The new chairman of the Germantown Special Services District would like you to know that he’s heard all the stories, the tales of meddling and mismanagement and political manipulation that brought the neighborhood’s commercial district to its knees. And he doesn’t care.
Joseph Martin, a straight-talking MBA who founded the Acclaim Academy early childhood learning center on Germantown Avenue a few years ago, said it’s what happens tomorrow that interests him.
“I personally don’t care what happened with GSSD in the past. I wasn’t here,” he told a small crowd gathered that Tuesday night as members of the board met officially for the first time.
“People have turned their backs on us for so long. This is the restart,” said Martin, who grew up in West Oak Lane and graduated from Olney High School. “It’s time to hit the restart button for Germantown.”
Of the 15 eventual board members, 10 were present, and their first acts were to elect Martin as the temporary chairman, Joseph Waldo as temporary vice chair, Barbara Hogue as temporary treasurer and Joseph Corrigan as temporary secretary.
They will become official once the remainder of the nominated board members receive Council approval, likely in the fall.
Waldo is president of Urban Resources Development Corporation, an organization made up of eight Germantown churches which has purchased, renovated and sold more than 30 houses in Germantown and Mt. Airy.
Hogue is a familiar face in Germantown as executive director of Historic Germantown: Freedom’s Backyard, which promotes and manages the neighborhood’s many historic sites.
Corrigan is communications director for Eighth District Councilwoman Cindy Bass, who spearheaded the GSSD’s reactivation.
Other approved board members include Greg Piel of Bridge Development Group, which owns the Chelten Plaza shopping center; Matt Canno of Iron Stone Capital Partners, which owns several properties within the district; and Mjenzi Traylor, treasurer of the Gtown Restoration CDC.
Nominees for the remaining board seats include: Linda Samuel, owner of The Flower Cafe on Maplewood Mall; John Churchville, of the Greater Germantown Business Association and Germantown United CDC; State Sen. Rosita Youngblood; Robert Wheeler, who ran the Wired Beans cafe; Ingrid Shepard, a Germantown resident who has coordinated much of the early GSSD work during its reorganization; Jong Lee of Chelten Hair; Dr. Francine Fulton of Imani Charter School; and Cornelia Swinson of Gtown Restoration CDC.
Board members must be cleared by the city Revenue Department before receiving City Council approval, and paperwork delays mean the remaining eight will likely be approved when Council reconvenes in the fall, said Sylvie Gallier Howard of the Commerce Department, which has been guiding the GSSD.
Not among those chosen for the board of directors was Marcus Von Heppinstall, also a Maplewood Mall business owner who had been a key member of the steering committee formed to do outreach in the commercial district and generate interest in a new GSSD.
He questioned how the board was chosen and whether business owners within the district had been properly notified of a June 14 meeting held with Commerce Department representatives and several of the nominated board members.
Gallier Howard said the because the group falls is a municipal authority and falls under the state’s Sunshine Laws, the meeting was advertised in the Germantown Chronicle and Philadelphia Tribune.
Corrigan said while every potentially impacted business may not have had a say in who was chosen for the initial board, “they will have a say in accepting the plan.”
In an interview after the meeting, Corrigan said the nominees for the board of directors were chosen by the Council office, in conjunction with the city Commerce Department, and were meant to be reflective of the overall business community in Germantown.
Current plans call for an assessment of 12 percent of the property tax bill for each commercial property within the district, which includes the commercial district along Chelten Avenue from Baynton and Morris, and Germantown Avenue between Coulter and Harvey, including parts of Wayne Avenue and Greene Streets.
The included area is slightly larger than in the previous incarnation of GSSD, which fell dormant in 2010, amid low collections and a turnover in the Council seat. The board members voted to accept the draft of a five-year plan and draft budget, which are available for public review on their website.
Next, notice of the draft plan will be sent to all business and commercial property owners within the district, with notice of a public hearing that will likely take place in August.
After a 45-day objection period, City Council could vote to approve the rest of the board members, along with the group’s budget and five-year plan, in October.
Who’s in the zone?
According to GSSD information provided during earlier meetings, 297 properties lie within the boundaries and 237 would be subject to GSSD assessment.
Among the others are 47 tax-exempt churches, schools, and buildings owned by the city or SEPTA. There are also 13 single-family properties used solely for residential purposes and thus not subject to assessment.
State law bars the GSSD from requiring the 47 tax-exempt properties to pay, so part of the board’s job will be to getting them to agree to make voluntary donations up front to help the group get off the ground.
Waldo, who is heading the Fundraising Committee, said the 13 largest tax-exempt properties have been identified and solicitation letters will go out within the next few days.
Hogue said Historic Germantown was among those 13, and was eager to see GSSD succeed.
“So there’s the first donation,” she said.
Also, Waldo said, state Rep. Stephen Kinsey is working on a fundraising effort with the group.
“Through that, we think we can raise the $25,000 we need to get the district going,” he said.
What’s to come
Maplewood Mall is also included within the GSSD, and Bass recently announced a $2.2 million capital program to redesign and update it. Corrigan said no decisions had been made on what Maplewood Mall will ultimately look like, only that they know the money will now be available.
The group also approved its schedule of board meetings for the coming year, which are open to the public and will be held at the First Presbyterian Church, which will serve as the GSSD’s official business address for now.
Meetings will be held during the day to accommodate the schedules of the district’s business people, but a quarterly evening meeting meant to engage the whole community may be considered.
GSSD’s board will next meet at 3:30 p.m. on July 9, at the First Presbyterian Church of Germantown, 35 W. Chelten Ave. Hollie Malamud-Price, executive director of the Mt. Airy Business Improvement District, is the expected speaker.
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