A $2.5 million project to improve Northwest Philly business corridor is finally happening

 Of the project, state Rep. Dwight Evans said,

Of the project, state Rep. Dwight Evans said, "It's your investment being reinvested back into your community." (Matthew Grady/for NewsWorks)

Elected officials and neighborhood-development leaders gathered to officially launch several projects designed to enhance business districts in Northwest Philadelphia on Thursday.

This fall, three streetscape and beautification projects will begin on Stenton Avenue. Initially announced last summer, contracts are now in place for work to commence.

Under the umbrella of the Ogontz Avenue Revitalization Corporation (OARC), façade improvements will be administered to 22 businesses along a two-mile stretch. In addition, a traffic triangle currently at the intersection of Stenton Ave. and Washington Lane will be renovated and expanded into a park-like setting.

Funding for the $2.5 million project comes from a combination of city and state funding.

Work on the façade program is already underway, and will be completed within a few months, according to project overseers. The streetscape program is expected to begin in spring 2014 and continue through the summer.

Rosy predictions

OARC CEO Jack Kitchen predicted that the project will bring lasting benefits to the neighborhoods and city as a whole through jobs and tax revenue.

“While the physical improvements are what we can see with our eyes,” said Kitchen, “it’s important to understand the economic impact that these streetscapes have on the corridors and the businesses that reside within them.”

This is the third commercial corridor improvement project for OARC. Earlier efforts can be seen on Ogontz and Wadsworth avenues.

Kitchen described the demand for real estate at these two locations as being “at an all-time high.”

Wide-ranging effort

Various public leaders noted that groundwork for the project was laid years ago, which crosses several Councilmanic and state legislative districts.

Ninth District Councilwoman Marian Tasco described the project as being “a long time coming,” noting that planning dated back to 2007.

Here are the project’s three features, as rehashed at Thursday’s presser:

• Commercial façade improvements to 22 businesses along Stenton Ave. between Wister St. and Allens Lane. New awnings and signage will be included in the interest of creating a “unique visual identity” for each enterprise.

• Streetscape projects along Stenton Avenue and at the “gateway” intersection of Ogontz and Cheltenham aves. This will include handicap ramps, sidewalks and crosswalks, benches, landscaping and street lighting.

• The traffic triangle project at Stenton Avenue and Washington Lane is a city project administered by the Philadelphia Water Department to improve stormwater management. It will eliminate a turning lane that extends to Washington Lane. New landscaping will be provided, and OARC will install street furniture.

One million dollars in funding comes through the state’s Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program funds, which were first approved by Gov. Ed Rendell and then reapproved by Gov. Tom Corbett. The additional $1.5 million comes from the city’s Neighborhood Transformation Initiative.

“It’s your investment being reinvested back into your community,” said state Rep. Dwight Evans, who helped launch OARC, which had been involved in a legal dispute with the commonwealth until recently.

Not attributing the wait to that litigation, an OARC official chalked it up to bureaucratic redtape.

Officials react

Many present on Thursday were expecting good things to come of the project.

Kevin Dow, COO of the city’s Commerce Department, described the work as being “comprehensive neighborhood economic development.”

“It all comes together to create wealth in our community and for our residents,” he said.

Vanita Cruse, president of the Stenton Avenue Business Association, expressed gratitude for the efforts that took place at various levels of government

“As business owners, we’re looking forward to an increase of businesses employing people and a viable shopping area for everybody to feel safe and come to,” she said.

State Rep. Cherelle Parker praised local businesses, who have helped make Northwest Philadelphia “a neighborhood of choice.”

“It’s not a coincidence,” Parker told NewsWorks, praising OARC’s efforts. “There’s something happening in Northwest Philadelphia, and I’m proud to be a part of it.”

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