New Germantown CDC tries to “dream big” about neighborhood’s future

Nearly two dozen Germantowners met at the renovated Greene Street YMCA to “dream big” about the future of the commercial corridors in the neighborhood.

This came after a steering committee and representatives from five West Germantown community organizations mobilized behind a newly formed community development corporation called Germantown United. Last week, they said they wanted to go public with their ideas.

Among their visions were enlisting a Fairmount Park Ranger to patrol Vernon Park, promoting housing restoration, hosting workshops, bolstering town watches and teaming up with existing programs and organizations like a local entrepreneurship apprentice program run by the Greater Germantown Business Association.

The group also discussed an idea to replace unsightly metal security grates along Germantown and Chelten avenues with historic photographs. That way, the group envisioned, the evening scene would go from ghost town to providing a retro peek at the business strip of a century ago.

When residents listed the types of retail businesses that would bolster their ideal corridor, they cited flourishing office and art-supply stores, locally owned hardware stores and sit-down restaurants. They also created a directory of stores they already frequent and want to promote.

Seeking cooperation

One of Germantown United’s lead organizers is Yvonne Haskins, the attorney for the Chelten Plaza zoning appeal. She admitted the process thus far has been led by those willing to volunteer time as opposed to broader outreach.

“We are incorporated but not structured yet,” she said. “What we’re trying to do right now is learn as much as we can and engage the community as much as we can in a short period of time.”

Haskins noted that the focus is on the neighborhood’s western portion because East Germantown residents have existing organizations in place. Members of this group say the Chelten Plaza debate spurred them into action.

Those involved in Germantown United say they aren’t trying to replace Germantown Community Connection, a local civic group; they hope to partner with them on neighborhood projects. One community development organization, Germantown Settlement, left a void after their assets were ordered to be liquidated in bankruptcy.

In the wake of Settlement’s fall, GCC considered becoming a CDC (an organization which uses grant- and other funding for projects) but has not pursued it. Some GCC members involved with Germantown United say they were interested in the GCC idea last year but saw little forward movement.

“There’s something going on with us. As long as we work together, struggle together and even fight [with each other] together, it’s for something bigger than us,” said John Churchville, president of the Greater Germantown Business Association and leader of the Libertarian Fellowship Community Development Corp.

Beth Zug, who moved to Germantown four years ago and is active with the Penn Knox Neighbors Association, said her “break-out” group discussed issues like gentrification and the need for more diversity in businesses. They talked about the need for repairing relationships in the neighborhood as well.

“Unless they build the trust of the community, they are just going to be running into a wall,” she said. “That way it doesn’t seem like there are the same twenty people trying to decide what is best for the community.”

The Germantown United CDC steering committee plans to hold a community meeting soon.

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