Safer streets are part of Shift Capital’s $20 million Crown Can plant remake

956 Erie Avenue is a 19-acre property that’s being developed into a industrial space by Maken Studios.  (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

956 Erie Avenue is a 19-acre property that’s being developed into a industrial space by Maken Studios. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Miriam Zayas works at a furniture store on the 700 block of East Erie Avenue in Juniata Park across the street from a Coca-Cola facility. When she looks west, she sees a mostly dormant 741,000-square- foot building. It’s an eyesore, she says.

“The way it’s looking now, it’s not great,” said Zayas, a life-long Kensington resident. “But if you get it to do something there, it’ll stand out.”

Developer Shift Capital plans to do just that by resurrecting the former Crown Can Company plant as a food and beverage facility, used for sourcing, packaging, and distribution. The $20 million project, less than a mile from Shift’s Maken Studios, will also include a community sports center.  

“We’re really excited at the potential of what that can do,” said Maria Sourbeer, vice president of development with Shift Capital. “The opportunity for a diverse workforce is really strong there. And the size could really provide a lot of jobs if we can find the right tenants to match.”

Shift expects the $20 million development to create 500 jobs in a community that has watched opportunities vanish as old plants shuttered. With those future workers in mind, the plan includes accessibility improvements aimed at easing commutes and better connecting to the surrounding neighborhood. Funded in part by a $370,000 state grant announced this month, the improvements include two SEPTA bus shelters along East Erie, a bicycle lane along G Street, and an entrance for motor vehicles. Other improvements include new lighting and streetscaping in pedestrian areas. The cost for the upgrades totals more than $530,000.

The transportation grant will fund bus shelters on Erie Avenue. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

“If you’re going to get hundreds of people to come and work at this facility, they need to be able to get in and out and interact with the existing community in a safe and healthy way,” Sourbeer said. “This grant will really go a long way in allowing for us to do that.”

Jessica Declet works at Baker Industries, a nonprofit organization for “hard-to-employ adults,” and one of Shift’s first tenants to occupy the building. Declet says she walks to the building every day and “it’s pretty safe,” but there’s no refuge from inclement weather. 

“It’s getting cold out,” Declett said. “The bus shelters would definitely help and stuff.” 

For people traveling on two wheels, the improvements will increase safety, says Casey O’Donnell, president and CEO of Impact Services, a partner in the project. “It just makes it more inviting, too,” O’Donnell said.  

Maken Studios on I Street in Kensington. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

The 19134 zip code where the site is located has a 19% unemployment rate for residents 16 and older, according to U.S. Census data, while 41% of residents live under the poverty line. 

The area is “really busy with a lot of needs,” said Zayas.

Shift Capital, a certified B Corporation, seeks to address these needs with projects that minimize negative impacts associated with redevelopment such as gentrification and displacement. While some developers would redevelop the site with profit as the singular goal, Shift aims to build up the community for its current residents.

State senator Christine Tartaglione, whose district covers the site, hopes that vision is realized.  Redevelopment of this massive site will bring new energy and many family-sustaining jobs to a community that already has a wealth of willing workers,” she said in a press release announcing the state grant. 

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