Tag Archives: Philly Office Retail

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.

Let there be light in Germantown

Outdoor lighting is an important part of making Germantown a safer place. One of the simplest things you can do to improve neighborhood safety is leave your porch light or lamp post on after dark.

In lower Germantown, both the DePaul Catholic School and Philly Office Retail have joined residents in lighting up the neighborhood and added exterior lighting to their properties.

The DePaul Catholic School on W Rockland St

The DePaul Catholic School on W Rockland St

The DePaul Catholic School property had become a problematic hangout for teens after hours, the site of vandalism and violent incidents. In response to resident concerns, school administration installed lights to the exterior of the building facing both the unit blocks of W Rockland St and W Logan St. The new lighting has made a big impact and helps brighten what was a very dark part of the block. Special thanks to Aldo Cavalli with Independence Mission Schools, Sister Bernadette Miller, and Vice Principal Stephen Janczewski for working with the community.

Just up the block on Germantown Avenue, the buildings at developer Ken Weinstein’s Wayne Junction Campus are also getting new exterior lighting (don’t call it the former Germantown Settlement campus anymore!). The photos don’t really do the change justice. If you go by this week, you’ll notice a big difference.

If you don’t have an exterior light where you live, consider leaving a first floor light on and join the cause! Well-lit streets are more inviting to pedestrians, make people feel safer and discourage criminal activity.

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