New mixed-use project on Germantown Avenue will bring influx of young renters to Mt. Airy

 A demolition crew has begun to tear down the roof of a historic building at 6656-62 Germantown Ave. in Mt. Airy.  (Jana Shea/for Newsworks)

A demolition crew has begun to tear down the roof of a historic building at 6656-62 Germantown Ave. in Mt. Airy. (Jana Shea/for Newsworks)

Mt. Airy’s Tourison’s Hall will soon be history. 

The building at 6656-62 Germantown Ave., which last housed a dialysis center, is being razed to the ground. In its place, a new four-story structure will rise boasting 28 luxury apartments above 3,800 square feet of street level retail space. 

The multi-million dollar redevelopment project will transform a piece of real estate on the neighborhood’s commercial corridor which has stood vacant for three years.

“We’re adding some real life to an area that needs it,” said Jared Pontz, Vice President and Managing Partner at Martin Elfant Inc. Real Estate.

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The target: millennials with discretionary income

Pontz, who has partnered with Bob Elfant, Conshohocken’s How Properties and Max Berger of MBA Equities on the venture, says their target market is young professionals.

Apartment units will range from efficiencies to two bedrooms, all with in-unit laundry, dishwasher, central air and outdoor space. Prices will range from $900 to $1100 for a one-bedroom unit and $1,200 to $1,400 for two-bedroom units.

Gone will be the existing 20-car parking lot, the first 30 feet of which will become part of the new building’s retail space. Behind that, and covered by residential units, will be parking for 16 vehicles, plus dedicated bicycle parking. Access and egress will be from Westview Street.

The retail space will be divided into two storefronts, each with a basement.

Pontz says that parking would likely be reserved for residential tenants, though that restriction depends on who occupies the commercial space.

“We’ll see how that plays out,” he said, adding that it’s not likely that every renter will own a car.

A boon for Mt. Airy’s south end?

Though the project can be built by-right, Pontz said he and his partners met with the community three times. They wanted to avoid any potential firestorms, like what happened when a Wingstop restaurant tried to come to a vacant building on the opposite corner in 2013.

Feedback was mostly positive, he said.

Jimmie Reed, proprietor of Little Jimmie’s Bakery Cafe and Little Jimmie’s Bake House is one of the project’s most vocal supporters.

He commends the developers for taking on the risk. Redevelopment projects of this nature are not being done along the struggling stretch of Germantown Ave., he said.

Reed believes it could be the catalyst to attracting more business and private investment to the area — key to revitalizing Mt. Airy’s south end.

“They’re not building a housing project, meth clinic, or shelter. This is something positive,” he said.

With two shops on the avenue’s 6600 block, he can attest to the need for increased foot traffic. Creating a thriving business corridor for the entire community is an imperative.

“It’s not fair that we can’t have it on the south end and I demand it as a business owner,” Reed said.

Younger renters not welcome by all

Carol Ann Mack, who lives right off Germantown Avenue, is not convinced that luring young renters to Mt. Airy is a good idea in the long term.

A lifetime Mt. Airy resident who has lived in her present Westview Street home for 54 years, Mack says renters tend to be transient.

While potential congestion on Westview St. from additional parking needs and traffic are of tremendous concern, she and opposing neighbors do welcome redevelopment of the property.

However, they would rather see spacious two-bedroom condominiums geared to local seniors looking to downsize instead of apartments marketed to 20-something urbanites.

“Condos would make this a more stable community and that’s what’s important to me,” Mack said.

She is also opposed to the complete demolition of an example of Romanesque Revival architecture built in 1904 by Ashton S. Tourison.

In 1987 the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission designated the property as contributing to the Colonial Germantown Historic District. However, it is not on the Philadelphia Historical Commission’s register of historic places.

Mack feels it ought to be preserved and given a historical plaque.

“Don’t tear down all the history,” she said.

She and 54 other near neighbors have signed a petition voicing a continued desire to save the building and develop it as condominiums rather than apartment units.

The petition was hand delivered three weeks ago to state Sen. Art Haywood, state Rep. Cherelle Parker, City Council President Darrell Clarke, and City Councilpersons Cindy Bass and David Oh.

Mack said she hasn’t received any response.

State Sen. Haywood’s response

Though Haywood did not address the specifics of the petition, he acknowledged receipt and stated the following:

“I have been advised that there is substantial, though not unanimous, community support for this project, including support from East Mount Airy Neighbors and West Mount Airy Neighbors. We must continue efforts to eliminate blight in our neighborhoods. I am encouraged by the attraction of private investment and the involvement of community organizations in this redevelopment project.”

What happens next

Over the next 30 days, demolition crews will begin to tear down the existing structure. The area will be fenced off and the back lot utilized as a construction staging area, keeping traffic snarls to a minimum, Pontz said.

Construction is expected to be completed by June 2016.

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