At Maplewood Mall block party, opinions vary about upcoming $2.2 million redesign

After the “Re-Imagining Maplewood Mall” block party got underway Saturday afternoon, families enjoyed water ice, listened to live music, did art projects, applauded a fire juggler and took in work from local artists, while Germantown kids joyfully jumped and shrieked in a moon-bounce right in the middle of the Mall.

Last week’s announcement of $2.2 million in Commerce Department funds to re-make Maplewood Mall drew an enthusiastic crowd, but the business owners, tenants and artists who were on hand for Saturday’s celebration expressed a range of reactions.

Locals react to funding news

Celeysa Sullivan moved from West Philadelphia and into the Interfaith Building on the Mall a few months ago. She came out to help local designer Susan Mangan with a public art project at the old kiosk near Germantown Avenue.

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“I was so happy and I really love this area,” Sullivan said of how she felt when her application to International House came through. “No one bothers you when you sit out here. I think I’ll be here for awhile.”

She’s looking forward to the redesign, but several others were more guarded in their optimism.

“You have to have positive thinking to keep moving,” said Rocio Cabello, co-founder of iMPeRFeCT Gallery on Greene Street

She noted that her rosy outlook might be due to the fact that she’s relatively new to Maplewood with iMPeRFeCT having celebrated its first anniversary this month.

She also claimed so many improvement efforts have fizzled over the years in the area that some residents and business owners are taking a wait-and-see approach.

“Everybody has a different take. People who have been here longer are jaded,” she said. “I can understand why people do stop believing.”

She also noted that even among those who are counting on the project to move forward, there is by no means a consensus about how the remodel should look.

“Fixing means different things to different people,” she said.

While some hope to remove trees and gardens in favor of level, uniform paving, Cabello favors “letting nature have its room,” with paths for shoppers and residents, so that the Mall can keep cool in the shade of its trees.

“We’re screwing up the tree with the brickwork, not the other way around,” the avid gardener insisted.

Art and opinions

Near the other side of the Mall, the Black Writers Museum hosted work from three artists who also had their say about Maplewood Mall and the local community.

Roxborough resident Arlene Hilton showed works in charcoal, oils and acrylic that she painted in the 1980s. The retired city human-resources manager now enjoys performing as a jazz vocalist. She heard about the chance to show her work through the Germantown Artists Roundtable, whose members pitched in for the Maplewood event.

Photographer Cathleen Parra, a New Jersey native, hadn’t known about the Maplewood nook until she got involved at Saturday’s event.

“It’s really charming,” she said of the Mall.

Artist Andrew Brazzle, showing prints of work in acrylic and oil that encorporate multi-layered text, brought a passion for racial justice to his paintings, which depicted crimes of the KKK, the Osage Avenue MOVE bombing and other tragic moments of American history.

He was proud to note that poet Sonia Sanchez owns part of the collection he displayed on Saturday.

One image showed a black man, naked on one side and clad in black and white prison stripes on the other. “It was illegal to teach a black man to read and write. Now, they just say, we have no money,” it reads.

To Brazzle, news of the millions of dollars for the Maplewood Mall redesign was dismaying, when the city’s schools are closing and cutting services due to budget gaps.

Cause for hope

Mt. Airy residents Desmin and Jania Daniels, owners of the new Rose Petals Café and Lounge, slated to open in July, made sure to attend the party.

“You hold back your excitement initially,” Desmin said of waiting to see if the redesign project comes through since it’s important for Germantown. “The more traffic this brings to Germantown, the more it brings to Rose Petals.”

Nick Tate, owner of Cane And Rush, which has been in the Mall for the last five years, expressed unreserved enthusiasm for the update.

“What I’d like to see is parking and better signage,” he said of what was most important to him. He’s optimistic that the makeover will bring new tenants to the Mall’s many vacant buildings. “This may just be the shot in the arm [the Mall needs].”

GUCDC member Garlen Capita, who spearheaded plans for the event along with G-Town Radio founder Jim Bear, was happy to see such a large turnout for the party.

“People are bringing their friends and their neighbors, which is exactly what we wanted to have happen,” Capita said.

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