Tag Archives: development

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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Unions protest Germantown development projects

St. Peters Episcopal Church in Germantown (Bas Slabbers/for NewsWorks)

St. Peters Episcopal Church in Germantown (Photo by Bas Slabbers for NewsWorks)

Are escalating union protests one sign that a neighborhood is on the upswing?

Developer Ken Weinstein, who’s company Philly Office Retail is a fixture in Northwest Philadelphia, recently sent out the appeal below to neighborhood residents, in response to a protest by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) union.

Weinstein did not hire IBEW members for his Waldorf School campus development, which is now underway at the long vacant St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, located on the 6000 block of Wayne Avenue in Germantown. Instead of protesting in Germantown however, IBEW is targeting Weinstein’s customers at The Trolley Car Diner in Mt. Airy, hoping to disrupt business at the friendly neighborhood restaurant.

The historic St. Peter’s Episcopal Church was designed by noted Philadelphia architects Frank Furness and George Hewitt, and listed on the Preservation Alliance’s annual endangered properties list in 2010. The religious buildings are now being adapted to function as a school campus for pre-K through 8th grade students.

In his letter to neighbors, Weinstein says he is investing nearly $6 million into the project, which after years of neglect, requires extensive restoration.

Elsewhere in Germantown, union activity continues outside of the Post Brothers’ Rittenhouse Hill apartment towers, at at Rittenhouse Street and Wissahickon Avenue. (Note to self, buy stock in yard signs.) As development interest grows in Germantown, expect to see more protests around development activity, whether they spurred on by unions or residents themselves.

Union protest signs outside of The Trolley Car Diner in Mt. Airy (Photo via Chestnut Hill Local)

Union protest signs outside of The Trolley Car Diner in Mt. Airy (Photo via Chestnut Hill Local)

Inside St. Peter's (Bas Slabbers for NewsWorks)

Inside St. Peter’s (Photo by Bas Slabbers for NewsWorks)

Read Ken Weinstein’s email to friends and neighborhood leaders below. Learn more about the Waldorf School project and view photos of the church campus at:

———- Forwarded message ———-

From: Ken Weinstein <Ken@phillyofficeretail.com>
Date: Thu, Feb 6, 2014 at 3:52 PM
Subject: Really need your help

As a friend, I am writing to seek your help and support. I am being personally attacked for not hiring IBEW (electrical workers union) members for my development project converting a long vacant and deteriorated property in Germantown into a vibrant and active Waldorf School campus. IBEW members were stationed outside Trolley Car Diner this morning handing out flyers with my picture and cell phone number listed.

Below are some facts that IBEW may want to consider before trying to turn customers away from the Diner:

  • We are investing nearly $6 million into this positive Germantown development. It is the largest investment in Germantown in many years.
  • We returned this property to the real estate property tax rolls after years of no tax revenue.
  • We are saving several Frank Furness designed buildings on this 1.5 acre campus. These buildings were listed by the Preservation Alliance as one of the most endangered historic properties in the Philadelphia region.
  • This project uses no government funding, other than historic tax credits that were recently awarded to this project in exchange for preserving the structures.
  • Unlike members of IBEW, a majority of our contractors hired are from the northwest Philadelphia community and are racially diverse.
  • Unlike IBEW, our chosen general contractor, McCoubrey/Overholser, is based in Mt. Airy and invests heavily in our community.
  • This project will create nearly 100 temporary and permanent jobs and will allow the Waldorf School to add students and grow.

I do not appreciate this personal attack and I will not stay quiet while they spread lies and misinformation about our projects designed to revitalize our neighborhoods. I will put up my record of revitalizing our region’s urban communities, anytime, against the efforts of IBEW to shut down projects that positively impact our community.

I am asking you to visit Trolley Car Diner in the next couple days to let the protestors outside the Diner know that you don’t agree with their position and that they are doing a disservice to the community by trying to discourage people from visiting the Diner and shutting down our Waldorf School development project. If you want to be sure that the protestors are there when you visit, feel free to call the Diner at (215) 753-1500. They know that you may be calling to check.

I don’t care whether or not you stay to eat at the Diner, just that you let the protestors know that they do not have the support of our community and that they should support my efforts to make northwest Philadelphia a better place to live, work, learn and enjoy. Please ask the protestors to tell their leadership that they are not helping their cause by camping outside the Diner with their threatening signs and flyers.

They say that you know who your friends are when times get tough. I am blessed to have many good friends who have a common vision for our community and City.

Please let me know if you have any questions or need additional information. I would love to hear feedback on your visit to the Diner when you get a chance.

Thanks,
Ken

———-