‘We’ve been waiting’: Case over control of the Germantown Y is underway

The city selected a developer to revamp the YWCA seven years ago, but the property remains vacant and crumbling. A judge could change that.

YWCA in Germantown

The YWCA in Germantown. (Bas Slabbers/WHYY)

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For three hours on Tuesday, developer Ken Weinstein made his case for taking control of the Germantown YWCA, a crumbling city-owned building that has sat vacant since closing two decades ago.

If a Philadelphia judge sides with Weinstein, his real estate company could become the Y’s conservator under Act 135, a designation that could also see the neighborhood landmark sold to a new developer and put into productive use.

Common Pleas Court Judge Ann Butchart must still hear the city’s case against Weinstein’s petition before rendering a decision, but the developer is optimistic about his chances.

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“The first thing we’re trying to prove is that the property is vacant, deteriorated and blighted. And I think that came through loud and clear today,” said Weinstein after the evidentiary hearing.

David Thomas, who chairs the board of the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority, declined to comment. A PRA spokesperson has said the authority does not discuss pending litigation.

In 2016, the city selected KBK Enterprises to revamp the Y at 5820 Germantown Ave. Weinstein is trying to take control of the century-old building as the Ohio-based company continues to seek funding for its $18 million plan to transform the four-story property into a mixed-use development. KBK recently received a $3 million grant from the city to help redevelop the property.

In court, Weinstein and others argued the condition of the Y calls for more immediate intervention — before the building becomes dangerous and someone gets hurt.

Based on his observations of the exterior of the building, a veteran architect said the property is in “dire” need of restoration. He said there are loose bricks and signs of water damage, as well as crumbling back steps and a retaining wall on the verge of collapse — signs the Y has not been properly cared for in at least a decade.

“There is a lot on this building that has been neglected,” said Sam Olshin, a principal at Atkin Olshin Schade Architects, a firm specializing in preservation and adaptive reuse projects.

Renée C. Cunningham, executive director of Center in the Park, a senior center next door to the Y, testified that she had seen broken glass and chunks of brick around the property, as well as other debris, including trash and hypodermic needles.

While she acknowledged the city has been cleaning around the outside building and removing vegetation, Cunningham said she remains concerned about the safety of center-goers and the tenants of a nearby senior housing development.

“We have a very active center…and if anything failed on the building I’m afraid someone would get hurt,” said Cunnigham.

Weinstein, who owns several properties to the north of the YWCA and has renovated several historic properties in Germantown, said he is not interested in taking over for KBK, a company he said he supported when it was selected. He now thinks KBK “doesn’t look serious” about developing the property and that it’s time to move on so the Y can be restored and reopened.

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“We’ve been waiting for this for 20 years, and we shouldn’t have to wait any longer,” said Weinstein.

In September, his company put together a preliminary plan for stabilizing the building. It calls for $130,000 worth of exterior improvements, including roof and brickwork, bracing retaining walls, patching holes, and scraping and painting window trims.

The scope could expand to include interior work.

City Councilmember Cindy Bass, whose district includes the Y, has said she opposes Weinstein’s petition, saying in a statement it is “disappointing” that Weinstein is not backing KBK’s project.

Butchart will hear the city’s case when the evidentiary hearing resumes on May 23. Henry Noye, a private attorney representing the PRA, said in his opening that the authority has been “active, engaged, present” at the YWCA.

It’s unclear when Butchart may issue a ruling.

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