Germantown developer: Depressed real-estate market could ‘drive commercial revitalization’

When local developer Ken Weinstein surveys Germantown’s depressed real-estate market, he sees a silver lining.

While the neighborhood’s “rock-bottom” property values are a symptom of the area’s poor economic climate, Weinstein said he believes they also represent an opportunity for improvement. Cheaper commercial properties, he argued during a public forum Thursday night, enable developers to offer cheaper leases to potential tenants.

“It’s an opportunity for the community because prices are at such a low-level right now that we can and should be able to attract tenants which, to me, is going to be able to drive commercial revitalization,” Weinstein said.

Fomenting a comeback

Weinstein, a Mt. Airy resident, has been investing in Germantown for more than 20 years and has recently decided to step up his efforts there. In the past year, Weinstein has purchased three commercial properties and plans to buy more than 200,000 square-feet of space going forward.

Long-time resident Irv Acklesberg also said he thinks Germantown, while bruised, is poised for a comeback, He pointed to the fall of Germantown Settlement as a catalyst for change.

The social service and housing agency was shut down by court order after it mismanaged a vast real estate portfolio with millions of taxpayer dollars on the line.

“That political problem is gone,” said Acklesberg. “We have an incredible moment here.”

To seize that moment, he added, neighbors must stop feeling discouraged about the potential for revitalization: “We just have to pick ourselves up and say, ‘enough already.'”

Help neighborhood help itself

Other attendees gathered inside The First Presbyterian Church in Germantown for the Germantown Community Connection event said that commercial development is just part of what the neighborhood needs to turn itself around.

Connie Billie with the Germantown Life Enrichment Center — formerly known as the Germantown Y — said that property development and human development must go hand-in-hand for the neighborhood to improve.

“We also have to support the churches. We also have to support the Y’s or the life centers,” Bille said. “They have to support their own institutions, because that’s what makes community.”

While Roger Kern said that Germantown’s myriad organizations need to get on the same page.

“One of the problems with Germantown that we really, really must deal with is people honestly working together,” said Kern. “Groups in the area need to coordinate with one another.”

It’s a point that spoke to one Weinstein stressed throughout the evening: a shared vision for the neighborhood will go a long way toward improving the neighborhood. He said he thinks it can happen.

“Let’s get serious about this,” said Weinstein. “I know there’s an interest. It’s a matter of how do we focus that interest, how do we galvanize this energy that I know is already here.”

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