Category Archives: Preservation

Redevelopment of Germantown’s YWCA about more than just one building

The shuttered YWCA.

The shuttered YWCA.

UPDATED: 4:30 PM February 17, 2015

Local media turned it’s attention to development in Northwest Philadelphia’s Germantown neighborhood this week as journalists reported on the fate of the historic YWCA building. Set on the 5800 block of Germantown Avenue, the building frames the northern side of leafy Vernon Park and fronts the commercial corridor. The week’s tales of woe, much of which centered on whether the building would face demolition or redevelopment, left me feeling very sad about Germantown as a neighborhood and place I call home, frustrated but not at a loss for words.

Here’s my letter to The Inquirer in response to architecture critic Inga Saffron’s take in her Changing Skyline column, published in the Tuesday, February 17th Opinion section (glad it’s back to two pages of commentary):

Promising neighborhood deserves better

TEXT: When it comes to planning and development, the Germantown community is feeling its way through the dark (“Without Y, Germantown loses part of its past,” Feb. 13). Where, for starters, is the City Planning Commission’s district plan for Germantown?

Whatever happens with the neighborhood’s vacant YWCA will affect its central park, its commercial corridor, and the future development of Germantown in a big way.

I know Germantown has what it takes. And I’m looking for change I can believe in, not change I’m mildly OK with. But if the wave of development sweeping the neighborhood now doesn’t meet my expectations, I will, with a heavy heart, look for a new place to live, work, and play.

I have already invested (and sacrificed) years making a positive difference on my own block, only to be crushed by the weight of insurmountable problems – poverty, ever more diminished city services, and the lack of oversight or feigned interest of the city agencies handling inspections and public housing.

I want neighborhood reinvestment that excites me. I’m young. I’m civically engaged. But I’m burning out fast. And I could use a good shot of espresso at a café in my very own neighborhood, as well as the ability to stop at a convenience store that isn’t reminding me over a loudspeaker every minute that I’m on camera.

We should have opportunities and we should have options to shape a grand vision for Germantown.

Emaleigh Doley, Philadelphia, www.rocklandstreet.com

The Germantown YWCA serves as a border for Vernon Park and as a backdrop to the Pastorius Memorial. (Credit: The Philadelphia Inquirer / Rachel Wisniewski)

The Germantown YWCA serves as a border for Vernon Park and as a backdrop to the Pastorius Memorial. (Credit: The Philadelphia Inquirer / Rachel Wisniewski)

The Philadelphia Inquirer ads to its stock photography collection of developer Ken Weinstein, here outside of the Germantown YWCA. (Credit: The Philadelphia Inquirer / Rachel Wisniewski)

The Philadelphia Inquirer ads to its stock photography collection of developer Ken Weinstein, here outside of the Germantown YWCA. (Credit: The Philadelphia Inquirer / Rachel Wisniewski)

big-news-clipart-200x243In the news

1. The Philadelphia Inquirer‘s architecture critic Inga Saffron pens an ode to the old building and brings the hammer down on councilmanic prerogative: Changing Skyline: Political battle could topple Germantown Y.

2. Earlier in the week, The Inquirer‘s city hall reporter Claudia Vargas captured Councilwoman Cindy Bass’ point of view: What’s to become of the old Germantown YWCA? The article notes the Councilwoman doesn’t want more subsidized housing at this location on Germantown Avenue. Bass says that given Germantown’s potential, time is needed to find the right plan for the old Y. “Land in Germantown, I believe, is becoming more and more valuable as we speak.”

3. Flying Kite Media offered a recap of the January 22, 2015 community meeting about the fate of the YWCA building, convened by Germantown United CDC.

4. Here on The W Rockland Street Project blog, my top 5 questions about the YWCA redevelopment leading up to the January 22 meeting.

5. A range of opinion and community conversation on Changing Germantown: facebook.com/groups/ChangingGermantown

Map view

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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.

Brickyard: Repaving one of Germantown’s red brick roads

A few weeks ago, I stopped by the 100 block of W Abbottsford Avenue in lower Germantown to take some photographs of an unusual street maintenance job. W Abbottsford is one of Philadelphia’s last remaining streets paved entirely in red brick.

Relaying a brick walkway or patio sounds daunting enough, let alone an entire city block. At the time these photos were taken, the Philadelphia Streets Department crew had already been working for three weeks. This was not your average pothole repair job.

There are some 330 blocks throughout the city that have retained historic paving materials, from red and yellow brick to granite blocks with blue glaze, cobblestone, and wood blocks (alas, just one wooden street remains).

All photos by Emaleigh Doley. September 11, 2014. 

Go visit!

The 100 block of W Abbottsford Avenue is located between Greene Street and Wayne Avenue and Apsley and Wyneva Streets, just a few blocks from SEPTA’s Wayne Junction Station.

More streets in Germantown with brick pavings

This list is compiled from the Historical Commission’s Philadelphia Historic Street Paving Thematic District Inventory, published in May 1999.

Red Brick

  • 400 block of Bringhurst Street
    Cross Streets: Laurens and McKean Sts.; between Hansberry St. and Queen Ln.
  • 6300 block of Burbridge Street
    Cross Streets: Washington and Duval Sts.; between McCallum and Greene Sts.
  • 5000 block of Erringer Place
    Cross Streets: Clapier and Manheim Sts.; between Wissahickon and Morris Aves.
  • 5200 block of McKean Avenue
    Cross Streets: Hansberry St. and Queen Ln.; between Morris and Laurens Ln.
  • 6300 block of Moylan Street
    Cross Streets: Washington and Pomona Sts.; between Wayne and Greene Sts.
  • 400 block of Stafford Street
    Cross Streets: Morris St. and Wissahickon Ave.; between Chelten Ave. and Rittenhouse St.
  • 300 block of Zeralda Street
    Cross Streets: Fernhill St. and Pulaski Ave.; between Apsley and Berkley Sts.

Orange Brick

  • Lehman Lane (orange mottled brick)
    Cross Streets: W. Price Street and Wissahickon Avenue

Yellow Brick

  • 300 block of Duval Street
    Cross Streets: Greene and Sherman Sts.; between Washington and Johnson Sts.
  • 5200-5300 block of Laurens Street (yellow brick with a chevron patter at Bringhurst intersection)
    Cross Streets: Queen Ln. and Hansberry St.; between Morris St. and Wissahickon Ave.
  • 100 block of W Sylvania Street
    Cross Streets: Wayne Ave. and Greene St.; between Apsley and Wyneva Sts.
  • 300 block of Winona Street
    Cross Streets: Pulaski St. and Morris St.; between Schoolhouse Ln. and Coulter St.
  • 6300 block of Sherman Street
    Cross Streets: Johnson and Duval Sts.; between Greene and Wayne Sts.