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.” ••EndFragment