$50 million mixed-use development breaks ground on a blighted West Philly lot

Affordable housing nonprofit Mission First Housing Group and community-oriented services organization Horizon House broke ground on a four-story community services and retail complex at 59th and Market streets on Friday, the Philadelphia Tribune reports. The $50 million New Market West development promises to transform a trash-strewn lot partially occupied by a parking lot, an abandoned house and a gas station into a 137,700-square-feet, retail-fronted complex that provides space for early childhood education, workforce development, and educational, emergency, behavioral health services. There will be a public piazza and a rooftop green space, the nonprofit developers say. A $15 million second phase of construction will bring 40 units of affordable housing to the site, located in the shadow of the El Station at 60th and Market streets. City and state officials present at the groundbreaking said that the tax credit-subsidized development would revitalize an area that saw businesses close and street life lost during a decade-long renovation of the Market-Frankford line chugging overhead. State Sen. Vincent Hughes described the project’s move forward as a “’significant moment” that will “transform this neighborhood,’” The Tribune reports. The CEO of Mission First Housing Group, Alfredo de la Pena, called the project an “asset for a community  that was a little bit forgotten.”

The trio of mid-19th-century merchant buildings that went down up flames near 3rd  and Chestnut Sunday is only the latest in a pattern for older structures designed with wooden bones, Inga Saffron writes. Saffron laments the “architectural casualties,” writing that “old buildings like these are prone to fires” due to the use of wooden structural beams and façades. Unlike taller high-rise commercial buildings that are mandated by the city to include sprinkler systems, “smaller structures like those in Old City” are not required to have fire suppression systems. The building at 239 Chestnut, the most damaged of the three from the weekend’s fire, was one such building without sprinklers;  Licenses and Inspections Commissioner David Perri tells Saffron that “it would have probably cost no more than $75,000 to equip [it] with sprinklers.” The city has since declared the building “imminently dangerous,” and it will have to be demolished.

Councilman Curtis Jones says he plans to hold hearings to rein in ‘porch pirates’ who steal packages from stoops, WHYY News’ Tom MacDonald reports. Jones says his constituents have told him this problem is growing, describing “teams of folk who follow UPS, Fed Ex, and postal trucks around to look at what type and shape of the box — and where targets of opportunity are.” Jones speculates that “some of it is a reaction to gentrification — rich people buying rich things in poor neighborhoods,” while some just see an opportunity for free stuff. Whatever the reason, Jones wants to take action. 

Speaking of online shopping, let’s go back to the Amazon bid again. WURD Radio’s Charles D. Ellison, contributing to the Philadelphia Citizen, brings attention to the Economic Policy Institute’s recently released report on Amazon fulfillment centers and employment growth. While Ellison recognizes that the report focuses “primarily on fulfillment centers—and not gargantuan East Coast headquarters, he argues that these “centers are at the core of Amazon’s business model.” EPI’s report found that “when Amazon opens a new fulfillment center, the host county gains roughly 30 percent more warehousing and storage jobs but no new net jobs overall.” Furthermore, the report’s authors found that there are actually “reductions” in countywide employment. Ellison argues that the “HQ2 noise” downplays the need for a realistic and “spirited conversation…about the bad, inequality-driving things that will happen” to avoid “long-term and potentially devastating consequences right under our radar.”

Active citizenship alert: Get ready, the Citizen’s Planning Institute will accepting applications for its next cohort in a few hours. The seven-week course, which provides an introduction to city planning, zoning, and the development process for Philadelphia residents, celebrated in January 450 graduates since the program began in 2010.

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