The Northern Liberties Neighbors Association’s monthly meeting, held Thursday, Oct. 27, was a treasure trove of information.
NLNA president Matt Ruben led the busy get-together, breezily moving through the many topics on hand.
Updates included information on the ongoing improvement of Madison Memorial Park — often simply called “Doughboy Park” in reference to the statue of a World War I-era soldier that stands near 2nd and Spring Garden streets — and a presentation from VIADUCTgreene.
VIADUCTgreene is a group attempting to reclaim the Reading Viaduct, a raised section of tracks that runs along the former 9th Street and City branches of the Reading Railroad, and turn the area into three miles of public parkland.
Organizers from VIADUCTgreene said the project is still in its early stages, and they hope to host a design competition to for the park next year.
They are still working with owners of the property. SEPTA owns the bulk of the viaduct, and Reading International Railroad owns the elevated City Branch. Organizers said they wanted to discuss the idea with neighbors throughout the city as the plan progresses.
“There’s a whole lot of work to be done,” admitted Paul vanMeter of VIADUCTgreene.
While that effort is just getting started, a local park project that is making great headway is Madison Memorial Park, NLNA board member Barbara Saverino told the audience.
In fact, she said, most of the construction that will add seating to the area, as well as a sunken garden, shaded areas, a rain garden and other features, could be completed within two to three months, depending on the weather.
The project will also create a walking path from the El stop at Spring Garden Street toward Second Street.
Planting and landscaping will take more time, however.
Through an agreement with the city, Saverino said, the NLNA will need to clean and maintain the park as time goes on, but the group seemed happy to take on that chore now that the project is under way.
“The city signed off on it, so we are moving forward,” she said.
Nearby, there will also be work done on the I-95 underpass at Spring Garden Street, which will see lighting and other features added to the area. The beautification effort there could expand, Ruben said, as the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation recently joined other the groups working on the project.
Ruben said that the DRWC’s participation is welcome, but it will cause the project to be delayed a little while longer due to new plans tied to the group’s efforts to improve streets that connect neighborhoods with the river.
Moving on to talk about other issues, Ruben said that at a NLNA Zoning Committee meeting held earlier that week, the panel heard a plan to have Bodine Street stricken from Streets Department maps. That would allow Finnegan’s Wake, at 3rd and Spring Garden, to construct a three-story deck for its patrons.
While no Zoning Committee finding is official until it’s discussed by the NLNA board in its regular meetings, Ruben said the panel’s members were “overwhelmingly against” the plan.
“Some neighbors felt they already took the street without officially taking the street,” said Ruben, noting the fact that the popular nightspot has long blocked that street with trash bins.
“You know, it’s still a street,” agreed Larry Freedman, Zoning Committee head. “The fact that they blocked it with Dumpsters doesn’t mean it’s not a street … We have a lot of little streets like that in the neighborhood that we use and there’s no reason for that street not to be one of them.”
The plan would see three 900-square foot decks built at the rear of the bar. If built, Freedman said, the owner plans to serve alcohol there as well.
But, he said, there are a lot of permissions necessary before that could happen. To serve liquor outside, Freedman said, the bar’s owner would need permission from the state, and City Council would need to approve a bill to have any street stricken from city record.
Ruben said City Councilman Frank DiCicco (D-1st dist.) drafted a bill to strike Bodine Street, to the rear of Finnegan’s Wake, from city maps. But, Ruben said the councilman also wouldn’t push the bill forward without first hearing input on the plan from locals. He urged those in attendance to contact their council member to voice their opinion of the plan.
While blight is a problem throughout the city, the NLNA just received a $60,000 grant to be used to improve a blighted garage property that the group owns.
It’s located next to the group’s community center at 3rd Street and Fairmount Avenue, and Ruben said the funds — provided by the Penn Treaty Special Services District — will be used in the hopes of turning the garage into an active commercial space.
“It will reduce the blight that’s right next door,” he said.
Finally, after the meeting, Freedman discussed plans for “Phlirt,” a new all-ages night club that owners hope to open at Delaware and Fairmount avenues at the old home of The Cave club.
Freedman said the nightspot would cater to the 14-20 crowd and function as an all-ages dance club, two-nights a week, from 8 p.m. to midnight.
It would hold crowds of about 200 people, but Freedman said that at a recent Zoning Committee meeting, residents didn’t think the project would be a good fit for the area.
Freedman said he’s talked to the 6th Police District about Phlirt and “they weren’t too happy about it either.”
For now, Freedman said, owners of that property need special assembly and zoning permits before opening, and he said the Zoning Committee could not support that project.
Reporter Hayden Mitman can be reached at 215-354-3124 or firstname.lastname@example.org