Northeast Times

Grand plans in Tacony

— Com­munity de­vel­op­ment group in one of North­east Philly's his­tor­ic areas aims to beef up the Tor­res­dale Av­en­ue busi­ness cor­ridor.

Ta­cony CDC Cor­ridor Man­ager Alex Bal­loon (left) and CDC board mem­ber Mike Scoatese dis­cuse pos­sible op­tions for im­prov­ing De Nofa’s Itali­an Deli store­front, as part of the Facade Grant Pro­gram, Thursday, June 21, 2012, Phil­adelphia, Pa. (Maria Pouch­nikova)

Start­Frag­ment

When Alex Bal­loon strolls the Tor­res­dale Av­en­ue busi­ness cor­ridor, he sees his­tory. He ima­gines brick and wooden façades, dec­or­at­ive tile and mold­ings, nos­tal­gic sig­nage.

Bal­loon, the Ta­cony Com­munity De­vel­op­ment Cor­por­a­tion cor­ridor man­ager, is re­l­at­ively new to the neigh­bor­hood. But many of the old-timers share his vis­ion. Prob­lem is, they view it only as a dis­tant memory.

Through a series of new ini­ti­at­ives, the re­cently re-en­er­gized CDC is try­ing to re­store the av­en­ue’s glor­i­ous past while bring­ing its mer­chants up to date on con­tem­por­ary mar­ket­ing strategies.

“Ta­cony has so many ad­vant­ages — ac­cess to [In­ter­state] 95, parks, rich his­tor­ic as­pects, the whole [Henry] Dis­ston story,” Bal­loon said. “It’s about pack­aging that, pro­mot­ing that and cre­at­ing a buzz.

“And I think people who have been here [for] so long maybe have grown ac­cus­tomed to what Tor­res­dale Av­en­ue looks like.”

Most loc­al folks will tell you it looks like a neigh­bor­hood in de­cline, be­set by poor eco­nom­ic con­di­tions and crime. But Bal­loon, an Ohio nat­ive who stud­ied his­tor­ic pre­ser­va­tion at Penn, brings a new set of eyes. The CDC hired him in Janu­ary as its first and lone paid staff mem­ber.

IT GOES FOR THE GOLD

Foun­ded in 2000, the Ta­cony CDC is a non-profit or­gan­iz­a­tion and a vehicle for the com­munity to seek fed­er­al, state and loc­al grants and oth­er types of fund­ing. The CDC in­vests this seed money in­to pro­jects that will im­prove the com­munity and, it is hoped, gen­er­ate rev­en­ue for fur­ther com­munity in­vest­ment.

The all-vo­lun­teer CDC board in­cludes com­munity lead­ers and mer­chants Peter Nac­car­ato, Louis A. Iatarola, the Rev. Ar­thur John­son, Mike Scotese, Linda Salandra, Geor­geanne Labovitz, Troy Er­wine and Dav­id Payne.

Un­til last year, the CDC was fo­cused more on the Delaware River wa­ter­front than Tor­res­dale Av­en­ue, ac­cord­ing to Scotese, own­er of the Grey Lodge Pub.

Pre­vi­ously, it tried to trans­form a former in­dus­tri­al prop­erty on the wa­ter­front in­to a large-scale res­id­en­tial de­vel­op­ment. It got the Army Corps of En­gin­eers to clear the land, Scotese said, but then the pro­ject stalled.

The CDC has worked on oth­er single-site pro­jects, in­clud­ing the re­hab­il­it­a­tion of a 19th cen­tury home and med­ic­al of­fice at 4802 Dis­ston St. The 3,500 square-foot build­ing is in the ori­gin­al Dis­ston Es­tate, the Vic­tori­an-style work­ers’ com­munity de­signed and built by Henry Dis­ston in sup­port of his nearby saw works.

But un­til re­cently, the CDC had neither the money nor time to ef­fect wide­spread change.

“I think we all wished there had been more activ­ity go­ing on,” Scotese said. “But you really can’t take on big pro­jects be­ing a vo­lun­teer.”

Per­haps more im­port­antly, full-scale build­ing re­hab pro­jects cost a lot and don’t usu­ally of­fer a big bang for the buck.

“When you re­devel­op a prop­erty, it’s very cap­it­al in­tens­ive and very slow,” Bal­loon said. “And with the money you use, you could [im­prove] a lot of prop­er­ties on the av­en­ue.”

LOOK­ING AT THE BIG PIC­TURE

That’s what the CDC’s His­tor­ic Ta­cony Re­vital­iz­a­tion Pro­ject is try­ing to do. The newly launched Façade Grant Pro­gram is the visu­al com­pon­ent of the broad­er re­vital­iz­a­tion pro­ject.

About 16,000 vehicles a day travel along the 6300 to 7200 blocks of Tor­res­dale Ave. Most of the stores were built in the 1910s and ’20s and are in need of facelifts. The façade pro­gram of­fers to pay mer­chants up to 85 per­cent of the costs to up­grade their store­fronts. Single stores can re­ceive up to $16,000 in fund­ing, while double stores or corner stores can get up to $24,000.

When the CDC teamed with the city’s Com­merce De­part­ment to launch the façade pro­gram earli­er this year, Bal­loon was ex­pect­ing in­terest from maybe a half-dozen stores. But more than twice that many have ap­plied for grants. Ap­plic­ants must meet strict eli­gib­il­ity re­quire­ments and be will­ing to in­vest their own money.

Yet, they won’t have to worry about design work. Vo­lun­teer ar­chi­tects and de­sign­ers with the Com­munity Design Col­lab­or­at­ive will take care of that, pro bono.

“I’m hop­ing for something bet­ter than what it is,” said An­gela De­N­ofa, own­er of De­N­ofa’s Deli and Ca­ter­ing.

She opened her busi­ness 35 years ago. Since then, it has doubled in size. But very little has been done to modi­fy the ex­tern­al ap­pear­ance. Over the years, she’s re­placed some win­dows and her sign.

Bal­loon thinks De­N­ofa may want to go for more of a clas­sic ap­pear­ance re­flect­ive of the kind of products and ser­vice she of­fers in­side.

“We do our own but­cher­ing, make our own saus­age, cook our own meats,” De­N­ofa said. “It’s home style and old fash­ioned.”

“They have this beau­ti­ful old Itali­an logo and we’d like to pro­ject that,” Bal­loon said. “It cel­eb­rates the his­tory of the busi­ness.”

EYE ON UP­GRADES

The CDC’s re­vital­iz­a­tion pro­ject also has “eco­nom­ic im­prove­ment” com­pon­ents, the cor­ridor man­ager said. The CDC will seek more at­tract­ive mer­chants for the av­en­ue and work with ex­ist­ing mer­chants to im­prove their busi­nesses.

Some shops fit the sur­round­ings bet­ter than oth­ers.

“I think spe­cialty stores work best,” said Mark Whited, the own­er of Bull’s-Eye Dart Shop. “We want to have foot traffic. If you like to play darts, you can come here and try them out be­fore you buy them.”

A couple of dance stu­di­os, a mixed mar­tial-arts gym and an arch­ery range also fit in­to the spe­cialty cat­egory. They at­tract people be­cause they of­fer unique products and ser­vices that can­not be de­livered via the In­ter­net, and be­cause they’re close to their con­sumers.

“We’re go­ing to do ‘cluster mar­ket­ing,’” Bal­loon said. “[These busi­nesses] have some things in com­mon. They all ap­peal to kids. And in our neigh­bor­hood, 25 per­cent of res­id­ents are un­der 20.”

The CDC is work­ing on a cross-pro­mo­tion in­volving a bridal shop and dance stu­dio where couples would get dance les­sons to pre­pare for their wed­ding re­cep­tions. And one of the mar­tial arts stu­di­os is pro­mot­ing a “bride and groom spe­cial,” too, Bal­loon said.

Mer­chants like De­N­ofa and Whited have oth­er ideas to im­prove busi­ness.

“The meters are an­oth­er prob­lem,” De­N­ofa said, re­fer­ring to the park­ing meters along the av­en­ue.

She thinks that cus­tom­ers should be able to park for free. Whited agrees. He also wants bet­ter po­lice cov­er­age.

“I’d like to see some more se­cur­ity,” he said. “We had a beat cop down here, then they pulled him off.”

The CDC has a “clean and safe” com­mit­tee work­ing on a pro­gram to re­im­burse busi­nesses that in­vest in sur­veil­lance cam­er­as. It’s still in the de­vel­op­ment stages, however, and will not be a part of the façade ini­ti­at­ive.

“[Safety] is­sues im­pact our goals, but we fo­cus on what we can con­trol,” Bal­loon said. “Pub­lic safety is really a part­ner­ship. The po­lice have a role. We have a role and the busi­ness own­ers have a role.” ••

Vis­it his­tor­ic­ta­con­yre­vital­iz­a­tion.com for in­form­a­tion about the His­tor­ic Ta­cony Re­vital­iz­a­tion Pro­ject.

End­Frag­ment

You can reach at wkenny@bsmphilly.com.

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