The Northeast Community Center on Holme Avenue won’t be empty for very long. New tenants from Lighthouse Chapel International should be moving in within the week, but the community is still concerned with the parking and the pool.
TD Bank foreclosed the property a year ago when the owners, Phoenix Horizons, Inc., could no longer pay back the $1.1 million it borrowed to build an addition.
Rumors of possible buyers filled residents’ ears, but no one seemed likely except for Sant Properties, who came into play last spring. But the owners, brothers Ravinder and Hardeep Chawla — known for their previous legal issues with the city — backed out of buying the property because they couldn’t find tenants.
Jeff Fuchs, owner of Sabra Properties, bought the Northeast Community Center in October.Fuchs’ broker brought the property to his attention, and having known Stan Cohen, the previous owner working with Phoenix Horizons, Inc., Fuchs looked more seriously into the property.
Fuchs comes from a background of working with communities as an ex-vice president of the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Philadelphia’s Klein Branch in Somerton, as well as being the President of Four Quarters Project, a multi-faith teen educational program. He still currently co-owns FLiCK Table Tennis and Performance Center on Blue Grass Road, where he also coaches table tennis players.
“I wanted to make the place something the community can use,” said Fuchs, who first sought out the previous tenants to give them back the space. With no such luck, Fuchs moved on and has been in contact with Home Circle Civic Association President Elsie Stevens about the wants and needs of the community, which included a daycare or “infant school type.”
“I wanted to do my due diligence and listen to the needs of the community,” Fuchs said.
Fuchs had more luck that the Chawla brothers and was able to find interested tenants for the building.
The Philadelphia chapter for Lighthouse Chapel International is a small congregation of about 120 adults located at 4910 Rhawn St. Lighthouse Chapel International is a non-denominational Christian organization that was started in Africa by Dag Heward Mills and now has 1,200 branches in 61 countries.
The church group plans on using the space for possibly a type of meals-on-wheels program for the needy in the Kensington area and will be holding activities on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays, which Stevens announced at the HCCA meeting on Oct. 23.
Fuchs has spent the month since the sale cleaning up, making repairs and updating the space for the new tenants. Fuchs said most of the work revolved around cleaning up a year’s worth of vandalism.
“It was in pretty bad shape,” he said. “Vandalism was probably 80 percent of the damage.” Surveillance cameras and signs are meant to ward off future vandals.
Other damage all included busted, leaking pipes, a leaky roof, broken glass and broken alarm systems. He also mentioned that there was a fire with the broiler and that the fire extinguishers had gone off, soaking everything.
After the renovations and a fresh coat of paint, Fuchs says he’s in the last stages of cleaning up and the church should be moving in imminently.
A daycare was also rumored to be moving into the 18,000-square-foot building, but according to Fuchs, the daycare operator is still in the process of getting a license and may have to re-examine the building’s zoning for a daycare center. “It’s not happening right now, but we’re still looking to possibly revisit it,” Fuchs said.
The community has two major concerns with the use of the community center, though — the parking and the pool.
The small parking lot is only capable of holding 25 cars, and most often, people end up parking all along Holme Ave, which has been a problem in the past. Holme Avenue is one of the busier roads where Holme Circle, Winchester Park and Lexington Park intersect, and the Northeast Community Center sits on a curved bend that can create blind spots.
“It gets really dangerous, especially when kids are getting in and out of the cars,” resident Sam Greiner said.
Problems also arose with parents dropping off and picking up their kids. The small parking lot couldn’t handle cars coming in to park as well as cars just stopping and waiting.
“There was always mayhem going on in that little parking lot. Parents got used to picking their kids up in the back where there’s more room,” Greiner said. Yet, that solution only clogged up the streets in Lexington Park.
Cohen at one point had plans to expand the car lot around the back to add an additional 25 spots, but nothing ever came to fruition.
The use of the Olympic-size pool also gravely upsets the community. Many people have inquired about the pool since there currently isn’t a tenant that will open it up. The main problem with finding a tenant to operate the pool is usually the costs that come with maintaining the pool’s filtration system as well as handling the operating costs such heating it throughout the winter.
“I’d love to find a tenant who can take care of it. The community really wants it,” Fuchs said. “I’m still actively looking for someone to open it up.”
Fuchs is also still looking for any other tenants who might want to share the space and make it more useful to the community as a whole. He seems to understand that the Lighthouse Chapel International will not necessarily need all 18,000 square feet. Adding tenants could lead to further parking and zoning issues.
Though the HCCA has been the most active community organization because of its proximity to the Northeast Community Center, the Mayfair Civic Association is actually the Registered Community Organization that presides over the center because up until two years ago, this area of the Northeast had no civic association representation. If zoning issues do arise, Mayfair Civic Association President Donny Smith does expect to be handling the situation.
Kayla Devon is a student reporting for Philadelphia Neighborhoods, the publication of Temple University’s Multimedia Urban Reporting Lab.