Has the 6300 block of Germantown Avenue been getting enough attention from community leaders? A low turn-out did not deter a lively debate at the second of two stakeholder meetings held by Mt. Airy Business Improvement District (BID) as it seeks charter renewal. BID met with property owners on the campus of New Covenant Church Monday evening to present its past accomplishments, future goals and to explain the renewal process.
Realtor Jeffrey Hill recalled that when the BID was first created five years ago, property owners were “sold a vision” of big improvements to the 6300 block that would transform it into a “gateway” to Mt. Airy. He stated that the overwhelming perception of the block is still the same – troubled. BID’s Executive Director, Hollie Malamud-Price agreed that “perception is really important.” She stated that BID has been working hard to change that negative image and is seeking renewal to continue those efforts.
“It always takes longer to undo something that has already been done,” observed BID board member and New Covenant’s Operations Director, Clifton Jones.
Hill, former president of the Mt. Airy Business Association and co-founder of Mt. Airy Revitalization Team likened the 6300 block to a “lost little brother” and said the “trickle down theory” on Germantown Avenue has not sufficiently impacted that block. BID board members vehemently disagreed.
Malamud-Price pointed out that since BID’s inception, the 6300 block has been “very well represented.” She noted that several of BID past and present board members own property on the block. Malamud-Price emphasized other ways in which the block is receiving increased attention, such as this year’s Spring Clean Up which will be held on Duval Street and BID’s attendance at 6300 Block Alliance meetings. In addition, BID’s street cleaning crew visits the block twice a day rather than just the single visit the rest of Mt. Airy’s commercial corridor receives.
BID board member Bob Elfant asserted that the 6300 block of Germantown Avenue “looks better than it has in 30 years!”
BID’s Chair, Ken Weinstein remarked that one change which facilitated greater attention to the block was when BID made the decision to disengage from Mt. Airy USA (MAUSA) staffing. Hollie Malamud-Price was brought on as BID’s executive director nearly two years ago. Weinstein said the staffing change allowed for BID’s focus to be more on what the association wants for the commercial corridor. Deborah Gary, who has been a property owner in the 6300 block for the past two years emphasized that she felt that it has only been since the arrival of Malamud-Price that significant improvement has been seen.
Newer 6300 block resident, Kate Kaman stated that she and her partner, Joel Erland came to the meeting to show support for BID’s charter renewal. “We feel very attended to,” Kaman commented. The artist couple moved to the block this past year in part because of the efforts made by BID. “It makes new owners think that it’s a good block to buy in,” she said.
One of BID’s most recognizable beautification projects is hanging planters from the lamp posts which line the avenue from Cresheim Valley Road to Upsal Street. There are 91 planters in total, which are filled with flowers and holiday greenery from May through January. However, a lack of new pedestrian lighting on Germantown Avenue’s 6300 block is still a touchy issue for its property owners. BID currently decorates SEPTA trolley poles in lieu of lamp posts.
Weinstein explained that BID has 10 planters storage waiting to be erected once the city works out a plan for street light installation. BID has put pressure on the city’s Streets Department, but the process has been slow. Deborah Gary acknowledged that at the last meeting of the 6300 Block Alliance, PennDOT had informed the residents that a contract had been awarded but there is still a wait on the contractor start date. Gary is worried that delays will effect plans for the block’s Juneteenth celebrations. Residents are striving to highlight the block’s historic tourist attractions, which include the Upper Burial Ground, Concord School and the Johnson House. Construction will require that the sidewalks be torn up.
Malamud-Price remarked that BID ensured that the 6300 block received more ground planters than other blocks in compensation for the lack of hanging baskets. “I think those planters are a very nice touch to the avenue,” Hill acquiesced. It was noted that the 6400 block has received no street scape improvements because of a lack of commercial properties. Cliveden Historic Trust occupies both sides of the block.
Crime hot spots on Duval and Pomona Streets still plague the block. Hill recounted “teddy bear” shrines for murder victims in front of two of his properties and good tenants driven away by illegal activity. BID board members related their recent meeting with 14th Police District Captain Joel Dales in response to the relocation of foot patrols from Mt. Airy to Germantown. “We now have a good relationship,” Weinstein stressed.
Malamud-Price assured property owners that information shared concerning trouble locations and illegal activities will be shared with Capt. Dales. “I am really your connection to resolving issues on the Avenue,” she exclaimed. Malamud-Price mentioned that Capt. Dales has requested reports to be as specific as possible and has indicated that he will dispatch narcotics units to problem areas. BID’s street cleaning crew will also work together with police bike patrols in the future, directly reporting any concerns they encounter as an additional crime deterrent.
Malamud-Price maintained that BID’s message to criminals is, “We are paying attention to this area.”
The boundary between Mt. Airy and Germantown is vague and oft disputed. The block between Johnson Street and Washington Lane has historically been claimed by both neighborhoods. Weinstein clarified that the 6300 block of Germantown Avenue was adopted by BID five years ago after the association received an “overwhelming” survey response as it went through its initial charter process. Out of 25 property owners on the beleaguered stretch who responded, all but three wished to be included in Mt. Airy’s BID.
Weinstein said that the former Germantown BID’s coverage of Germantown Avenue “never came close” to 6300 block, only going as far north as Rittenhouse Street. He also stated that the newly resurrected Germantown BID is planning to extend north just to Harvey street. “No other BID said ‘we would like to cover this block’ ,” Weinstein explained.
“We feel they are a part of Mt. Airy,” Weinstein remarked and added, “To me, it’s a no brainer. If you want to improve your business district, you have to offer a clean business district.”
More Participation Desired
As the renewal process wraps up its community input phase, only 75 of the 250 property owners that pay taxes to BID have so far responded to surveys the association has distributed at stakeholder meetings and via its website.
Gary stated that she felt BID could have done a better job of communicating “something this important” to affected property owners.
Malamud-Price disclosed that postcards were sent to property owners informing them of the stakeholder meetings, six emails have been sent out, and all neighborhood community organizations have been informed. BID board members expressed frustration with the meager feedback received thus far. “I don’t know what more we can do,” Elfant stated.
Despite property owners’ lack of participation, Weinstein said word on the street is one of “wild support.” He compared the difference on Germantown Avenue before and after BID to night and day. “That is why the BID should be renewed,” Weinstein proclaimed.
At the last stakeholders meeting, property owners expressed a desire to see a renewal term of five years rather than the 10 years BID had suggested. Elfant stated that BID must decide between “time and energy vs. a check point.” A five year term would give property owners a sense of empowerment towards addressing issues with BID should they arise in the future, whereas a 10 year term would reduce the amount of work involved in going through the process. Malamud-Price stated that BID “heard very loud and clear” from stakeholders at the last meeting that the preference was for a five year renewal term rather than 10 years. The concern “did not fall on deaf ears,” she said. Property owners at Monday’s meeting expressed a similar preference.
BID will consolidate the concerns and recommendations it receives from property owners and then its board will vote on what to propose to Cindy Bass. Bass will put those propositions into legislation to be introduced to City Council later this month.
Even if response is scant, “We’re going for BID renewal no matter what this year,” Weinstein said.
Commercial property owners along Germantown Avenue can find the survey on BID’s website and submit it or any other suggestions to Executive Director, Hollie Malamud-Price.