, many local news publications have covered the renovation at 5301 and the community’s response, including WHYY’s NewsWorks (most recently here, here, and here), The Philadelphia Tribune, and The Independent Voice. None of the stories from the press however explore the legality of the unnamed use, or how exactly the developer secured the required zoning, bypassing public disclosures, the Zoning Board of Adjustment, and the Registered Community Organization review process.

For full disclosure, the text of the aforementioned email and enclosures sent to Commissioner Williams and copied to a list of public leaders and officials, follows below in it’s entirety.

Read more

Lower Germantown Streetscape Project Set for June 21

On Saturday, June 21 over two dozen planters and tree pits will be planted with vibrant annuals and perennials on a two-block stretch of Germantown Avenue between Penn Street and Bringhurst Street. The zone was selected by Tree Germantown and the W Rockland Street Project as a corridor greening pilot experiment.

Despite lacking a formal business association, this lesser-known Germantown business district is full of life with the addition of two new businesses, Sandalwood Yoga Studio and the soul food restaurant Tasties.

There are also three building renovations underway including new construction for Around The Clock Home Health Care just before Penn Street, developer Ken Weinstein’s renovation of the 6-story building at 5301 Germantown Avenue, and Stan Smith’s renovation of 5320 Germantown Avenue. Tracy McNeil, owner of the yoga studio at 5310 Germantown Avenue, recently completed a historic renovation of the property which includes the storefront studio on the street-level and apartments on the upper floors (read about the renovation at NewsWorks.org).

Google Maps capture of Germantown Avenue from Penn Street looking towards Bringhurst Street.

Google Maps capture of Germantown Avenue from Penn Street looking towards Bringhurst Street.

 

Aine Doley (that’s me!) and Penn Knox resident Amy Steinbugler went door-to-door to pitch the planting project and discuss the benefits of bringing greenery to Germantown Avenue. Many businesses were eager to join the effort, but some took convincing.

Those who declined to participate raised concerns about the plantings being able to survive the urban environment and the shoppers who frequent businesses along the corridor. Will the planters be stolen? Will passersby put trash in the planters? One business owner believed that people would urinate in the planters and sit on them while waiting for the 23 bus.

The participating businesses and organizations willing to give greenery a chance in the neighborhood include:

  • Sandalwood Yoga Studio at 5310 Germantown Ave
  • The One Less Foundation at 5275 Germantown Ave inside the historic Clarkson-Watson House (circa 1740)
  • Grumblethorpe at 5267 Germantown Ave, John Wister’s historic summer home built in 1744
  • Bargain Thrift at 5245 Germantown Ave
  • Around The Clock Home Health Care at 5226 Germantown Ave (current location)
  • Tasties at 5241 Germantown Ave
  • Kbello Kolors Hair Salon (tentative) at 5237 Germantown Ave
  • 5301 Germantown Ave (building currently being renovated by Ken Weinstein / Philly Office Retail)
  • 5320 Germantown Ave (building currently being renovated Stan Smith / Philly Office Retail)

Each participating business is contributing $25 per planter and has agreed to care for and water the new plants in front of their business. This project was made possible through generous donations from our community partners, who have helped to subsidize the costs of materials: Historic Germantown, Germantown United CDC, G’Town Restoration CDC, and the City of Philadelphia’s PhillyRising initiative, which selected Germantown as a Philly Rising 2.0 neighborhood in early February.

As Germantown continues to grow, Tree Germantown and the W Rockland Street Project will continue to push for greening and tree planting in our neighborhood.

Volunteers needed

Volunteering during the planting day is a great way to meet neighbors and get to know local business owners. Join us on Saturday, June 21 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Email treegermantown@gmail.com to sign-up and visit facebook.com/treegermantown for additional volunteer information.

planting_flyer_june21

Thanks again to our sponsors!

historic germantown phillyrising-logo GUCDC-logo gtownrestoration

Ways to improve public notice of neighborhood development projects

Around the Clock Home Health Care RenderingThere’s a buzz. There’s a hum. There’s that hammering and drilling again. The noticeable uptick in development projects in Germantown has pushed us to expand the W Rockland St Project’s focus and create a development news section on our blog that we’re calling Changing Germantown. Lately Germantown has been in the news for an array of neighborhood revitalization and community development activity. In February it was announced that Germantown was selected as a PhillyRising 2.0 zone. We’ve got the Germantown Special Services District (GSSD) cleaning the main business corridor again. Soon the Queen Lane apartment tower will be demolished and new housing will emerge.

After watching the foundation of a new building go in on the 4300 block of Germantown Avenue between the Germantown Friends School parking lot and the Holsey Temple Christian Methodist church, we decided to find out what it would be.

The building will house Around The Clock Home Health Care, a privately owned and operated agency that provides daily home health care services including personal care, meal preparation, light housekeeping, respite care, companionship, escorts and more. The business is moving from its headquarters at 5245 Germantown Avenue, an office building just a few blocks away owned by developer Stan Smith of Philly Office Retail.

Photo by Aine Doley

New construction on the 4300 block of Germantown Avenue. Photo by Aine Doley.

A Google maps satellite image of the site in 2012. The 4300 block of Germantown Avenue falls between Coulter Street and Penn Street.

The new facility will primarily be used as office space for Around The Clock employees, according to a recent NewsWorks article. “It will also provide additional room to expand training programs for its employees so the company can ultimately provide more diverse services to seniors,” wrote Queen Muse.

This business district is full of life with two new businesses as near neighbors, Sandalwood Yoga Studio and the soul food restaurant Tasties. Developer Ken Weinstein, also of Philly Office Retail, is currently renovating 5301 Germantown Avenue, a six-story property next to Holsey Temple at the corner of Germantown Avenue and Penn Street. 5301 is the largest building on the block and will feature a 1,600 sq ft cafe and restaurant space on the ground floor and 11 market rate apartments, in addition to an unknown residential use on the upper floors. Weinstein has said he cannot legally disclose the name of the non-profit or the nature of the additional residential use, which is rumored to be a shelter.

Prior to the NewsWorks story, there was much online chatter and speculation about what was coming to the construction site. Co-owner Patricia McKinley noted that outreach was done to nearby community groups, businesses and institutions, but that still left many other Germantowners clueless. Some residents who misread the banner advertising McDonald Building Co. were relieved to find out that the fast food chain McDonald’s was not coming! A quick Google search of McDonald Building Co. leads to a rendering and project description for the new building.

Recent confusion about this development and others has revealed that Germantown (and Philadelphia at large) needs better practices for getting information out to the greater community. Improved signage at development projects would be one quick solution. Take a look at these two signs outside of construction sites in New York City and Toronto.

Click to enlarge photos by Emaleigh Doley (R) and Ashley Hahn (L) snapped while traveling via Instagram.

Informational signage works to both squash speculation and engage residents in the development of their neighborhood.

After a trip to Toronto, Ashley Hahn wrote about the city’s smart signage for PlanPhilly’s Eyes on the Street blog: “This simple but robust public notice requirement is exactly the sort of move that could help Philly neighbors get key information and be aware of when a meeting is scheduled for major projects. It would also help developers make sure fewer people could claim they never were informed about a particular development.” (Read the full story: Five ideas Philly should steal from Toronto.)

It would be to Germantown’s benefit to establish a standard sign template for high profile projects that goes beyond the often confusing (and tiny) zoning, construction, and permit postings required by the City of Philadelphia. Perhaps this is something the local community development corporations G’Town Restoration CDC and Germantown United CDC can collaborate on with the neighborhood’s Registered Community Organizations.

What’s Happening

  • New construction
  • Business: Around The Clock Home Health Care
  • Current Address: 5226 Germantown Avenue. Info: (215) 991-6222
  • Builder: McDonald Building Co.
  • Architect: Blackney Hayes Architects
  • 10,000 square foot office space
  • Partial-vegetative roof system
  • Completion scheduled by the end of 2014

Developer Ken Weinstein’s growing presence along Germantown Avenue to be discussed at June 3 community meeting

4811 Germantown Avenue, part of the former Germantown Charter School Campus.

4811 Germantown Avenue, part of the former Germantown Charter School Campus.

Ken Weinstein of Philly Office Retail will host a community meeting about the redevelopment of the former-Germantown Settlement Charter School Campus on Germantown Avenue this Tuesday, June 3 at 7pm. The meeting is open to the greater Germantown community (not just near-neighbors) and will be held on-location at 4811 Germantown Avenue in the former St. Michael’s Church. (Download a PDF of the flyer shared by Ken Weinstein.)

Over the past few years, Weinstein has acquired a growing number of properties in the area, many of which are concentrated along Germantown Avenue, the neighborhood’s main thoroughfare which features several business districts.

Ongoing development of the five building six acre Settlement campus has the potential to redefine a significant portion of Germantown Avenue nearby Wayne Junction Station.

At Settlement, the youth drama school Greatness Is In You will join New Directions for Women, a residential penal facility for female ex-offenders that has operated on the campus for over 20 years, and the for-profit adult daycare center Tori’s Garden of Eden, also under renovations. Two other buildings remain vacant.

After two contentious zoning meetings about the adult daycare in February and April, near-neighbors are eager to engage in a healthy dialogue with the developer and build a vision for the entire campus.

A diagram of the former Germantown Settlement Campus, courtesy of Ken Weinstein. Click to enlarge.

A diagram of the former Germantown Settlement Campus, courtesy of Ken Weinstein. Click to enlarge.

The Schaeffer School at 4701 Germantown Avenue. Photo taken on November 16, 2013.

The Schaeffer School at 4701 Germantown Avenue. Photo taken on November 16, 2013.

Weinstein also owns several other significant buildings in the immediate vicinity, including the former C.W. Schaeffer Public School at 4701 Germantown Avenue, adjacent to the Settlement campus. Together, these large scale properties front nearly an entire block of the Avenue, less than half a mile away from Wayne Junction Station.

Beyond Settlement, there is currently a rising debate about 5301 Germantown Avenue, a six-story property owned by Weinstein on a largely historic stretch of the Avenue. That building is less than one mile away from the Settlement campus and currently under redevelopment.

The property is said to feature a 1,600 sq ft cafe and restaurant space on the ground floor and 11 market rate apartments (one and two-bedroom units), as confirmed by the developer on a neighborhood Facebook group and advertised on the building facade. The primary use of the building is rumored to be a 100-bed shelter, managed by an unnamed non-profit.

When pressed about the unadvertised building use at a recent Baynton Hill Neighbors civic group meeting, Weinstein said that he could not legally disclose the name of the non-profit or the nature of the additional residential use.

Further along the Avenue, Weinstein recently toured Germantown High School – perhaps the largest vacant building on Germantown Avenue at 355,372 sq. ft. – and is considering purchasing the property from the Philadelphia School District.

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