Northeast Times

Community grants from SugarHouse will soon increase

After its up­com­ing ex­pan­sion, the casino will give the Penn Treaty Spe­cial Ser­vices Dis­trict $1 mil­lion per year, all of which will be­ne­fit River Wards or­gan­iz­a­tions. Here's a break­down on where all that money has gone so far.

The Sug­ar­House casino has dis­bursed funds to some River Wards com­munit­ies through the Penn Treaty Spe­cial Ser­vices Dis­trict since 2009. FILE PHOTO

It may just be the fa­cil­it­ies at Fishtown Ath­let­ic Club, or the base­ball dia­mond at Het­zell field. Maybe it’s an old ig­nored park that has re­cently bloomed to life, an empty build­ing that has been ren­ov­ated, or new ban­ners hanging in the street de­clar­ing loc­al her­it­age.

But all of these things – at least in Fishtown, East and South Kens­ing­ton, Olde Rich­mond and North­ern Liber­ties – are signs of the work be­ing fin­anced by the Penn Treaty Spe­cial Ser­vices Dis­trict (PTSSD), which dis­trib­utes dona­tions from Sug­ar­House Casino. 

“Every penny goes back to the com­munity,” said Richard Lev­ins, of Fishtown, one of the sev­en board mem­bers tasked with dis­burs­ing funds from the city’s first casino. “Every­body in this neigh­bor­hood should feel that these dol­lars we re­ceive from Sug­ar­House are be­ing giv­en out in a fair and mean­ing­ful way and will con­trib­ute to the over­all qual­ity of life of the com­munity.”

On Oct. 8, Sug­ar­House made its an­nu­al dona­tion of $500,000 to PTSSD. With $500,000 every year since 2010, and a $175,000 grant in 2009, Sug­ar­House has now gran­ted $2.1 mil­lion to PTSSD. After its planned ex­pan­sion, Sug­ar­House will be ob­lig­ated by the com­munity be­ne­fit agree­ment it signed in 2009 to in­crease its an­nu­al dona­tion to $1 mil­lion. That ex­pan­sion is ex­pec­ted to be­gin in the spring of next year.

“We’re ex­cited about really be­ing able to do more,” said Lev­ins, who works as vice pres­id­ent-deputy coun­sel at In­de­pend­ence Blue Cross by day, of the in­crease. “We have been able to fund so many or­gan­iz­a­tions, events and really good pro­grams by vari­ous com­munity groups. But the fund­ing need is still there.”

In gen­er­al, the PTSSD looks to grant money to causes that will im­prove the qual­ity of life in the neigh­bor­hood in a last­ing way, rather than a short-term way, board mem­bers said —board mem­ber Kev­in Kelly, of North­ern Liber­ties, who re­cently re­tired from his day job as a fight­er pi­lot for the U.S. Air Force, ex­plained that PTSSD typ­ic­ally chooses to fund re­quests for gen­er­al op­er­at­ing costs only once.

“With op­er­at­ing costs re­quests, or­gan­iz­a­tions un­der­stand it is a one-time deal. We don’t want to be fund­ing you every year; it’s money to get your feet un­der­neath you,” he said.

However, PTSSD will grant the same or­gan­iz­a­tion sev­er­al grants for dif­fer­ent spe­cif­ic pro­jects or uses. There is no lim­it to the num­ber of grants any one group can re­ceive. There are few lim­it­a­tions on who PTSSD can give the funds to; it’s just a ques­tion of what their board de­cides to do.

Al­most every ma­jor non-profit and re­gistered com­munity or­gan­iz­a­tion with­in the PTSSD’s bound­ar­ies has re­ceived fund­ing from the group.

“A lot of groups have real­ized they’re giv­ing out funds that nobody else has,” said A.J. Thom­son, pres­id­ent of the Friends of Penn Treaty Park, which has re­ceived three grants total­ing $95,000 from PTSSD. 

“We’ve sponsored count­less events, like Shad­fest and the sum­mer con­cert series … we’re giv­ing away 500 pump­kins to kids to­mor­row,” Thom­son said, re­fer­ring to last week­end’s Hal­loween event in Penn Treaty Park. “That’s the kind of stuff we’re able to do now.”

The New Kens­ing­ton Com­munity De­vel­op­ment Cor­por­a­tion re­ceived a $41,492 grant, which will go to­ward re­pair­ing the en­tire ex­ter­i­or and façade of its Frank­ford Av­en­ue of­fices, and a $7,500 spon­sor­ship to sup­port its pro­gram to clean va­cant lots.

“The great thing about the SSD funds is that it goes to neigh­bor­hood groups that have very real needs and in many cases not a lot of op­tions to get the funds needed,” said NK­CDC ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or Sandy Salzmann via email.

The North­ern Liber­ties Neigh­bors As­so­ci­ation re­ceived a $60,000 grant, which went to­ward the renov­a­tion of a build­ing at 3rd and Fair­mount, ad­ja­cent to the North­ern Liber­ties Com­munity Cen­ter. It’s now ren­ted out to a loc­al busi­ness, the North­ern Liber­ties Mail­box Store, which pays rent at an af­ford­able rate to the NLNA. NLNA also re­ceived a $3,000 spon­sor­ship that sup­ports its mu­sic fest­iv­al and oth­er free com­munity events.

