With the deadline for bids on the former Liddonfield Homes public housing complex looming, a neighborhood civic group last week shifted its own lobbying efforts into high gear.
In a mass e-mail distributed on Dec. 27, the Upper Holmesburg Civic Association endorsed what it referred to as “the development and revitalization of the [Liddonfield] site by the expansion of Holy Family University.” The message further urged recipients to sign an attached petition and return it to the civic group by Jan. 5.
The bid deadline for the Liddonfield site is Jan. 7.
The Philadelphia Housing Authority owns the 32-acre property at Torresdale Avenue and Megargee Street. Last year, PHA demolished the low-income apartment buildings on the site and issued a request for proposals seeking private-sector bids on the property. The RFP recommended that potential bidders propose a combination of residential and sports/recreational uses for the site.
According to UHCA president Stan Cywinski, Holy Family University has teamed with a residential builder, a regional health-care provider and others to formulate a proposal suiting the RFP requirements and the community’s interests.
The project would include assisted living facilities, athletic fields and retail development along Torresdale Avenue, Cywinski said. Holy Family would manage the fields, while the health-care provider would manage the new homes.
“We thought that would be a good fit for our neighborhood, more than senior housing,” Cywinski said. “We feel it would be good for us and be a catalyst for additional development along the Torresdale Avenue corridor.”
Holy Family University was closed for its holiday break last week. Details about its specific objectives were unavailable.
In a printed statement, Sister Francesca Onley, the university president, said, “A group of developers recently invited Holy Family University to collaborate regarding proposed redevelopment of the former Liddonfield Homes public housing site. We are excited about the possibility of community participation in potential recreational facilities and a deepening of ties between the university and the community.”
Cywinski said that he is unable to name the builder because the bidding period has not concluded. Leaders of his organization have met with the builder, university officials, local elected officials and leaders of other civic associations to discuss the Holy Family-affiliated bid.
Cywinski further said that the RFP requires that bidders submit letters of support and community endorsements “enclosed in the bid for [PHA] to accept them.” So circulating the petition last week became crucial to meeting the Jan. 7 bid deadline.
Another sports/recreation proposal called the SportsZone is not part of the Holy Family-affiliated bid, although the Upper Holmesburg civic group previously had endorsed it. One of the architects of the SportsZone concept, Maggie Coughlan, told the Northeast Times that she was unaware of the civic group’s new petition. Early last year, she said, the UHCA collected 400 to 500 signatures on a petition favoring the SportsZone proposal.
Coughlan said she plans to move forward with her group’s plan for a multisport, indoor-outdoor sports and recreation center with accessory retail businesses.
Cywinski doesn’t think the Upper Holmesburg civic group has shifted its allegiances.
“I wouldn’t say it’s a deviation,” he said. “Maggie Coughlan from SportsZone initially brought us the concept of bringing a sports complex to the community. They wanted to do it across the street [from Liddonfield], then Liddonfield became available.
“It was a good concept, but we all knew — meaning the civic association — that this was going to bid and that it would be a competitive environment.”
Cywinski added that the key element of the Holy Family-affiliated plan is his organization’s belief that it would promote additional private commercial development along Torresdale Avenue, while giving neighborhood youths access to college-level athletic training.
“Sister Francesca [Onley, the university president] said we would have some access to the facilities,” Cywinski said.
The new petition further states that the university would bring “a safer, cleaner campus” to the site.
According to the terms of the RFP, the community has a minority influence in the bid process, although other factors including economic viability of a bid and proposed uses of the site weigh more in the bid selection process. PHA also may opt to reject all bids and withdraw the RFP.
The Liddonfield site is expected to be a topic of conversation at the next general meeting of the UHCA on Thursday, Jan. 19, at 7 p.m., at St. Dominic’s Marian Hall, 8532 Frankford Ave. ••EndFragment