Ahead of schedule with funding to spare, SEPTA unveils renovated bus loop

Amidst its ongoing funding crisis, SEPTA managed to complete the 33rd and Dauphin Bus Loop renovation several months ahead of schedule and with enough funding left over from the competitive grant that funded the project to pay for two additional bus loop overhauls – three birds, one stone.

Around this time last year, SEPTA broke ground on a project to fully renovate the historic bus loop, which serves five bus routes and some 2,115 daily riders. Since then crews have demolished and rebuilt the bus canopy, renovated the existing corner building and replaced the roof, ventilation and plumbing and heating systems. 

Wednesday, proud SEPTA officials, a happy community and the government leaders who helped make the project possible, unveiled the finished product. 

When the original bus loop was built in 1901 it was envisioned as a “handsome building and shelter shed” for trolleys, employees and passengers. More than a hundred years later, the structure had been painted a garish yellow, had its windows sealed and had generally deteriorated. Now, thanks to this SEPTA project, the building has been completely made-over and restored to look more like the “handsome building and shelter shed” it originally was. 

The original bus loop building, with space for retail and bathrooms, was renovated and spruced up, and elements like decorative cherubs and the original window designs were preserved. SEPTA changed the shelter’s layout from four bus bays to three, wider bus bays, added an Art in Transit installation and incorporated significant “green” elements, including a vegitated roof and a storm water retention bin for ground-level runoff.  

Thanks to a favorable bidding climate and site-specific factors that eased construction, SEPTA has enough of the $4 million Federal Transit Authority competitive grant awarded to this project to renovate the bus loops at both 23rd and Venango streets and 35th Street and Allegheny Avenue. 

Making community history by preserving community history

The project represents a major win for Strawberry Mansion – a community that refers to the 33rd & Dauphin Bus Loop as “our bus barn.”

Though a century of wear and tear had caused deterioration, the bus loop pre-renovation served as a landmark for the Strawberry Mansion neighborhood. When SEPTA announced plans to tear down and rebuild the structure, members of the community spoke up.

Council President Darrell Clarke was an early supporter of preserving the original bus loop. 

“A lot of people don’t know that folks in Strawberry Mansion, and SEPTA knows now, have this whole issue with historic character and respect to our neighborhood,” Clarke said. 

The Strawberry Mansion CDC championed the community voice and worked with the Preservation Alliance of Greater Philadelphia to research the building’s historic value. 

According to SEPTA the bus loop structure did not have official historic designation, but Deputy General Manager Jeff Knueppel said, “If it was historic to [the community], that was good enough.”

SEPTA compromised on its original plans and agreed to renovate the bus loop’s corner building, which has space for retail, but tear down the bus canopy and reuse some of the original bricks to rebuilt it. SEPTA left the decorative cherubs that adorn the corner building in place and added some design details that the building had lost over the years. 

“The upgraded design that SEPTA came up with, we felt was very, very acceptable to the community, but of course we’ve had some funding issues,” said Strawberry Mansion CDC President Tonnetta Graham. “Years have gone by, and we were like, ok, what’s going on? … Low and behold [Congressman] Chaka Fattah was able to help get the grant to restore the barn.”

SEPTA and the community first began talking about the project in 2006, but it was not until Congressman Chaka Fattah helped secure the FTA grant that SEPTA and the community were able to move forward with the bus loop overhaul. 

“As a community we’d like to thank our representatives, Congressman Fattah, Council President Clarke, all of those folks were really there on our side,” Graham said. “When the community was like we want to keep our barn, they said, ok let’s find a way to do that.”

Graham said the community is also happy with the “Arches of Resurgence” Art in Transit piece that, she said, “captured the essence of the community as well as the relationship to Fairmount Park,” which is right across the street. 

Michael Morgan, the artist behind “Arches of Resurgence” held a workshop for community members to design 200 of the bricks used in the final installation. 

“It was really good to help us have ownership of the barn again,” Graham said of the workshop.  

Next Graham hopes that members of the community might be interested in leasing the retail space that is available inside the corner building and that the renovated bus loop might spur other investment.

“We’re hoping that the new bus barn itself will kind of give us some leverage as a community to get a grant, like a commercial corridor grant, something that could help create continuity in the area,” Graham said. She envisions a branding campaign that would build off of the bus loop’s design. 

ADVICE FOR OTHER COMMUNITY GROUPS

After working with the Preservation Alliance to learn more about the bus loop in order to convince SEPTA not to tear it down, the Strawberry Mansion CDC received a neighborhood engagement award from the Alliance. 

As part of that award, the Strawberry Mansion gave a presentation on how other neighborhoods should approach situations where the community wants one thing and the builders want another. 

“One of the things I would strongly recommend is that they do their research,” Graham said. “Learn the history of their neighborhood and also learn the process of how to get something like this built because there are several agencies you have to go before.”

Graham’s other piece of advice: “Be patient because it doesn’t happen over night, and actually build those relationships. Not everybody is going to get everything they want but you can come to a happy medium.”

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