The Philadelphia Housing Authority is expected to take about six months to decide what will be done with the former site of Liddonfield Homes public housing project. But neighbors already seem to have their minds made up.
They’ve chosen Holy Family University.
The university and John Parsons’ BSI Construction have joined forces on a redevelopment proposal for the 32-acre tract that the Philadelphia Housing Authority posted for bid last year.
According to Parsons, who co-owns Northeast-based BSI with partner Charles Calvanese, PHA received about 20 different proposals on the now-vacant property at Torresdale Avenue and Megargee Street and will decide on the bids within 180 days. The bidding period concluded on Jan. 7.
During the monthly general meeting of the Upper Holmesburg Civic Association on Jan. 19, neighbors mostly applauded presentations by Parsons and the university’s president, Sister Francesca Onley, who plan to redevelop the site into dormitory-style housing, sports fields, retail shops and assisted living residences for seniors.
“We have a lot of ideas about that property,” Sister Francesca said.
“We want to join and work with (the community) in this project. There’s a lot of property there and along (Interstate) 95. We will work with you and try to have the outcome that you wish.”
Other area community groups including the East Torresdale Civic Association, Holmesburg Civic Association, Holme Circle Civic Association and Tacony Civic Association have joined the Upper Holmesburg Civic Association in endorsing the Holy Family/BSI proposal, according to UHCA president Stan Cywinski.
Yet, despite the apparent widespread support, last week’s UHCA meeting was the first time Holy Family and BSI actually revealed their plans publicly due to the competitive and secretive nature of the bidding process.
Leaders of the civic group have met privately with some of the other bidders, according to Cywinski, but none of those plans have been shown to neighbors in a public forum.
Parsons called the Holy Family/BSI proposal “conceptual” and subject to modification. Sketches show three multi-story, dormitory-style residential buildings standing side-by-side along Torresdale Avenue, along with a row of street-level storefronts. Behind the dorms, there’s a 600-space parking lot. Beyond that, there are four sports fields: one each for soccer, lacrosse, baseball and softball.
At the rear of the 32-acre tract, Holy Family and BSI propose to build two assisted living apartment buildings for seniors. Parsons said that they plan to create a “park-like setting” on the interior of the property with walkways winding around the ball fields and other landscaping elements.
Construction would create about 150 jobs, the contractor said. Once construction is complete, BSI would vacate the property and ownership would pass to the university.
The long-term operation of the site would offer permanent employment opportunities, particularly at the assisted living facilities and in the retail stores. Meanwhile, the university would provide security.
A similar mixed-use corridor already exists on Broad Street at Temple University, while another is planned for Chestnut Street at Drexel University, Parsons said. In fact, BSI bid on the Drexel job, but the contract went to another firm. BSI included many of its ideas for Chestnut Street in its Liddonfield proposal.
“We have plans to really revitalize the Torresdale Avenue corridor,” Parsons said. “We need something to keep people down here and we think Holy Family University does that.”
Neighbors questioned both Sister Francesca and Parsons about the specific plans for the new dorms. The sketches appear to show buildings standing five stories high, but Parsons said that they would probably end up being two or three stories.
Meanwhile, Sister Francesca said that the university would prefer to use the dorms for faculty or accessory housing, as opposed to student housing. Yet, student housing has not been ruled out of the plan.
“I’m not too over-anxious to use it for student housing,” she said. “We like to have our student housing contained (on campus).”
Holy Family’s total enrollment is about 3,300, including about 2,100 undergraduates. The main campus is at Frankford and Grant avenues in East Torresdale and encompasses about 20 acres when combined with the Nazareth Academy High School for girls and the Nazareth Academy Grade School. There are three on-campus dorms.
The university also operates satellite campuses in Andalusia and Newtown, Bucks County.
In addition to the community groups, City Councilman Bob Henon (D-6th dist.) has endorsed the Holy Family/BSI proposal.
Other bidders have proposed market-rate housing, low-income housing, commercial uses and even a Wal-Mart, Henon said.
According to Parsons, U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, state Sen. Mike Stack, state Rep. Mike McGeehan and other elected officials have also shown support for the plan. The bidders also collected 4,000 individual signatures on a petition they circulated in the neighborhood, Parsons said. ••EndFragment