The historic Frankford Y should be forced into sale with civic approval and could be done so in orphans’ court, said an attorney and Northwood resident present at that neighborhood’s civic association meeting Tuesday night.
The 70-year-old Y, which closed in June 2009 and whose future has been uncertain since its controversial executive director died in January, was the subject of intense criticism from Northwood Civic Association President Barry Howell both at Tuesday’s meeting and last month, when the subject was revisited.
“We don’t know who really owns the thing and what’s going to happen, but I don’t believe we’re going to get the right buyer for that property because that right buyer doesn’t exist. They say the building is worth $1 million. I wouldn’t give them $100,000,” said Howell to a crowd of nearly 40 Tuesday night. “And while we wait for it to get figured out, I think someone is going to get raped, shot or killed in there.”
Frank Bennett, a criminal attorney with a private practice who bought a large home on Castor Avenue in February [sidebar] and has been renovating it, pledged to work with Howell to begin orphans court proceedings, something the civic has tried on this property for other results before. That municipal court process could allow the civic to have some say in approving a sale of the property, because of its roots as a community organization, Bennett said.
Howell said he had looked at the process but the costs seem too high, something in the order of several hundred dollars. It could be possible to have those costs incurred by the sale, Bennett said.
Many questions still remain.
Another resident said he spoke to a real estate agent who had been retained by the New Frankford Community Y, the entity that had been previously thought to have disbanded. There was a planned sheriff’s sale of the property, which was pushed back to December.
Bennett, playing the even-keeled lawyer, seated in the back and speaking with authority, said these questions could be answered and real action could be made.
“But if nobody the community supports wants the building at any price, then we still have a problem,” Howell said. “We need to seriously look at knocking the building down.”
Howell and the residents spent some time focusing on the still unclear allegations of possible embezzlement at the nonprofit, accusations often focusing on former director Terry Tobin, who died suddenly in January after leading the community center for 12 years.
“How did the Tobin-izer ever get hold of the Frankford Y to begin with?” asked Howell. “That happened long before this board was in place.”
Howell read from a 1994 Inquirer story, which was cited in a comment on the Frankford Gazette by, as Howell described him, “one of the blog people.” In that story, which chronicled the Frankford Y breaking from the broader YMCA structure, former City Councilman Dan McElhatton warned that it would be a struggle to keep the membership-based organization afloat.
“I’m not living in the 1930s. I don’t think everyone here is going to become a member and start swimming,” Howell said, to laughs.
Just two proposals have come forward publicly around the use of the Y: a 2010 glitzy move for a purchase and renovation from an outside development group that never fully materialized and, more recently, an idea put forward by state Rep. Tony Payton for an expanded Sankofa Academy. Both plans are now dead in the water.
“Which leaves us without thoughts on what this building is going to be,” said Howell.
Also at the meeting: Howell called for board nominations, which earned just one. He said he would not seek reelection as board president in December. See the video below…. Concerns over an overturned truck and other accidents at the sharp Adams and Castor avenues intersection….A gun buyback is being held at St. Joachim’s Church from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. this Saturday, offering $50 Shop Rite giftcards for any guns, no questions asked…. Howell said the civic has $9,744 in its legal fund and $2,900 in its general fund, totaling almost $13,000, out of $15,000 in fundraising through donations and membership…..Howell highlighted that the civic has spent just $2,000 in legal support for seven zoning cases, 15 zoning appearances, and three letters of understanding.