In a newly restored and freshly painted former church building at 4811 Germantown Ave., developer Ken Weinstein invited nearby residents to comment Tuesday night on plans for the five buildings he owns at the site and to offer their suggestions for the future of the properties.
The building had served an Italian-American congregation in the 1920s, and later was the campus of the Germantown Settlement Charter School, which went bankrupt and closed in 2009.
Today, the church building houses Greatness Is In You, a drama school and performing-arts center.
It was an example of adaptive reuse of a once-blighted and now beautiful Germantown structure, one of the major themes of Weinstein’s sermon for the 70 local residents who filled the pews of the former church Tuesday night.
Philly Office Retail, Weinstein’s development firm, unveiled the immediate plans for 4811 Germantown, including new lampposts and plantings to make the block more attractive, safe and pedestrian-friendly.
Over the next six months, the parking lot will be resurfaced, foreboding grates on the buildings will be removed, roofs will be repaired, exteriors will be painted and new signage will be posted.
In addition to the performing-arts center, one of the tenants is New Directions For Women, which serves about 25 nonviolent offenders and has been at the site for more than two decades.
An adult daycare is proposed for the building in the rear of the site. Weinstein is seeking tenants for the other two buildings.
Before opening the meeting to questions and comments, Weinstein described the challenges facing Germantown and developers. At the top of the list is the blight found throughout that section of the city, including its main artery.
“Too many vacant properties are a detriment for luring investors,” he said.
Initial steps in removing blight are renovation and finding new tenants for the buildings. Some businesses and nonprofits may not be the most desirable tenants, but they are needed in the slow growth of the community.
“Don’t say no to positive development,” he urged his audience.
Philly Office Retail is “making a $10 million investment in Germantown this year” through a variety of projects, he said. “We want to hear what you’re thinking. My success is directly tied to your success. I ask that you have some faith in me.”
The audience concerns over 4811 Germantown focused on the impact on homes behind the site, the impact of traffic on neighboring streets and the preservation of open green space on, and near, the site.
The most frequent objection to site plans involved the arrival of another social-service agency in a neighborhood that already has many.
Jay Jutkofsky, an 11-year resident of Germantown, said the area is “saturated with social services. The solution is not to bring in more now.”
Jutkofsky said he lives a block from another Philly Office Retail site that will soon become a homeless shelter.
Weinstein responded that his firm focuses on bringing “for-profits” to Germantown, and 80 percent of his tenants are stable businesses.
“That would always be my preference, but we can’t always get our first choice” for a tenant, he noted.
Other audience members asked Weinstein to work with them on neighborhood plans for Germantown.
“Your vision is not our vision,” said Cornelia Swinson, who has lived in Germantown since 1982 and serves as executive director of Germantown Restoration CDC.
“You say ‘trust me,’ but that is not enough to satisfy our concerns,” she continued. “This is a business’s vision for our community. There needs to be more conversation, give and take” in determining the future of Germantown.
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