Last week, the SEPTA Board adopted a Finding of Special Opportunity resolution providing for a request for proposal for redeveloping two authority-owned parcels next to the Frankford Transportation Center (FTC).
The FOSO comes in response to community concerns over the construction of a break room for SEPTA employees on an empty lot next to the FTC.
The Frankford Community Development Corporation believed that SEPTA was open to developing that large, L-shaped lot into a mixed-use development anchored by a supermarket. The nearby Thiftway just on the other side of Frankford Avenue has been purchased by Rite-Aid, which plans to build a large pharmacy there, which will leave the neighborhood without a proper food store.
Neighbors were surprised to find out this summer that SEPTA instead decided to build a break room and backup command center and promised to protest. Dozens showed up to the SEPTA Board meeting in July to express their displeasure.
Following an impromptu meeting among outgoing SEPTA GM Joe Casey, Assistant General Manager of Public and Government Affairs Fran Kelly and community members led by Frankford CDC executive director Kimberly Washington, a new plan was set into motion.
SEPTA operates an employee parking lot next to the FTC and the L-shaped lot. The parking lot can fit over 300 cars, but is regularly used by under 100. In meetings with potential developers, SEPTA and the Frankford CDC believe that parking lot could be converted into a supermarket. SEPTA says it is willing to give up two-thirds of the lot for redevelopment.
The FOSO approved last week allows SEPTA to skip the public bidding procedures that usually govern the authority’s transactions. If SEPTA wants to sell off a piece of property, then it usually needs to sell to the highest bidder, without regard to what that bidder wants to do with the property. By making the FOSO resolution, the board allows the staff to consider other, explicitly listed issues, such as the desired use for the property.
SEPTA will soon issue a Request for Proposals, allowing for the negotiation of specific terms and conditions related to the property. Representatives from Frankford CDC and SEPTA have already met with some potential developers, including some developers who frequently build Sav-A-Lot stores. In preliminary discussions, they’ve expressed interest in building a special Sav-A-Lot featuring fresh produce and a butcher.
The FOSO also calls for the development of the remainder of the oddly-shaped lot fronting on Frankford Avenue. The elevated track structure along the property make it less attractive to development, and the FOSO allows for that property to be developed separate from the parking lot. Neighborhood representatives questioned the decision to allow the parcels to be developed independently, saying it would be better to ensure reuse for the whole, long-blighted parcel. SEPTA officials responded by saying that they needed flexibility to strike a deal for just one of the parcels.
SEPTA has worked with the Frankford CDC to secure multimodal transportation grants to study the possibility of converting Griscom Street into a bus loop, which would then allow the tractor trailers necessary for supermarket deliveries to use Pratt Street, which is too narrow for eighteen wheelers when there are buses on it.
Frankford CDC’s Washington said SEPTA’s help in securing funds for that study went a long way to repair the rift between the neighborhood and the transportation authority.
There’s still potential for conflict: the FOSO seeks the development of the two parcels “compatible with the goals of the Frankford Community Development Corporation… and SEPTA’s parking requirements”.
“We’re still a little wary, because of what happened in the past,” said Washington. But she’s hopeful that a deal that makes everyone happy can be reached.
“If SEPTA is willing to give a little, we’ll give a little as well.”