A 'game-changer' for old Liddonfield site

"This is prob­ably the most im­port­ant de­vel­op­ment that this com­munity will see in the next cen­tury." — Stan Cy­w­in­ski, pres­id­ent of the Up­per Holmes­burg Civic As­so­ci­ation

Holy Fam­ily Pres­id­ent Sis­ter Francesca On­ley an­nounces that the former 32-acre Lid­don­field pub­lic hous­ing site will be de­veloped in­to a satal­lite cam­pus for the uni­versity, Monday, Ju­ly 23, 2012, Phil­adelphia, Pa. (Maria Pouch­nikova)


What would it mean to have a new, $100 mil­lion Holy Fam­ily Uni­versity cam­pus on the former site of the Lid­don­field Homes pub­lic hous­ing de­vel­op­ment?

It de­pends on whom you ask.

For the uni­versity, it would mean an op­por­tun­ity to al­most double its foot­print in North­east Philly and grow its en­roll­ment by as many as 2,000 stu­dents.

For the Phil­adelphia Hous­ing Au­thor­ity, which owns the 32-acre par­cel, the pending sale and de­vel­op­ment of the land would mean new em­ploy­ment and edu­ca­tion­al op­por­tun­it­ies for many of the agency’s low-in­come res­id­ents.

And for the Up­per Holmes­burg com­munity that sur­rounds the site, the pro­ject could mean re­birth and re­vital­iz­a­tion.

“This is prob­ably the most im­port­ant de­vel­op­ment that this com­munity will see in the next cen­tury,” said Stan Cy­w­in­ski, pres­id­ent of the Up­per Holmes­burg Civic As­so­ci­ation. “This will be the cata­lyst that will put Tor­res­dale Av­en­ue back on the map.”

Al­though terms of the sale were in­cluded in a res­ol­u­tion ap­proved by PHA Com­mis­sion­er Es­telle Rich­man on Fri­day, the parties have yet to sign a form­al agree­ment.

In ad­di­tion, it could take at least six months for zon­ing and en­vir­on­ment­al ap­provals be­fore con­struc­tion could be­gin.

Yet, en­thu­si­asm knew no bounds dur­ing an on-site news con­fer­ence hos­ted by City Coun­cil­man Bobby Hen­on on Monday to an­nounce that PHA had, in­deed, se­lec­ted the “Holy Fam­ily Plan” from among four com­pet­ing bids.

“It will be a game-changer for North­east Phil­adelphia and will lead to more de­vel­op­ment in this re­gion,” Hen­on pre­dicted.

U.S. Reps. Bob Brady and Allyson Schwartz, State Sen. Mike Stack and State Rep. Mike McGee­han also were on hand to show their sup­port for the pro­ject.

“This is a site that has been wait­ing for an an­swer for a while, and the com­munity has been wait­ing for the right an­swer,” Schwartz said.

Brady said he favored giv­ing res­id­ents more say over what is built in their neigh­bor­hoods.

ldquo;You’re not sup­posed to put something in a neigh­bor­hood that neigh­bors don’t want,” he said.

After dec­ades of liv­ing in the shad­ow of Lid­don­field, Up­per Holmes­burg res­id­ents were cer­tain they didn’t want new pub­lic hous­ing on the site.

Built in the 1950s as a mil­it­ary bar­racks, the de­vel­op­ment be­came a pub­lic hous­ing com­plex where low-in­come fam­il­ies lived in more than 400 apart­ments. Over time, the site de­veloped a repu­ta­tion as a mag­net for crime and blight. Folks con­sidered it an eye­sore and blamed it for a de­cline of the sur­round­ing neigh­bor­hood.

PHA gradu­ally phased out the site, and in 2010 de­mol­ished it. Today, much of the par­cel looks like a park and bears little re­semb­lance to its former in­carn­a­tion.

Tor­res­dale Av­en­ue, Megar­gee Street and Cot­tage Street bor­der the tract, as do the rear yards of dozens of Tol­but Street rowhomes. View­ing it from Tor­res­dale Av­en­ue, the rect­an­gu­lar site is about three blocks across and six blocks deep.

Dozens of ma­ture shade trees, ever­greens and shrubs oc­cupy its un­du­lat­ing, patchy mead­ows. A five-foot-high chain-link fence sur­rounds the grounds to dis­cour­age would-be tres­pass­ers. Two paved drive­ways carve in­to the green space, but lead nowhere.

The el­ev­a­tion peaks along Tor­res­dale Av­en­ue, slop­ing gently down­ward for sev­er­al blocks to­ward the in­teri­or. Even­tu­ally, the ground rises again un­til it crests along Cot­tage Street.

Last year, the agency wel­comed pro­spect­ive de­velopers to bid on the site through a re­quest for pro­pos­als. That pro­cess cul­min­ated on Fri­day when PHA’s  Rich­man au­thor­ized ne­go­ti­ations with a con­sor­ti­um that in­cludes Holy Fam­ily and sev­er­al de­vel­op­ment firms headed by BSI Con­struc­tion of Ben­s­alem.

