Viewed from a storefront window on Midvale Avenue, the remnants of urban disinvestment stand alongside emergent businesses – the latter of which signals a potential turnaround in the fortunes of East Falls, and harkens to an earlier period of vitality in the neighborhood.
To Gina Snyder, the juxtaposition underscores the cycles of urban existence.
“East Falls is coming full circle,” she observed.
Snyder is Executive Director of the East Falls Development Corporation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the business climate and residential environment of East Falls.
The EFDC is one of three development corporations in Northwest Philadelphia that Newsworks will be profiling this month in order to identify accomplishments from the previous year, establish goals for the coming year, and recognize the people who are bringing these many plans to fruition.
Sources of funding
Unlike the Roxborough and Manayunk Development Corporations, the EFDC does not have an established Business Improvement District (BID), which provides revenue to development corporations via the transfer of city real estate assessments.
According to Snyder, the principal source of funding for the EFDC is the Community Development Council Tax Credit Ordinance.
The Tax Credit Ordinance is a program in which a credit is given to a business that contributes significantly to community development corporations, as explained on the website of Councilman Wilson Goode, Jr., the author of the plan.
Under the plan, businesses receive a 100 percent tax credit toward their city Business Privilege Tax for contributing $100,000 in cash per year to a qualifying development corporation.
Snyder explained that, in 2002, Mayor Michael Nutter – then 4th District Councilman – arranged for a tax credit partnership between the EFDC and Pep Boys, which is headquartered on Allegheny Avenue.
As a direct result of this funding, the EFDC had the means to hire Snyder as full-time executive director in 2003.
Snyder began work for the EFDC in a part-time capacity beginning in 2002, having previously worked in community-oriented nonprofits in Baltimore and South Philadelphia.
She added that additional EFDC revenue is provided by grants and fundraising, along with income from an EFDC-managed parking lot located under the twin spans of Rt.1.
Past events and accomplishments
Among the most notable achievements of 2011 for the EFDC was the “Dance on the Bridge,” as reported on by Newsworks.
Held in September on the Falls Bridge, the event brought together over 600 visitors from Philadelphia and beyond to enjoy live music and dance, along with food and drink showcasing East Falls’ vendors.
“What we wanted to do was to create a unique, signature event for the neighborhood,” Snyder explained, adding, “I think we did it.”
Looking back, Snyder reflected on its impact.
“The excitement that it generated was amazing,” she said, and noted that people are already volunteering for the 2012 dance, which is scheduled for Sept. 3 of this year.
“I think we’re going to double our attendance this year,” Snyder predicted.
A second major project concluded by EFDC was the widening of the recreation path along Kelly Drive.
This segment of the trail, located between the Falls Bridge and the Wissahickon Transportation Center, was dubbed the “Hoagie Turn” by Snyder, as its narrow dimensions resembled that of Philadelphia’s most popular sandwich.
In addition, the trail itself was moved closer to the river, which means that runners and cyclists will no longer need to dodge vehicles in the parking lot that the old path used to bisect.
Projects in progress
Several projects started by the EFDC in 2011 are planned to be completed in 2012.
Foremost among them is the Gateway Pedestrian Island, which had its groundbreaking ceremony in November.
The 100-foot long pedestrian island, to be installed at the intersection of Midvale Avenue and Kelly Drive, will feature a welcome sign identifying East Falls and will provide safer street crossings for users of the Kelly Drive recreation path.
Being a segment of a larger plan known as “East Falls Reconnects to the River,” the Gateway Pedestrian Island has taken several years to implement.
Much to Snyder’s relief, “we finally got a shovel in the ground in 2011,” she said, adding that the island will be completed by June of 2012.
Among other projects undertaken by the EFDC in 2011 and slated for future completion are improvements to the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board’s “Fine Wine and Good Spirits” retail store on Ridge Avenue in East Falls.
After negotiations with the PLCB and the owners of the property, EFDC saw that an improved parking lot was installed at the outlet. In addition, a concertina of barbed wire that adorned the store’s roof was removed.
Future plans call for aesthetic enhancements in the form of upgraded awnings and further landscaping of the lot.
“Let’s hope that it will happen this year or next,” Snyder said in regard to the continued improvement to the shop.
Although unveiled late last year, the development and implementation of plans for the Rivage site in East Falls will consume much of EFDC’s time and energy in 2012.
As reported by Newsworks in December, Northern Liberties-based Onion Flats plans to combine both residential and retail space in an environmentally-friendly complex in a plot situated between Ridge Ave. and Kelly Drive.
Although construction is not scheduled to begin until 2013, “all the work must take place this year in order for it happen,” said Snyder.
Explaining the necessary legwork to be completed, she noted that both zoning variances and tenants must be obtained. Furthermore, ongoing meetings with the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority will be necessary.
However, Snyder says, all the work will be worth the final product.
‘”It going to be a catalyst,” said Snyder of the Rivage plan, “it will serve as an anchor to the business district.”
Further undertakings for 2012 include the addition of cut-in parking to the Inn Yard Park between Ridge Ave. and Kelly Drive, and the continuance of the ever-popular Bike Race Block Party.
Lastly, a façade project will begin in 2012 at EFDC’s headquarters, which will serve as a model for proposed enhancements to signage along the Ridge Avenue corridor.
Long term goals
Looking farther afield, Snyder spoke of two plans that she hopes to see come to fruition – the design and installation of a bridge over the Wissahickon Creek parallel to Ridge Avenue, and the building of a public dock for canoes and kayaks off of Kelly Drive.
While the uncertain finances of the state limit the feasibility of these projects in the short-term, Snyder remains dedicated to getting people onto the trail, and therefore into East Falls.
“It’s a tough time,” she remarked, “but we’re getting things done.”
Stay tuned to Newsworks for the final installment in the NW Philly development corporation series – coming next week, Jane Lipton and the Manayunk Development Corporation.