Groups, pols meet with developer Grasso

Area com­munity group lead­ers, po­lice and elec­ted of­fi­cials met with de­veloper Dav­id Grasso last week to dis­cuss his plans for a large mu­sic ven­ue on Rich­mond Street.

It was a full house last week when com­munity rep­res­ent­at­ives met with de­veloper Dav­id Grasso to de­term­ine wheth­er a com­munity be­ne­fits agree­ment might be cre­ated to ease con­cerns over his pro­posed river­front mu­sic ven­ue.

And while the meet­ing star­ted with some con­ten­tion, the meet­ing seemed to end on a pos­it­ive note with all parties in­volved look­ing to work to­geth­er am­ic­ably.

Held in the empty of­fice com­plex at 2055 Rich­mond St. — the site of Grasso’s pro­posed 34,000-square-foot, 2,700-pat­ron mu­sic ven­ue — the meet­ing in­cluded rep­res­ent­at­ives from nearby com­munity groups and the of­fices of Coun­cil­men Dar­rell Clarke (D-5th dist.) and Frank Di­Cicco (D-1st dist.) and the 26th Po­lice Dis­trict.

Join­ing the group of about 25 people was Mark Squilla — the un­op­posed Demo­crat­ic can­did­ate set to take over the 1st Coun­cil­man­ic Dis­trict after Di­Cicco re­tires at the end of this year.

 Des­pite the strong turnout from vari­ous com­munity lead­ers, the talks might amount to little more than a show of good faith; needed zon­ing changes for the pro­ject were ap­proved by City Coun­cil last month, leav­ing little bar­gain­ing power for neigh­bors. 

Al­though Clarke asked Grasso to make a be­ne­fits agree­ment with the com­munity, there is no leg­al stip­u­la­tion re­quir­ing the de­veloper to do so.

Asked about this last week, Grasso said he wanted to cre­ate a be­ne­fits agree­ment re­gard­less, since the club would be a part of the river wards com­munity once it’s built.

“The last thing we want to be is ad­versari­al in our com­munity,” he said.

Res­id­ents have ex­pressed con­cerns over the cre­ation of a mu­sic ven­ue at the river­front loc­a­tion since the idea was first pro­posed last sum­mer, cit­ing prob­lems in the past with nightclubs on Delaware Av­en­ue.

In fact, these prob­lems led Di­Cicco to cre­ate a zon­ing over­lay that banned sim­il­ar prop­er­ties from open­ing in the area, but the re­tir­ing coun­cil­man pushed to see the ven­ue by­pass this over­lay to come to the river­front. 

Res­id­ents worry that the ven­ue would bring on prob­lems ran­ging from pat­rons park­ing cars in the com­munity to tail­gat­ing, drug use and drunk­en sex between parked vehicles — all nuis­ances neigh­bors dealt with in the past when night clubs lined nearby Delaware Av­en­ue.

But, Grasso said his ven­ue has one big dif­fer­ence com­pared to those clubs — a sole pro­moter and prop­erty man­ager for the ven­ue in the form of Live Na­tion, which handles pro­mo­tions for Cen­ter City’s Tro­ca­dero and Fest­iv­al Pier off of Delaware Av­en­ue.

Grasso called past prob­lems in the area, “a res­ult of who was run­ning” the clubs, and prom­ised things would be dif­fer­ent with Live Na­tion in­volved.

In the past, he said, club own­ers ren­ted to pro­moters, of­ten ra­dio sta­tions and oth­ers, that didn’t have to deal with the fal­lout of poorly planned or mon­itored events, since they only ren­ted the ven­ue.

“No one else will be op­er­at­ing this loc­a­tion be­sides Live Na­tion,” Grasso said.

Along with book­ing every event, all staff at the ven­ue — from box of­fice work­ers to bar­tenders and se­cur­ity — would be em­ployed by Live Na­tion.

The se­cur­ity com­pany would also be tasked with patrolling the park­ing lot to curb tail­gat­ing and oth­er prob­lems.

When con­cerns were raised over what types of shows might be held at the ven­ue, Bri­an Lamb, fa­cil­it­ies man­ager for Live Na­tion, said that the events would be sim­il­ar to the shows cur­rently be­ing held at oth­er Live Na­tion ven­ues, in­clud­ing many all-ages events.

