Revitalization project announced for Mt. Airy’s commercial district

Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter was on-hand Thursday to announce the next phase in revitalization for Germantown Avenue.

More than a half million dollars in grants will be used to help renovate several buildings along Mt. Airy’s commercial district.

The money from the city’s Office of Housing and Community Development (OHCD) will focus on four aging buildings between the 6500 and 6700 blocks of Germantown Avenue. Mt Airy USA (MAUSA), the neighborhood’s community development corporation, will oversee the revitalization projects.

Mayor Nutter says strategic investment “will help revitalize not just Mt. Airy, but other neighborhoods” as well.

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The announcement was made at a press conference held beside an 18th century building suffering from extensive deterioration.  The historic property at 6614 Germantown Avenue is the first of the four buildings that will be rehabilitated.  The house dates back to the mid-1700’s.

The grant funds are a part of OHCD’s Mixed-Use Development Pilot Program, which strives to eliminate blight and strengthen commercial corridors. Nutter cited Neighborhood Economic Development grants – which are funded by federal Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) – as a big part of his plan to provide economic opportunities for small businesses and residents.  “Revitalizing Germantown Avenue is a part of that commitment,” he exclaimed.  “Mt. Airy USA is a big part of that story.”

Nutter stressed that while the Mayor’s office may be downtown in City Hall, “my work gets done on Germantown Avenue.”

Also on hand was Deputy Mayor Alan Greenberger, who likened the city’s development approach to building a mosaic.  “One good thing at a time,” he said of the more than a decade of revitalization on Germantown Avenue.  “We couldn’t be happier about this project being another mosaic tile,” Greenberger shared.

What happens now

MAUSA will be renovating the following properties:

6614 Germantown Ave.

6513 Germantown Ave.

6651-53 Germantown Ave.

6700 Germantown Ave.

Renovation work is set to begin in October for the first two buildings (6614 & 6513), with all the properties likely to be complete by January 2014.

MAUSA’s Real Estate Director, Brad Copeland noted that the Historical Commission has requested that a section of the exterior lath and plaster wall of 6614 Germantown Avenue be preserved. It will be hidden underneath the restoration, but retained for historical record. Copeland said MAUSA has nicknamed the building “The Shack” but is looking forward to renaming it “The Cottage” once the rehab is complete. It has stood vacant since 2004.

The largest property to be renovated is the neighborhood’s historic post office building at the corner of Germantown Avenue and Westview Street. The Colonial Revival building at 6700 Germantown Ave. was designed by Lawrence V. Boyd in 1909. Long time residents may recall the time when remains of a British soldier from the Revolutionary War were found during a basement excavation in November 1986. The building lost a 20 year tenant in April 2011.

Copeland confirmed that Vibe Yoga studio will be renting space within the 6700 Germantown Avenue site once renovations are complete. MAUSA is also working on bringing another tenant, Horizon Home Healthcare Services, Inc., to the location.

All four rehabilitation projects will amount to eight commercial units in total. MAUSA’s Executive Director, Anuj Gupta stated that the organization “would welcome food uses, lifestyle tenants or healthcare tenants – things that offer some quality of life amenities to the neighborhood.”

How it has come about

MAUSA initially won a grant in early 2011 to rehabilitate 6614 and 6513 Germantown Avenue. Gupta said it had taken over a year for the community development corporation to get through the city’s contracting process. He explained that the building at 6614 Germantown Avenue “had to go through a pretty stringent historical review” by the city’s Historical Commission. In the meantime, MAUSA applied for and recently received two additional grants, bringing a total of around 1.3 million dollars in new investment to the two blocks.

$609,600 of that will come from three CDBG awards and the rest through private loans and MAUSA’s own equity.

Gupta believes the influx of capital into the blocks will have “a catalytic impact.”

Through the years, the organization has brought in $19 million of investment for mid-to-large scale real estate development projects in the neighborhood. MAUSA’s work along the commercial corridor includes $3.5 million for streetscape improvements and the completion of 73 facade improvements.

MAUSA anticipates that this phase of revitalization will continue the transformation of Germantown Avenue. “I really think you’re going to start to see the progress move further south” Gupta said.

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