When the first Night Market of the season converges on Ridge Avenue and Green Lane on May 12, the crowds coming for the food trucks will also find a new amenity on Roxborough’s commercial corridor.
The avenue’s budding new park at 6170-72 Ridge will be open for visitors, and a deejay will be spinning music for the first evening activity in the new green space, which was beautified this season with a wide plant palette of 15 trees, 30 shrubs, and planters at the entrance of the adjacent Leverington Avenue parking lot.
Among the plantings are honeylocust, magnolia, river birch, blackgum and dogwood trees, and varieties of hydrangeas, holly, mountain laurel, viburnum and rhododendron.
The site, tentatively called the Roxborough Pocket Park, was little more than a vision and a topic for community discussion just one year ago. The Roxborough Development Corporation conducted surveys and a series of neighborhood meetings, and brought in the Groundswell Design Group to lead the public engagement and develop a plan based on the conversations.
“We tried to find out what people need in this neighborhood, and what are the things they like to do,” James Calamia, RDC executive director, explained.
“This site is very much in the heart of our commercial district. It’s different from other parks in the area because of that, because it’s tied to commerce in this location. So we wanted to make it a hub, and we want to push the envelope forward for Ridge Avenue.”
Before the shovels even broke ground, the community began finding creative ways to repurpose what had been a neglected vacant lot. Once the concept of a park had been introduced, perception of the site began shifting.
Pop-up farmers markets were held last summer. Recently, a “fashion runway” was erected within the 6,800-square-foot green space by a local clothing company, with a performance by the Honey Bees, the dance troupe of the Philadelphia Yellow Jackets, the amateur football team.
The RDC has been fielding many other requests for use of the space, including children’s birthday parties and a karaoke rendition of “West Side Story.”
Other plans for the new park include movie screenings, musical performances, yoga classes, and a range of other community events.
“We’ve been amazed at what’s come about with just a vision and the initial tree-planting,” Calamia said, “and we’re hopeful that will continue.”
Impact on the corridor
The greening of the lot has already had an impact on the commercial strip as well. A former alarm shop two doors south of the park that had been vacant for years has been purchased by a private investor with plans to renovate it. A building across the avenue that had been damaged by fire has received inquiries from several parties who want to rehab and move into the space because of its proximity to the park.
The RDC has also received a pledge from Councilman Curtis Jones that the city will provide $250,000 to make improvements to the parking lot next to the green space.
“We’re working with the Department of Public Property now to see if we can arrange a lease agreement” for the parking lot, Calamia said. “We’ll plow the lot, make sure it’s properly lit, clean it — things we’ve been doing on a volunteer basis.”
The Allison Building, the former carpet store next to the pocket park, is the lynchpin in the RDC’s grander plan for the park. The goal is to transform the building into a restaurant or café, with an opening through the wall into the park space.
Calamia said there are prospective tenants who could implement that vision for the site, and he hopes an announcement about the building will be coming soon. “It’s key for bringing life to this space,” he said.
Funding for the initial phases of the park project have been provided by the Community Design Collaborative for the envisioning process, and from the Exelon Corp. through the Schuylkill River Heritage Area Grant Program to stabilize the site. The Schuylkill River Restoration Fund supported the initial tree plantings.
The RDC expects to hear back in the next few months on several grant applications that will fund paving a path through the park, an important milestone in building the infrastructure. Lighting and a security camera system at the site are shorter-term goals.
“We’re actively writing and seeking grants” for the completion of the park, Calamia said, “and we’re starting to get a lot of interest. People are really seeing this as a game-changer for the neighborhood and helping people to rethink the corridor they live in.”