The de­vel­op­ment group ex­pects to pay $4.2 mil­lion for the site. In ad­di­tion, the uni­versity will award $1.04 mil­lion in tu­ition grants to 40 PHA res­id­ent stu­dents over 10 years. Fur­ther, the de­velopers will hire PHA res­id­ents and con­tract­ors with ties to low-in­come com­munit­ies to per­form much of the work.

The col­lege schol­ar­ships were a unique and cru­cial com­pon­ent of the Holy Fam­ily/BSI pro­pos­al from the out­set, said Kelvin A. Jeremi­ah, PHA’s in­ter­im ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or.

“It was part of their ori­gin­al pro­pos­al,” Jeremi­ah said. “They wanted to show how PHA res­id­ents could be­ne­fit from this use.”

De­tailed plans are pending. But ac­cord­ing to the de­velopers, the concept re­mains the same as ini­tially sub­mit­ted to PHA in Janu­ary. The work could cost more than $100 mil­lion. The de­velopers ex­pect to fund the pro­ject, al­though they have not ruled out seek­ing gov­ern­ment as­sist­ance, said BSI Pres­id­ent John Par­sons.

Draw­ings show three rect­an­gu­lar, multi-story build­ings along Tor­res­dale Av­en­ue that will ac­com­mod­ate street-level re­tail stores. Hous­ing for stu­dents and fac­ulty are on the up­per floors. The build­ings will be at least three stor­ies, maybe four, Par­sons said. Park­ing will be in the rear. The build­ings and park­ing lots will cov­er about six acres.

Af­ford­able seni­or hous­ing will oc­cupy six acres of the land at the op­pos­ite end of the prop­erty along Cot­tage Street. The plans show two “T” shaped build­ings, each with three stor­ies and 23,000 square feet per floor. Ac­cord­ing to Par­sons, there will be 64 hous­ing units, ran­ging from 600 to 1,110 square feet apiece.

The plan is for Holy Fam­ily to part­ner with Holy Re­deem­er Health Sys­tem to provide as­sisted-liv­ing care to res­id­ents there.

The uni­versity’s ath­let­ic fa­cil­it­ies will cov­er the re­main­ing 20 acres and in­clude a base­ball field and soft­ball field — each with lock­er rooms and spec­tat­or fa­cil­it­ies — as well as two multi-use fields suit­able for soc­cer, field hockey and lacrosse. Lots for sports-ven­ue park­ing will be con­figured along Megar­gee Street. Land­scaped walk­ing paths will wind around the play­ing fields and fea­ture a mark­er hon­or­ing the former res­id­ents of Lid­don­field.

The de­velopers are pre­pared to start con­struc­tion as soon as a sale is fi­nal­ized and per­mits are in hand, Par­sons said. They’ll build the ath­let­ic fa­cil­it­ies first, then the seni­or hous­ing and lastly the re­tail/uni­versity hous­ing com­pon­ents.

“We’d like to be com­plete with­in three to four years,” Par­sons said.

Con­struc­tion would gen­er­ate sev­er­al hun­dred jobs, ac­cord­ing to the de­veloper. Once the site is in op­er­a­tion, it could mean dozens more per­man­ent jobs through Holy Fam­ily Uni­versity.

Holy Fam­ily is a private lib­er­al arts in­sti­tu­tion foun­ded in 1954 by the Sis­ters of the Holy Fam­ily of Naz­areth. Its 40-acre main cam­pus is at Frank­ford and Grant av­en­ues, about 1.5 miles from the Lid­don­field site.

The in­sti­tu­tion has seen its greatest growth dur­ing the ten­ure of Sis­ter Francesca On­ley, who be­came its pres­id­ent in 1981. At the time, en­roll­ment was 500. Now it’s about 3,200, in­clud­ing un­der­gradu­ate and gradu­ate stu­dents and two satel­lite cam­puses in Bucks County.

In 2002, the school earned uni­versity status. It has al­ways been primar­ily a com­muter school, al­though in re­cent years it has been trend­ing to­ward more on-cam­pus hous­ing. There were 266 stu­dents liv­ing on cam­pus last semester, about 84 short of ca­pa­city.

Many more stu­dents rent apart­ments near cam­pus, al­though the uni­versity does not dif­fer­en­ti­ate those stu­dents from true com­muters.

The pre­lim­in­ary plans do not spe­cify how many stu­dent res­id­ence units will be built on the Lid­don­field site. But with hous­ing and ath­let­ic fa­cil­it­ies there, more of the main cam­pus could be ded­ic­ated to aca­dem­ic and ad­min­is­trat­ive uses.

“We’re not go­ing to aban­don the main cam­pus, the core of the uni­versity,” On­ley said. “But it does not mean we can’t ex­pand.”

The uni­versity pres­id­ent hopes to grow the in­sti­tu­tion to 5,000 stu­dents and build a new busi­ness school on the main cam­pus, which would free up classrooms for oth­er aca­dem­ic pro­grams.

“I think the pro­ject we’re go­ing to see is go­ing to es­tab­lish the fu­ture for this neigh­bor­hood and for the uni­versity,” On­ley said. ••


You can reach at wkenny@bsmphilly.com.

comments powered by Disqus