City to Seek Development Proposals for Historic Germantown YWCA (Philadelphia Magazine, 7/14/2016)

Source: Philadelphia Magazine
Date: 7/14/2016
Byline: Jared Brey

The Germantown YWCA, a hulking, historic shell of a building on Germantown Avenue near Vernon Park, could be headed for a new life.

The Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority plans to issue a request for proposals (RFP) to redevelop the building next week, PRA Director Greg Heller told Philly Mag on Tuesday. The Authority isn’t putting any restrictions on the proposed use of the building in the RFP, Heller said.

“We want to see what developers come up with,” he said.

The Authority had previously sought to sell the building to Germantown developer Ken Weinstein, who planned to convert it into 50 apartments for low-income seniors. But Councilwoman Cindy Bass intervened, concerned that Germantown Avenue was overloaded with subsidized housing.

The Redevelopment Authority isn’t limiting the potential development proposals, but any project will have to work around the building’s historic status and zoning. The YWCA has been on the city’s register of historic places since 1984, and the eventual developer will be required to preserve the façade, at the very least. The site is zoned for commercial mixed-use, with a requirement for commercial space on the ground floor and potential for residential uses elsewhere on the site. Developers will be required to specify whether they will seek zoning changes when responding to the RFP.

Councilwoman Bass wasn’t available for an interview Wednesday afternoon.

Emaleigh Doley, corridor manager at Germantown United CDC, said that the Germantown YWCA is one of three “white elephants” on Germantown Avenue, along with Germantown High School and Germantown Town Hall, all vacant.

“Everyone is waiting for something to happen with one of them,” Doley said. “I believe that all it’s going to take is the right moves with one of those properties to help drive the development of that area.”

Doley said she believed the money invested by the city in stabilizing the building last year would make the site more attractive to developers. Heller said he could envision a number of uses that would be appropriate for the site, the most important thing being that the building becomes active again.

“I think the best-case scenario is we get a number of really strong development proposals from an array of different developers…” Heller said. “And we get to have the difficult task of assessing between great proposals and figuring out which one is the best match.”