Liddonfield of dreams


For years, Holy Fam­ily Uni­versity pres­id­ent Sis­ter Francesca On­ley would be asked about ru­mors that the school would buy the Lid­don­field Homes hous­ing pro­ject.

Each time, Sis­ter Francesca would say, “That’s not the case.”

“Guess what,” she said to a room full of people last week. “That is the case.”

Holy Fam­ily hos­ted a Fri­day morn­ing news con­fer­ence in its Cam­pus Cen­ter to out­line a pro­pos­al for the re­devel­op­ment of Lid­don­field, a 32-acre site bordered gen­er­ally by Megar­gee to Tol­but streets and Cot­tage Street to Tor­res­dale Av­en­ue.

The site is about nine blocks from Holy Fam­ily’s main cam­pus at Frank­ford and Grant av­en­ues.

Lid­don­field opened in 1955 but de­teri­or­ated badly over the years.

The fi­nal res­id­ents moved out in April 2010, with the Phil­adelphia Hous­ing Au­thor­ity dir­ect­ing them to oth­er units or Hous­ing Choice (Sec­tion 8) prop­er­ties. The build­ings were de­mol­ished by Decem­ber of that year.

PHA ac­cep­ted re­quests for pro­pos­als from Oct. 11 of last year to Jan. 7 of this year, and is ex­pec­ted to choose a de­vel­op­ment pro­pos­al in about six months.

Loc­al elec­ted of­fi­cials and civic as­so­ci­ations have en­dorsed the part­ner­ship between Holy Fam­ily and BSI Con­struc­tion.

Among those at­tend­ing the news con­fer­ence were Up­per Holmes­burg Civic As­so­ci­ation pres­id­ent Stan Cy­w­in­ski, City Coun­cil­man Bobby Hen­on, state Rep. Mike McGee­han, state Sen. Mike Stack, U.S. Rep. Bob Brady and an aide to U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz.

The pro­pos­al in­cludes a 300-bed as­sisted-liv­ing fa­cil­ity, four NCAA-ap­proved ath­let­ic fields, a tree-lined trail/walk­way, bleach­er seat­ing, shops, din­ing spots, park­ing, or­na­ment­al steel fen­cing, a court­yard, 24-hour se­cur­ity and green space.

“Wow, what a cata­lyst for our com­munity,” said Cy­w­in­ski, who likes de­veloper John Par­sons’ out­side-the-box think­ing.

Par­sons, pres­id­ent of BSI Con­struc­tion, said ground can be broken in the spring, provided PHA chooses the plan.

Among those who have writ­ten let­ters to PHA ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or Mi­chael Kelly in sup­port of the Holy Fam­ily/BSI plan were the afore­men­tioned elec­ted of­fi­cials, Cy­w­in­ski and rep­res­ent­at­ives of the Holmes­burg, Ta­cony, Mor­rell Park, East Tor­res­dale, Holme Circle and Ashton Square civic as­so­ci­ations.

Din­ing Car own­er Nancy Moroz­in led an ef­fort to col­lect more than 4,000 pe­ti­tions in fa­vor of the pro­ject.

In his let­ter, Cy­w­in­ski in­dic­ated that he has met with more than a dozen po­ten­tial bid­ders, viewed plans and vis­ited ex­ist­ing de­vel­op­ments. He likes the Holy Fam­ily/Par­sons plan, in part, be­cause loc­al clubs will be able to use the ath­let­ic fields. He wrote, “This RFP will be a huge eco­nom­ic boost to both North­east Phil­adelphia and our res­id­ents.”

Cy­w­in­ski said he hopes the pro­ject makes the busi­ness cor­ridor as bust­ling as the one on Frank­ford Av­en­ue.

“Tor­res­dale (Av­en­ue) needs some help,” he said.

Hen­on is sup­port­ing the plan be­cause it is com­pre­hens­ive, cre­at­ive and re­spons­ible.

“Holy Fam­ily really listened to the neigh­bors,” he said.

Brady, who took the Up­per Holmes­burg and Tor­res­dale areas from Schwartz in the latest re­dis­trict­ing, fa­vors the plan be­cause it can be used by both young and old and has a com­mer­cial as­pect.

“You put in com­munit­ies what com­munit­ies want,” he said.

Stack and McGee­han se­cured $3.5 mil­lion in 2006 for the Lid­don­field site, but the fed­er­al De­part­ment of Hous­ing and Urb­an De­vel­op­ment didn’t ap­prove de­moli­tion un­til three years later.

McGee­han said he trusts the civic as­so­ci­ations to make the right call and the uni­versity to do the right thing. He said the run­down hous­ing pro­ject chased busi­ness and res­id­ents away and scared people from mov­ing to the area.

Stack cred­its Sis­ter Francesca, who has been pres­id­ent for three dec­ades, with put­ting Holy Fam­ily on the na­tion­al map and likes her latest idea.

“Sis­ter, your pro­ject is out­stand­ing,” he told her.

Sis­ter Francesca, who re­ceived a stand­ing ova­tion, ex­plained that she hadn’t met Par­sons un­til Decem­ber. They’ve worked so closely on the pro­ject, she said, that “he’s like my broth­er.”

“I can’t wait to hear that this ef­fort has been ap­proved,” she said.

Par­sons, a Frank­ford nat­ive and St. Mar­tin of Tours and Fath­er Judge gradu­ate, said he’s happy to be a part of Holy Fam­ily’s growth plan in the North­east, in­stead of its oth­er cam­pus in New­town, Bucks County. He thanked former con­gress­man Charlie Dougherty, a long­time con­sult­ant to Sis­ter Francesca, and former state House Speak­er John Perzel, who now works for his com­pany, for their as­sist­ance.

The de­veloper de­scribed Holy Fam­ily as a “hid­den jew­el” in the North­east. He thinks the pro­ject will sta­bil­ize Up­per Holmes­burg and add 150 per­man­ent jobs, along with con­struc­tion jobs, which are much needed in a strug­gling eco­nomy.

Now, it’s up to PHA to make it hap­pen. About 20 pro­pos­als have been sub­mit­ted, ac­cord­ing to Par­sons.

“I think this neigh­bor­hood has spoken,” he said.

Par­sons is glad to hear that Hen­on is look­ing to open a dis­trict of­fice on Tor­res­dale Av­en­ue. He sees a time when Holy Fam­ily can add an NCAA Di­vi­sion II foot­ball team.

PHA is look­ing for a good neigh­bor.

“She’s try­ing to be that good neigh­bor,” Par­sons said of Sis­ter Francesca. “This is the right thing for this neigh­bor­hood.” ••


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