Holy Family could take over Liddonfield

Holy Fam­ily 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.

(from left) Stan Ant­onow­icz, Mary Jane Warne and Jim Cir­illo ex­am­ine Lid­don­field draw­ings


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. ••


You can reach at wkenny@bsmphilly.com.

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