West Oak Lane hopes to become new gateway to Northwest Philadelphia

In the sprawling, moving jigsaw puzzle that is the upper Ogontz Avenue area, where the city meets Montgomery County, 2504 W. Cheltenham Ave. is a physically small piece.

But those who gathered at the site of the former Club Jaguar called its significance in the $20 million “Gateway to the Northwest” redevelopment vision huge. Once a nuisance bar with a check-cashing place next door, it’s now an empty building with a crumbling parking lot across from a busy new Septa bus loop.

By September, the site will be the Gateway Office Complex, a $2.4 million office and retail redevelopment. The two-story, 9,000 square-foot building will have retail space on the first floor, offices upstairs and an adjacent 30-space parking lot.

Patricia Hawkins said she grew up in Logan but moved to Cheltenham a decade ago “because of the blight.” Passing by on the way back to work from a dental appointment Monday morning, Hawkins saw the activity at the site and stopped in to check out the new plans.

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“I remember when I was in high school, that this whole area began to change,” she said, checking out site renderings and photos of various properties OARC has transformed. “One business left, then another and then another.”

Like many in the crowd, she credited state Rep. Dwight Evans with much of the transformation. Over time the OARC projects replaced many of those businesses that left long ago. Evans, in turn, credited neighbors — and City Councilwoman Marian Tasco — for bringing their concerns to him and being “relentless” in seeking change.

“You think that magically this stuff just happens, but it takes people,” Evans said. “If you grow business, you grow jobs.”

The project, expected to create 58 temporary and 22 permanent jobs, was designed by architects JK Roller and Associates, and is being financed by United Bank, said Jack Kitchen, OARC president. The Gateway Office Complex is part of a larger, $20 million effort in the upper Ogontz Avenue area, which also includes new streetscaping, improvements to the Septa loop and planned expansion of the Brown’s ShopRite.

Contact Amy Z. Quinn at azquinn@planphilly.com

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