Northeast Philadelphia is more than a bedroom community for the municipal workforce. According to the leader of the city’s police union, the Northeast is also the primary barracks for active and retired city cops.
Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5 President John McNesby says that 68 percent of the union’s 14,400 members live in the Greater Northeast. And the union local continues to grow due to the police department’s steady cycle of retirements and hiring. County sheriffs also belong to the FOP.
Last week, Lodge 5 opened a new union headquarters in the Northeast to meet the needs of that centralized and growing membership. The 50,000-square-foot facility on Caroline Road near Northeast Airport is a new business office, social hall and catering facility that FOP leaders expect will promote greater participation in union activities among members while generating more revenue than the former headquarters at 13th and Spring Garden streets did.
“The FOP members deserved better,” McNesby told the Northeast Times last Wednesday during a members-only open house of the facility. “A lot of our members live up here. This is a better way to serve them.”
The new union hall is bigger, brighter and more versatile than the old hall, union leaders said. Lodge 5 invested about $7.5 million to renovate a warehouse on a commercial campus formerly occupied by the Internal Revenue Service.
The building is one of six on the 24-acre tract that the IRS leased from private owners for decades. In late 2010, the federal agency moved its operations and more than 5,000 employees to the former U.S. Post Office at 30th and Market streets. The tract borders Roosevelt Boulevard to the northwest, a Pepsi bottling plant to the northeast, Caroline Road to the southeast and additional business properties to the southwest.
The FOP bought the building as well as 3.5 acres that surround it last April. According to city tax records, the sale price was just over $2 million. The IRS used it primarily to house its computer systems.
“We came in and tore it down to bare walls,” McNesby said.
INREVCO Associates, a Long Island-based limited partnership led by publicly traded Cedar Shopping Centers Inc., owns the remaining 20-plus acres of the former IRS tract, according to property tax records. City Councilman Brian O’Neill and the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation both oppose a retail shopping center as a future use of the site, noting that other types of commercial use such as corporate offices or warehouse/distribution centers usually generate more family-sustaining jobs than retail stores do.
As a former owner and the original developer of the property, PIDC enacted a deed restriction on the site to limit retail development and other undesired uses.
The FOP project encountered no such opposition. According to McNesby, the new hall will generate 60 new jobs, some full-time and others part-time, including kitchen and bar staff, servers, security guards and even parking valets.
The ballroom can accommodate up to 400 guests and features a full-service bar, cherry wood trim and wrought iron fixtures, including 29 chandeliers.
“It’s modern and elegant,” said Bob Ballentine, the police union’s recording secretary.
“The bookings for weddings are going off the hook,” McNesby said.
A conference room seats about 150 and has more of a business-like setting suitable for smaller banquets, corporate affairs or training seminars. It’s equipped with modern audio/visual technology.
According to McNesby, the union had booked 28 weddings and 61 smaller affairs in advance of the ceremonial grand opening last Thursday.
The building will serve the union’s own day-to-day activities well, too. The main bar and restaurant have a spacious nightclub feel with a towering ceiling, clean modern styling and about a dozen widescreen TVs. FOP members and their invited guests may come and go freely. The union will also offer associate memberships for a fee.
About half of union members are retired, according to McNesby.
Elsewhere under the same roof, rank-and-file members can use a state-of-the-art fitness center for cardio and strength training. The union’s Law Enforcement Health Benefits program sponsored the fitness room.
“It’s all part of wellness, keeping people healthy. It’s all preventative,” Ballentine said.
The business office is more comfortable, too, union leaders said, although there are no plans to expand the staffing. The lobby features a shop that sells police duty wear and FOP-themed casual wear. A memorial display case holds the photos of the police department’s slain officers up to and including Officer Moses Walker Jr., who was shot and killed by robbers on a North Philly street last August.
Despite the grandiose amenities, the facility won’t jeopardize the union’s finances, regardless of the level of interest among members and the public.
“Whether we open one drink or run one affair, this is sustainable on dues alone,” McNesby said. ••
Reporter William Kenny can be reached at 215-354-3031 or firstname.lastname@example.org