North Broad’s economic renaissance strategy now has a budget

Property owners along North Broad Street inside the new district paid an extra fee to support economic development efforts along the commercial corridor.

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Shalimar Thomas

Shalimar Thomas, executive director of North Broad Renaissance (center), and volunteers from other Philadelphia organizations audit North Broad Street for walkability, safety, etc., on April 22, 2024. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

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North Broad Street in Philadelphia is already undergoing a big economic transformation, but now there’s a dedicated pot of money to keep revitalization efforts on track.

The goal is to spur more economic development along the corridor that’s already changing. Hundreds of apartments have already been built in the past few years. There’s also a transit-centric master-planned development in the works, and pedestrian plazas are popping up.

“Development is happening, [revitalization] is happening, and I think the timing is just good for an organization like North Broad Renaissance to be a part of that and help guide it in a strategic way where [growth] can be as inclusive as possible,” said Shalimar Thomas, executive director of North Broad Renaissance.

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Shalimar Thomas
Shalimar Thomas, executive director of North Broad Renaissance, on North Broad Street. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

In January, the North Broad Business Improvement District, stretching from Spring Garden to West Indiana Avenue, began collecting extra taxes from commercial property owners.

The new business improvement district will be led by the nonprofit North Broad Renaissance, which was created seven years ago. According to the proposed budget, the nonprofit expects to collect $718,000 in taxes this year. That’s anticipated to increase over the next five years to $873,000 gradually.

In exchange, the nonprofit will spend the money on cleaning, safety, maintenance, greening, marketing, business development, capital improvements and administration. That could mean working to bring more businesses into vacant retail spaces, keeping sidewalks clean with street crews, adding more trash cans, planting trees, and improving lighting and pedestrian safety.

This approach is similar to the establishment of specialized districts focused on arts, technology, and education.

Thomas recently held a commercial real estate broker event to work with individuals who are already trying to lease spaces to businesses along North Broad Street.

“For example, [if there’s] an art gallery, [build] in our arts and culture district,” she said. “What can we do to help them get across the finish line?”

A view of N. Broad St. in North Philly
North Broad and Wallace Streets in Philadelphia. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Temple University’s main campus sits within the business improvement district, but its buildings are exempt from the new taxes, as are private residences and nonprofits. But that doesn’t mean the university won’t have a relationship with North Broad Renaissance.

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It’s just that fostering a partnership takes effort, and Temple University is searching for its next leader, so Thomas said there’s a gap right now.

A view of N. Broad St. in North Philly
Pedestrian island where Broad Street, Erie and Germantown Avenues meet in Philadelphia. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

“Every time a new university president comes in, their agenda changes and that means we have to start all over building a relationship, and that takes time,” she said. “The more consistent the university can be from the leadership level the easier it is for us to help connect and stay in connection.”

For example, she wants to work with the university about ways to encourage students to stay on North Broad after they graduate or even build businesses there.

While new apartment buildings have sprouted up closer to City Hall, there’s also development activity near Girard, Lehigh and Erie avenues.

The proposed North Station District would be a massive change for the intersection of North Broad and Lehigh avenues between Temple University’s main campus and Temple University’s Hospital.

The 5-acre development would retrofit an old factory near the Lehigh Avenue subway stop, the North Philadelphia regional rail station and an Amtrak hub. The city records show that the developers have already purchased the land. Plans are also being worked on for a Starbucks to serve the community at that intersection.

It’s a collaborative project that includes Philadelphia-based Shift Capital and Essence Development in addition to Amtrak. Shift Capital acquired the land from New York City–based HFZ Capital Group.

At the confluence of Broad Street, Erie and Germantown avenues, Philadelphia is building two public plazas and installing pedestrian safety measures like a roadway median.

The 14-story tall tower nearby, known as the Beury Building, is being renovated as a hotel.

All these new investments along North Broad may mean higher rents for longtime business owners. North Broad Renaissance is taking proactive measures to safeguard businesses from displacement.

The best case scenario would be for business owners leasing commercial space to purchase the building. Alternatively, they could negotiate for a lengthier lease term, offering stability and security for their operations.

A view of N. Broad St. in North Philly
Housing above a Giant grocer at Broad and Spring Garden streets. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

“Philadelphia as a city is gentrifying. If you’re a renter, you’re vulnerable,” said Thomas. “But we have resources that can help with lease negotiations to make sure that at the very least [business owners] can negotiate a good lease so that [they] are there for a long time and can benefit from the growth.”

Take South Jazz Kitchen, a tenant leasing its building for almost a decade, observing the corridor’s evolution.

“It just has a different feel. Every time you look down, there’s a hole in the ground, and then you’ll look up, and there’ll be a big building there,” said Harry Hayman, director of operations for the Bynum Hospitality Group — which owns South Jazz Kitchen and Southside.

A view of N. Broad St. in North Philly
South, a jazz club, on North Broad Street in Philadelphia. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

However, the business has not experienced a significant increase in rent at this juncture.

Now that there’s some money for improvements, he wants to see more trash cans installed and lighting.

“You wanna make sure it’s well lit, make sure it’s safe,” he said.

He hasn’t seen a significant uptick in pedestrian foot traffic for now, but the restaurant is a destination and doesn’t rely on walk-ins.

“I think that will come with more businesses,” he said. “There’s been a lot of investment in other parts of the community, it’s been a while for us… but it’s certainly going in the right direction.”

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