The Frankford Y has a rightful owner that is seeking a buyer and the Northwood Civic Association can’t do much about it.
So says Frank Bennett, the civic member, private attorney, new resident and Castor Avenue home renovator, who offered last month to look into the embattled historic building.
His view, which came by way of a thick packet of paper handed out to 20 residents in attendance, was echoed by civic President Barry Howell, of the historic and currently abandoned former community center.
“Sooner or a later a decision needs to be made about the safety of the building,” said Howell, who was presiding over one of his last civic meetings as president. “For now, we wait until there’s a buyer and see if we should oppose or support it.”
All of the Y’s copper has been stolen by vandals, in addition to pieces of a $200,000 air conditioning system on the building’s roof, claimed Bennett. With those concerns and the fact that state funding had dried up, the Y’s future is uncertain.
“Nobody is going to use the building for what it is supposed to be used, as a community center. Without pricey memberships or outside funding, the math doesn’t work. So there’s not much we can do,” said Bennett. “The civic association’s job is to make sure the community’s interests are heard, and we can do that, but right now, a private owner is still trying to sell private property.”
Any existing concerns about financial impropriety at the nonprofit Y should be taken up by the state attorney general’s office, he added. In October 2010, according to the records provided by Bennett, the deed of the Frankford Y, which was owned by Beneficial Mutual Savings Bank after foreclosing on a 2007 mortgage, was transferred to PA Real Property Holding, a limited partnership listing its headquarters in Old City.
The pumping of the brakes on a call for neighborhood action in response to the blighted former Y is sudden. Last month, Howell had clamored for movement, warning that the 70-year-old Y, which has been empty since closing in June 2009, would become a target for drugs and violence.
The Frankford Y documents that Bennett shared with the group included the building’s most recent mortgage, a 2009 tax return for the owning group and others. With an unpaid mortgage and several other liens, including one from the City of Philadelphia, the $380,000 tag for the building should be expected, he said.
“The sellers might be trying to just break even,” he said. In short, Bennett added, the property has legal ownership and so there’s little that the civic group could do, save for lobbying the owners for action and lodging complaints with 311 for it being abandoned.
Still, many residents expressed continued concern about the building’s future, if only because of its long history in the community. In addition to its age, the Y is the only brownstone building in the area and, along with another one in Holmesburg, perhaps among the only brownstones in all of the Northeast, added Debbie Klak, the chair of the historic properties committee of the Historical Society of Frankford.
BOARD NOMINATION DISPUTE Though the news of the night surrounded the Y, perhaps the most memorable exchange was between Howell, the civic group president, and Klak, the former historical society president. In continuing his call for civic board member nominations, including someone to replace him after he resigns at the end of the year, Howell said they’d need to vote as a group.
Klak, not a member but an occasional meeting attendee, said that the Northwood Civic Association board charter specifies the need for a written ballot to be held at a meeting with a quorum of at least 20 dues-paying members. Only 17 people in the room had paid the $10 annual dues, according to a hand vote.
Klak, who was echoing a refrain often shared by former Northwood civic president and frequent Howell critic Joe Menkevich, told the group she was only pushing on the need to follow the group’s bylaws to avoid any legal conflict. See a version of the group’s bylaws here, as provided by Menkevich.
In the end, Howell said he would prepare a written ballot and the board would encourage better attendance at the December meeting, which Howell said he may be unable to attend.
“It’s been an honor working for you in three years,” said Howell, who is leaving the board to focus on fundraising efforts for St. James Lutheran Church, where the civic meetings are held.
Among the current nominees are current board member Joe Krause for president and resident Tom McAlvoy for treasurer.
Also at the meeting, a resident on Rutland Street said police had been notified about five tan colored 1996 Honda Accords that had been abandoned on their block after being stripped in recent weeks.