Germantown’s ywca gets another shot at redevelopment (Flying Kite, 8/9/2016)

Source: Flying Kite Media
Byline: Alaina Mabaso
Date: 8/9/2016

Back in winter of 2015, Flying Kite featured voices calling for the stabilization and reuse of the old Germantown YWCA, an early 20th-century fixture of Germantown Avenue on the northwest side of Vernon Park. This summer, a new RFP is out and neighbors are excited about the future of this historic building.

Built in 1914 and owned by the YMCA until its 2006 purchase by Germantown Settlement, the site was an important recreational, social and cultural hub for the neighborhood. By the time the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority (PRA) acquired the building in 2013 for about $1.3 million, fires, vandalism and neglect had led to major safety and financial concerns. The PRA issued an initial RFP with options to demolish or redevelop the property in 2014.

That RFP yielded only one proposal, which the PRA didn’t greenlight.

Amid avid community support for saving the building — as well as support from Eighth District Councilwoman Cindy Bass — the PRA applied nearly $1.6 million in Neighborhood Transformation Initiative dollars to improve the building. That work included boarding up windows, structural stabilization and installing a new roof; construction ran from August 2015 to March 2016.

“The building’s in much better and more stable shape now than it was previously,” says PRA Executive Director Gregory Heller. When he came on to helm PRA last April, “one of the first things I started looking at are some big, high-profile buildings and pieces of land that are really important to communities that we just need to get out there for redevelopment…and the Germantown YWCA was pretty high on that list.”

According to the new RFP, “The proposed rehabilitation plan should take into consideration the neighborhood and provide an attractive, well-designed development that enhances the quality and physical appearance of the community.” Developers should be aware of the building’s history, preserve its façade and incorporate eco-friendly design features.

The RFP has no option for demolition, so neighbors who wanted the structure preserved have gotten their wish. No formal subsidies are offered to potential developers, but the PRA considers the official starting bid of $69,000 to be a subsidy in itself.

So far, there’s been a fair amount of interest: eight firms joined an initial walk-through of the building on July 27. (The next pre-submission site visit is scheduled for August 10.)

All proposals are due by August 16, 2016; a selection will be finalized by September 30 and an agreement drafted on October 14. The YWCA RFP marks the first time that the PRA will able to accept electronic submissions.

“I’ve been getting a lot of support for this,” adds Heller. “People are really excited about the potential for bringing that property back and getting it redeveloped.”

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Gregory Heller, Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority