The Philadelphia Housing Authority has endorsed a plan to redevelop the former Liddonfield Homes public housing complex in Upper Holmesburg into a new campus for Holy Family University.
Under terms disclosed at PHA’s board meeting on Friday, the housing agency would sell the now-vacant 32-acre tract at Torresdale Avenue and Megargee Street to a joint venture comprised of the university and three development firms led by Bensalem-based BSI Construction.
The joint venture would pay $4.2 million to PHA for the land. In addition, Holy Family University would give $1.04 million in scholarship funding over 10 years to 40 PHA-resident students, while $550,000 of development costs would “be used in connection with Section 3 opportunities,” according to a resolution adopted by PHA Commissioner Estelle Richman, acting as the lone member of PHA’s board.
Section 3 is a federal Housing and Urban Development program by which public housing residents and qualifying businesses are awarded contract work on certain HUD-assisted projects.
“We’re hoping that neighborhood, that section, can be transformed,” said BSI co-owner John Parsons, who compared the project to those completed or under construction at other universities in the city, including Temple, Drexel and Penn.
The “Holy Family Plan,” as it has become known, includes athletic fields and parking on most of the ground, along with retail and university residences along Torresdale Avenue and a 64-unit housing complex for low-income seniors along Cottage Street.
“It’s a game-changer for Northeast Philadelphia and it’s a game-changer for PHA and its residents to provide opportunities for the future,” said City Councilman Bobby Henon, who testified during the board meeting.
“I would say congratulations to the people in the Upper Holmesburg area,” said Sister Francesca Onley, president of Holy Family University. “The government responded to our needs. And congratulations to those who will be the beneficiaries of the PHA scholarships. That’s really what it’s all about.”
A formal agreement of sale is pending, but PHA interim executive director Kelvin A. Jeremiah said the parties will meet as early as Monday to finalize the terms.
“We will move with all deliberate speed to get it done. This provides us with the basis to start talking,” Jeremiah said.
Friday’s PHA board endorsement enabled formal negotiations to begin.
Richman’s action brought to an end months of speculation and concern by the site’s neighbors about who would be given the opportunity to buy it and what the buyer intended to build there.
PHA demolished the former apartment complex in 2010 with the help of federal and state funding. Last year, the housing agency issued a request for proposals from potential buyers, allowing the agency, elected officials and the community to assess interest in and possibilities for the property.
About 20 potential bidders showed interest in the site, sources have said, but only four proposals were submitted formally by the Jan. 7 deadline. Two leading proposals emerged from the pack, according to a source familiar with the process.
In addition to the Holy Family/BSI plan, a plan by Plymouth Meeting-based developer Roizman Development Inc. received serious consideration from PHA.
Roizman proposed to build low-income housing on about 12 acres, leaving the remaining 20 acres for other unspecified development. Company owner Israel Roizman did not respond to a request for comment on Friday’s PHA resolution.
Neighbors largely opposed new low-income housing, fearing it would attract many of the same problems long associated with the old Liddonfield project, including crime, blight and declining local property values.
Meanwhile, community leaders and elected officials view the Holy Family Plan as a potential catalyst for economic redevelopment of the neighborhood.
“The economic impact over the next twenty years is amazing,” said Stan Cywinski, president of the Upper Holmesburg Civic Association, which endorsed the Holy Family/BSI proposal in January.
Cywinski prepared an economic-impact study of the plan, taking city wage taxes, property taxes, sales taxes and other factors into consideration during development phases and future operation of the campus.
“With low-income housing, the revenue for the city is minimal compared to a commercial establishment like a university,” Cywinski said. ••
Reporter William Kenny can be reached at 215-354-3031 or firstname.lastname@example.org