With a major development project looming and several smaller initiatives planned that will alter the appearance of its central business district, 2013 could prove to be a pivotal year for the East Falls Development Corporation.
As such, NewsWorks sat down this week with Gina Snyder, executive director of the EFDC, to find out the “State of East Falls.”
Last week, the Manayunk Development Corporation hosted a discussion entitled the “State of Manayunk,” which formed the first part of our look back – and a look ahead – with Northwest community development corporations, building upon a similar NewsWorks series that ran last year.
Throughout, the central theme of the series is: What happened in 2012? What’s on the agenda for 2013?
But with any long-term project, the beginning and ends of projects don’t necessarily conform to calendric artifices, so the State of East Falls – 2013 edition – will begin with an update on the sweeping development plan for a site along the neighborhood’s Ridge Avenue business corridor: Ridge Flats.
Ridge Flats timeline
As reported by Newsworks, Northern Liberties-based Onion Flats plans to combine both residential and retail space in an environmentally-friendly complex on a plot situated between Ridge Avenue and Kelly Drive. In 2012, Snyder predicted that the development and implementation of plans for the site would consume much of EFDC’s time and energy in 2012.
At present, Snyder related that the developers are in the process of piecing together the financing package for the project. She said that the developers are in the process of securing a market-rate financing agreement with the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, the results of which should be public in mid-2013.
In the meantime, a zoning application will be presented within the next three months to begin work on construction, which is slated to conclude in 2014.
Coinciding with this project is the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority’s Percent for Art Program, which asked for submissions from artists in 2012 who wished to be considered to create an original permanent work of art at Ridge Flats. Snyder said several finalists were identified as a result of this search and that the resultant design proposals are in the process of being reviewed.
Looking back at 2012
While the Ridge Flats project moves forward, 2012 saw the return of the Dance on the Falls Bridge, a cross-river cotillion that has become the signature event for the organization. Despite some challenges – the event was rescheduled due to inclement weather – Snyder said that preparations were easier the second time around, and that already-strong community support and enthusiasm continues to grow.
Also appearing in 2012 was the installation of a $1.1 million pedestrian island on Midvale Avenue at Kelly Drive. Since completion of construction, Snyder said a “few tweaks” were implemented to facilitate traffic flow and to highlight the neighborhood’s name on the sign.
The EFDC hopes to have a party this spring to inaugurate the island.
While there were several accomplishments, some of EFDC’s plans for 2012 weren’t wholly fulfilled: Snyder said that plans for a facelift to the Fine Wine and Good Spirits store on Ridge Avenue remain in limbo.
Since NewsWorks spoke to Snyder, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett announced a sweeping proposal to the way spirits are sold in the state, which could include the privatization of currently state-run liquor stores.
Also incomplete are plans to add parking along Ridge Avenue’s Inn Yard Park. After plans for several parking spaces along the Ridge Avenue boundary of the park were approved at a meeting of the East Falls Community Council in 2012, Snyder said that there is potential for a $50,000 “funding gap” in the almost $200,000 project.
Snyder is working with the city’s Commerce Department and Councilman Curtis Jones, Jr. to address this issue, and remains optimistic about the plan’s implementation.
“All the design issues are worked out,” she said. “It’s definitely possible for this year.”
2013 and beyond
With several plans for 2013 and beyond underway, one is already in place: a district office for recently-elected State Representative J.P. Miranda opened in January on Midvale Avenue.
“It’s going to be a good thing for East Falls,” said Snyder, who remarked that the East Falls business district has not had direct political access in her decade-long tenure at the helm of the EFDC.
While talks are ongoing to secure the presence of a bike race through the Northwest – Congressman Bob Brady announced on Thursday the formation of an organization to “organize and host the Philly Cycling Classic, a new world-class professional cycling race in Philadelphia in 2013” – the EFDC is adamant: the East Falls-based Bike Race Block Party will continue.
Building upon the momentum of the 600 people in attendance in 2012, Snyder already has promotional materials in hand for this year’s event, entitled “Bike Race – or Not!”
Also planned is a façade enhancement to Major Wing Lee’s venerable corner store at the intersection of Ridge and Midvale avenues. Scheduled to conclude by April, the project will include the installation of a new sign and other design revamps to the market.
Originally funded by a 50-50 matching grant provided by the city, Snyder said that the shop’s owners have contributed more than their required share to rehabilitate the shop’s frontage.
Lastly, a new eBook created by the EFDC explaining the neighborhood to potential merchants and residents is now available.
With ongoing projects being completed by new proposals, Snyder said she has become a subscriber to “incrementalism” in her work at the EFDC.
“If you work on the little pieces, it allows you to adjust,” she said. “It’s a way to be much more pragmatic.”