“The thing that’s really help­ful and smart about what the Spe­cial Ser­vices Dis­trict does is they like to fund cap­it­al pro­jects,” said NLNA pres­id­ent Matt Ruben. “With the on­go­ing in­come to ourselves and to the busi­ness own­er [of the Mail­box Store], the $60,000 has re­paid it­self already. The mul­ti­pli­er ef­fect is huge.”

Fishtown Ac­tion (FACT) re­ceived a $45,000 grant, which has gone to­ward a pro­ject to hang neigh­bor­hood ban­ners on the streets of Fishtown, as well as to chil­dren’s Hal­loween, East­er and Christ­mas parties, and to fund­ing oth­er com­munity char­it­ies and events, ac­cord­ing to pres­id­ent Mag­gie O’Bri­en.

In ad­di­tion to its own grants, the Friends of Penn Treaty Park se­cured a $50,000 grant from PTSSD that will go to the city to pay for the con­struc­tion of a new play­ground at Penn Treaty Park, Thom­son said.

East Kens­ing­ton Neigh­bors As­so­ci­ation (EKNA) re­ceived a $3,000 spon­sor­ship from PTSSD for the Trenton Av­en­ue Arts Fest­iv­al, ac­cord­ing to former pres­id­ent Jeff Carpin­eta.

The Fishtown Neigh­bors As­so­ci­ation re­ceived a $25,000 grant, $10,000 of which went to the re­cent River City Fest­iv­al, ac­cord­ing to pres­id­ent Kate Mick­low. The oth­er $15,000 is for the FNA’s “Feed your Fish” pub­lic art pro­gram that is de­vel­op­ing designs for new trash­cans in Fishtown. 

The South Kens­ing­ton Com­munity Part­ners (SKCP) re­ceived two grants total­ing $39,000 mdash; the earli­er $14,000 grant it re­ceived was un­der the group’s old name, KSNAC — which has gone to­ward green­ing pro­grams, the va­cant lot man­age­ment ini­ti­at­ive, and oth­er com­munity re­sources, ac­cord­ing to SKCP dir­ect­or Lauren Lynch.

The Kens­ing­ton South Com­munity De­vel­op­ment Cor­por­a­tion re­ceived a $39,700 grant. That group did not re­spond by press time to re­quests for com­ment on how it used the grants.

When asked wheth­er they ever fear run­ning out of groups to fund and or­gan­iz­a­tions to sup­port, all the mem­bers of the board agreed on the an­swer: no, not in these eco­nom­ic times.

But some com­munity mem­bers said they think that PTSSD could pub­li­cize it­self a little more.

“I think they need to com­mu­nic­ate more that this money is avail­able to the com­munity, and that means go­ing out to com­munity groups,” said FACT pres­id­ent Mag­gie O’Bri­en. “I think there are some groups that might not real­ize that they’re eli­gible to get money.”

The Spe­cial Ser­vices Dis­trict is defined as run­ning along the Delaware River from Le­high Av­en­ue to Cal­lowhill Street. The west­ern bor­der goes up 6th Street, along West Gir­ard Ave, up Ger­man­town Av­en­ue, over at Berks Street and along Nor­ris Street to Frank­ford Av­en­ue and then up to Le­high Av­en­ue. Any group or per­son with­in those bor­ders can ap­ply for funds.

“It’s very spe­cif­ic to the dis­trict. If it’s one block over, I’m sorry, but you’re in Old City,” said PTSSD board chair Rick An­geli, of North­ern Liber­ties, who works in tele­vi­sion pro­duc­tion and ad­vert­ising.

The PTSSD is also a trans­par­ent or­gan­iz­a­tion. Any mem­ber of the pub­lic who re­quests to see its books may do so, said PTSSD board mem­ber and treas­urer John Moore, of South Kens­ing­ton.

“We try to be fair. That’s what we’re here for – to spread it around,” said Moore, now re­tired, a former Rohm & Haas em­ploy­ee who worked as a lab man­ager and mech­an­ic. 

As of Feb­ru­ary 2013, PTSSD has gran­ted $1,107,560 to vari­ous com­munity or­gan­iz­a­tions and has dis­trib­uted $49,050 in spon­sor­ships. About 60 com­munity or­gan­iz­a­tions and ini­ti­at­ives have been fun­ded by PTSSD.

One for-profit busi­ness has re­ceived a grant from PTSSD, the Spir­it news­pa­per, which re­ceived a $20,000 grant for new com­puters for its Fishtown of­fice. At the time, Kelly said the board was al­ways will­ing to work with a private busi­ness in an ex­traneous cir­cum­stance if – as in the case of the Spir­it – the board felt there was enough of a com­munity be­ne­fit in­volved.

A grant was con­sidered for Finnigan’s Wake bar in North­ern Liber­ties, but was not giv­en.

Schools, like St. Lauren­ti­us in Fishtown, have also re­ceived grant money.

“I don’t know if we will ever give a grant to a [for-profit] again. It’s hard to say nev­er, but I don’t know if we ever will,” Lev­ins said. “We’re really fo­cused on the 501c(3) non-profits. There’s cer­tainly enough of them around.”

The com­munity be­ne­fit agree­ment that Sug­ar­House signed in 2009, after ne­go­ti­ations by FACT and NK­CDC, ex­pires after 15 years, in 2024, and will be re-ne­go­ti­ated. The dona­tions could con­tin­ue or change at that point. 

To learn more about PTSSD or to ap­ply for a grant, vis­it www.pen­ntreatyssd.com.

You can reach at snewhouse@bsmphilly.com.

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