What’s next for Manayunk in 2012 and beyond?

Following last week’s “State of Manayunk” address, several members of the audience approached Jane Lipton to remark upon the projects she guided into existence last year.

“Wow,” she reported one participant mentioning to her, “I forgot that we do that many things!”

Observing that the plural usage represents the community’s investment in her undertakings, Lipton said, “I love that they use the word ‘we.'”

Lipton is Executive Director of the Manayunk Development Corporation [MDC], a nonprofit organization located on Main Street which is tasked with and dedicated to improving the business climate and the residential environment in and around Manayunk.

The MDC is the third of three Development Corporations in Northwest Philadelphia that Newsworks has profiled this month in order to identify accomplishments from the previous year, establish goals for the coming year, and recognize the people who are bringing these many plans to fruition.

Bridge, canal and water tank updates 

Three major capital projects announced to the public in 2011 by the MDC – along with its partner, the Schuylkill Project – reaffirm Manayunk’s connection to the Schuylkill River.

Certainly the most visible of the three is the Manayunk Bridge, which crosses both the Schuylkill River and the Schuylkill Expressway, providing both a literal and figurative connector between Lower Merion’s Cynwyd Heritage Trail and Manayunk.

With the groundbreaking having occurred in October, work on the Manayunk Bridge is being driven by a $1.3 million PennDOT Community Initiative construction grant.

According to Lipton, the bridge is slated to open to the public in late 2013, with all work to be finalized by spring 2014.

Lipton also pointed to the installation of a new underground water tank, enhanced parking, and the construction of a performing arts center on Manayunk’s Venice Island.

The island’s 400-foot long underground tank will significantly reduce the amount of stormwater runoff and sewage overflow that runs into the Schuylkill River during heavy rains.

Lipton confirmed its targeted completion in 2014.

The third major capital project that came into being in 2011 is the rehabilitation of the Sluice Canal and Spillway that separates Venice Island from mainland Manayunk.

While the first two projects have garnered significant attention and excitement, the Canal has somehow slipped through the cracks, much to Lipton’s chagrin.

“It’s the lost story,” she said of the canal, “but to me, it’s the biggest.”

She recalled that, upon her arrival in Manayunk in 1986, “you couldn’t even see the canal – it was completely overgrown.”

Twenty-five years later, she is excited by the prospect of clean, fresh water flowing through the canal – “changing that canal’s dynamics in every imaginable way,” she added.

Lipton said that financing for the canal – over $3 million – is being arranged. Optimal completion for the project is 2014.

A fresh logo, website and magazine 

At the aforementioned “State of Manayunk” address, one of the biggest rounds of applause for Lipton came from the announcement of Manayunk.com magazine’s latest feature – a centerfold map of Manayunk that illustrates parks, parking lots, restaurants and retail stores.

Explaining the origins of the centerfold, she said that the staff of the MDC recently decided that a map was needed in the magazine to highlight businesses and attractions in the district.

“For the first time ever,” Lipton said of her constituent businesses, “whether you’re a member or a non-member, paid or unpaid, you’re going in the magazine.”

Manayunk.com magazine was launched in 2011 as part of a wider marketing plan for the district – “a complete rebrand of Manayunk,” said Lipton.

In addition to the magazine, a new logo for the Manayunk Special Services District was unveiled in 2011, along with a relaunching of the Manayunk.com website. Moreover, according to Lipton, new emphasis was placed on the MDC’s Facebook and Twitter pages.

As a result, Lipton said the MDC’s marketing “gelled” in 2011 – “the brand came together,” she observed.

Building upon this, the centerfold will be a fixture of the magazine’s future issues. Lipton suggested that future editions may include apartment listings as well as a living section, but such plans are speculative at present.

Thinking back to her speech, Lipton was delighted with the applause she received, and also somewhat surprised.

“It was nice to give them something they wanted – that no one even told me they wanted!” she laughed, characterizing the response.

Parking – ‘Are we doing the best we can?’

For 2012, Lipton hopes to draw even more visitors to Manayunk and, when they arrive, help them find a place to park.

The MDC is currently working on a complete audit of all available parking resources in its district in order to combat the prevailing perception that, as Lipton phrased it, “you can’t park in Manayunk.”

As there has been no systematic study of parking habits for 15 years, Lipton and her team are investigating anything “not moving” in order to answer the question – “Are we doing the best we can?”

While noting that consumer taste is to park within a line of sight of their destination, Lipton asserted that you can park in Manayunk – “just not for free.”

Currently, she observed, there are over 1,000 parking spots in local lots – 300 of which are centrally located – the occupancy rate of which rarely exceeds 50-percent.

In light of this, Lipton sees her mission as one of addressing – and changing – public attitudes about Manayunk parking.

“If it’s the perception,” she said, “then I have to own that.”

A focus on food 

Another perception that the MDC plans to correct in 2012 is that culinary offerings on Main Street and surrounding areas cater strictly to the bar-going crowd.

To change this, Lipton is hoping to establish a food-related event later in the year that highlights both the quality and the diversity of Manayunk’s restaurants and restaurateurs, and re-establishes Manayunk’s primacy as a gourmet destination.

“The time is right [for the event],” she stated, noting that “the food on Main Street is the best that it has ever been.”

Lipton pointed to 2011’s Eco Arts Festival’s EATS – Eat Along The Street – street food fest as the model for the proposed event.

Paving the way for this proposed happening is an agreement reached in 2011 between MDC and the Manayunk Neighborhood Council – in conjunction with property owners and restaurant operators – to provide zoning variances for establishments catering to the sit-down crowd.

This circumvents an existing moratorium prohibiting new restaurants, according to Lipton.

She said that three restaurants were cleared for opening as a result of this accommodation – with more on the way.

To go forward with the food-themed fete, Lipton is soliciting the participation of local restaurateurs to sit on committees to help decide, in her words, “what it should look like, what it should feel like, and what it should taste like.”

Larger-scale planning has yet to coalesce, but Lipton is excited about the proposed event, as she is about the many dreams she has for building a better Manayunk.

Underscoring her grand designs, Lipton recalled a recent meeting she attended with her colleague, Kay Sykora of the Schuylkill Project.

Seeking permission to expand upon a topic, Lipton asked Sykora, “Can I tell them my big dream project, Kay?”

To which Sykora responded, “Which one, Jane?”

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.