Here’s what Germantown Town Hall has going for it: There are many ideas being bandied about regarding what could become of the historic building at 5928 Germantown Ave. A renovated landmark. A gateway to Northwest Philadelphia. A one-stop shop for residents to reach elected officials, police and other services.
Here’s what it doesn’t have going for it: A buyer who deems $400,000 to be the right price, which is an important ingredient to turn any of those ideas into reality.
The Town Hall site has been many things: a Civil War hospital, city services building and adapted to resemble William Strickland’s Greek Revival Merchant’s Exchange Building. Last used in 1998 as an office building, the Town Hall offers 28,000 square feet of commercial space.
The Philadelphia Industrial Development Corp. (PIDC) is currently trying to sell the building, which was initially listed on the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia’s Endangered Properties list in 2003.
PIDC real-estate manager Liz Gabor said they’ve been trying to sell the building and parking area behind it for six years. Historical artifacts include a bell designed by John Wilbank which was made in the same shop as the Liberty Bell, a clock designed by Isaiah Lukens, which was previously stored in Independence Hall, and World War I memorial tablets.
Ben Leech, director of advocacy at the Preservation Alliance, said a renovated Town Hall “would be a win-win for everybody, especially for such a landmark. When buildings like this are brought back, it preserves the character of the city and gives a continuity to its history.”
Win-winning comes with a cost, though. A 2008 PlanPhilly.com article estimated rehab could run anywhere from $10 to $15 million and Gabor said a facility assessment could involve an architect and engineer.
Real-estate developer and prospective buyer Ken Weinstein said the previous Town Hall asking price was $300,000.
“It would need public subsidies to go forward with the project,” Weinstein said, noting interior and exterior preservation requirements because it’s a registered historic site. “I would love to see this project happen. It’s a gateway to the Germantown community, but public entities like this depend on public subsidies.”
The Greater Germantown Business Association (GGBA) showed interest in including the Town Hall in its Green Business District by using solar energy and operating the building in an environmentally friendly way. In fact, they worked with Philadelphia University graduate students in 2010 to create a “green” plan for the building.
However, Rev. LeRoi Simmons, executive director of Central Germantown Council, noted “the city has been reluctant to partner to local buyers.” He envisions public space as a “one-stop shop” for city services such as city council and police offices.
“It is tempting at $400,000,” Simmons said, “but with the restoration, the expenses can escalate.”
With Town Hall renovations seen as a potential key to rejuvenating and spurring investment in the community and its business district, locals started an online petition last year (http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/gth/). It reads, in part, “We believe the development of Germantown Town Hall … will spur other economic development in the neighborhood thus raising the quality of life for the people of Northwest Philadelphia.”
As of Wednesday morning, there were 167 signatures.
Said David Young, executive director at Cliveden of the National Trust, said the building’s current situation is “emblematic of the loss to Germantown. I always think of the saying: As goes town hall, so goes the town.”