“I’m do­ing Wiggles shows right now,” he said, point­ing to the child-friendly band that played the Tower Theatre in Up­per Darby last week.

Mi­chael Fen­erty, of the Old Rich­mond Civic As­so­ci­ation, said that, even if park­ing is handled ad­equately — Grasso claims to have at least 600 park­ing spots on site with an­oth­er 250 to 280 close by — sur­round­ing streets could be clogged with traffic be­fore and after events.

“Cum­ber­land and Ara­mingo is go­ing to be like a ball game,” he said, com­par­ing traffic to the sports com­plex in South Philly. “Res­id­en­tial side streets are go­ing to be bar­ing the brunt of that traffic.”

Grasso said he is still in talks with PennDOT and hopes to cre­ate an al­tern­at­ive park­ing lot be­hind the Port Rich­mond Shop­ping Cen­ter; he is also work­ing with the agency to make sure “signs are pos­ted and dir­ec­tions are avail­able on­line for the op­tim­al routes” in and out of the area.

Capt. Mike Cram of the 26th Po­lice Dis­trict ex­pressed con­cern that with the in­flux of thou­sands of people at any event — the ven­ue ex­pects to host about 80 to 100 con­certs and events each year — his dis­trict would be un­reas­on­ably over­worked.

“I can’t pull re­sources from oth­er parts of the neigh­bor­hood,” said Cram.

Point­ing to the west­ern end of his dis­trict, which cov­ers as far as 10th Street and north to Le­high Av­en­ue, Cram simply said “people are dy­ing out there.”

He sug­ges­ted Grasso and Live Na­tion look in­to the Po­lice De­part­ment’s Re-Im­burs­able Over­time Ser­vices Work­flow pro­gram that al­lows of­ficers to work over­time hours in the private sec­tor.

The pro­gram, Cram said, works well at oth­er bars and clubs and the ex­tra po­lice on the street even help cut down on nuis­ance crimes in the com­munity.

“Thefts from autos tend to go down be­cause the ex­tra po­lice are out,” said Cram. “They bring something to the com­munity.”

This idea was seem­ingly met with ap­prov­al.

Fi­nally, Tom Potts of the New Kens­ing­ton Com­munity De­vel­op­ment Corp. wor­ried that since the zon­ing change af­fected not just at 2055 Rich­mond St., but two oth­er prop­er­ties on the block as well, more ven­ues could come to the area.

Grasso also has an agree­ment with 2255 Rich­mond St. to al­low ad­di­tion­al park­ing, but the two oth­er prop­er­ties, which are cur­rently op­er­at­ing busi­nesses, could be nightclubs in the fu­ture by right due to the per­mis­sions he re­ceived last month.

“That’s not my in­tent,” Grasso as­sured. “I’m not build­ing any­more nightclubs.”

With this be­ing the first meet­ing of the groups — in at­tend­ance were rep­res­ent­at­ives from ORCA, NK­CDC, Fishtown Neigh­bors As­so­ci­ation and Fishtown Ac­tion — much was left up in the air at the con­clu­sion of the gath­er­ing.

But, for an event that star­ted some­what con­ten­tiously, at­tendees seemed more com­fort­able with the plan at the end of the meet­ing. 

“I en­joyed this meet­ing,” said Squilla. “It’s good to have this kind of dis­cus­sion.”

Over the sum­mer there will be on­go­ing meet­ings to cre­ate a be­ne­fits agree­ment.

At the con­clu­sion of the meet­ing, Grasso said he looks for­ward to an­oth­er meet­ing and he hopes to cre­ate a ven­ue that can ad­dress res­id­ents’ con­cerns.

“I may not have been clear be­fore, but this is still an evolving thing,” he said.

Asked when the nine-month long con­struc­tion pro­cess might be­gin, Grasso wasn’t sure but said he hopes to have con­struc­tion star­ted be­fore 2012.

“I think some­time this year is a safe bet,” he said.

Re­port­er Hay­den Mit­man can be reached at 215-354-3124 or hmit­ 

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