Northeast Times

Deadline passes for Holy Family Liddonfield Expansion

Twenty months ago, Holy Fam­ily Uni­versity of­fi­cials pos­ted a six-minute video to You­Tube de­pict­ing a grand vis­ion for the former Lid­don­field pub­lic hous­ing pro­ject. To date, nary a shovel of dirt has been turned on the bar­ren, 33-acre, pub­licly owned tract at Tor­res­dale Av­en­ue and Megar­gee Street.

Yet, the so-called Holy Fam­ily Lid­don­field Ex­pan­sion is not dead, ac­cord­ing to City Coun­cil­man Bobby Hen­on, al­though a June 30 dead­line passed without con­sum­ma­tion of a land sale from the Phil­adelphia Hous­ing Au­thor­ity to a team of private de­velopers led by Ben­s­alem-based BSI Con­struc­tion.

Speak­ing ex­clus­ively with the North­east Times on Monday, Hen­on said a deal is in the works to bring hous­ing for seni­or cit­izens, health-care of­fices and uni­versity ath­let­ic fields to the Lid­don­field site in keep­ing with terms ori­gin­ally out­lined by PHA and ap­proved by res­id­ents of the Up­per Holmes­burg com­munity. In the mean­time, the de­velopers have asked PHA for a 30-day ex­ten­sion to fi­nal­ize the deal.

“I wasn’t go­ing to let this deal fall apart. It’s in­cum­bent upon me to en­sure that the best op­tion for the com­munity is real­ized,” said Hen­on, who de­scribed him­self as an in­ter­me­di­ary among PHA, the de­velopers and Holy Fam­ily. “I am op­tim­ist­ic there is still a bright fu­ture for the Lid­don­field site.”

That fu­ture may look quite dif­fer­ent than the de­velopers’ own ori­gin­al con­cep­tu­al draw­ings, as well as that six-minute video of sim­il­ar three-di­men­sion­al ren­der­ings pos­ted by Holy Fam­ily of­fi­cials to You­Tube 20 months ago. De­velopers first showed the draw­ings pub­licly dur­ing a meet­ing of the Up­per Holmes­burg Civic As­so­ci­ation in early 2012. The civic group voted in fa­vor of the plan, which in­cluded four uni­versity ath­let­ic fields, seni­or cit­izen hous­ing, uni­versity hous­ing and re­tail shops.

With the sup­port of the com­munity and Holy Fam­ily, the de­velopers in Ju­ly 2012 won a bid­ding pro­cess for the right to pur­chase the land from PHA. As part of the con­tract, the de­velopers agreed to pay $4.2 mil­lion to the hous­ing agency, es­tab­lish 20 acres of open space and award more than $1 mil­lion in col­lege schol­ar­ships to PHA res­id­ent-stu­dents. Holy Fam­ily agreed to sup­ply the schol­ar­ships, al­though the uni­versity was nev­er a dir­ect party to the land sale. In ex­change for its con­tri­bu­tion, Holy Fam­ily was to be­ne­fit as the end user of the NCAA-caliber ath­let­ic fields, which also would sat­is­fy the con­tract’s open-space re­quire­ment.

Even as Holy Fam­ily of­fi­cials at­temp­ted to dis­tance the uni­versity from dir­ect as­so­ci­ation with the land sale, someone from the uni­versity pos­ted a video to the “Holy­Fam­ilyAth­let­ics” chan­nel on You­Tube in Novem­ber 2012. The pro­mo­tion­al film fea­tures a title screen identi­fy­ing the pro­ject as the “Holy Fam­ily Uni­versity Lid­don­field Ex­pan­sion.” It high­lights de­tailed sketches of “cam­pus hous­ing,” “as­sisted liv­ing,” a “base­ball sta­di­um,” a “soft­ball sta­di­um,” a soc­cer field and a lacrosse field for the site.

The video fur­ther high­lights ad­di­tion­al uni­versity ex­pan­sion to a prop­erty dir­ectly across Tor­res­dale Av­en­ue from the Lid­don­field site. The former con­struc­tion ma­ter­i­als re­cyc­ling plant is re­portedly owned by prin­cipals in BSI Con­struc­tion. The video out­lines plans for a field house, a stu­dent uni­on, a busi­ness school and an “in­cub­at­or” build­ing there. Asked on Monday for com­ment on the Lid­don­field pro­ject, a BSI rep­res­ent­at­ive re­ferred all ques­tions to Hen­on.

A uni­versity spokes­man on Monday is­sued a pre­pared state­ment re­gard­ing the pro­ject: “Holy Fam­ily Uni­versity has al­ways been an in­de­pend­ent third party. We are cur­rently wait­ing for ne­go­ti­ations to be com­pleted between the Phil­adelphia Hous­ing Au­thor­ity and [the] real es­tate de­veloper. As al­ways, Holy Fam­ily Uni­versity re­mains com­mit­ted to our stu­dents and our neigh­bors, and we ex­pect the out­come of these ne­go­ti­ations will serve the best in­terests of our com­munity.”

It ap­pears as if start-up money has been one is­sue hold­ing up the land trans­fer and con­struc­tion. Last March, Sis­ter Francesca On­ley, then the uni­versity pres­id­ent, told the Times, “The fund­ing has not come forth yet” for the pro­ject. “We do not have fund­ing now. We do need fed­er­al or state fund­ing.”

On­ley said that when de­velopers ap­proached the uni­versity in 2012 to pro­pose the pro­ject, she was told that Holy Fam­ily would not have to provide cash for the land ac­quis­i­tion and that the de­velopers would build the ath­let­ic fields with rev­en­ue from the seni­or cit­izen hous­ing com­pon­ent of the pro­ject.

Hen­on ac­know­ledged that much of the dis­cus­sion since then has con­cerned how much rev­en­ue-gen­er­at­ing hous­ing is needed to off­set the cost of build­ing ath­let­ic fa­cil­it­ies, which may be re­duced in scope from the ori­gin­al plan.

Re­cently, he said, a reput­able com­pany spe­cial­iz­ing in seni­or hous­ing has partnered with the de­velopers. The latest pro­pos­al is to build an un­spe­cified num­ber of single-bed­room apart­ments or con­domin­i­um-style units for in­de­pend­ent liv­ing. There would be a seni­or cen­ter on-site, as well as health care fa­cil­it­ies such as a phar­macy and ther­apy cen­ters. It is un­clear if the res­id­ences would be re­stric­ted to low-in­come seni­ors, but it would have a catch­ment area of sur­round­ing neigh­bor­hoods, Hen­on said.

“There’s a new part­ner that can de­vel­op seni­or hous­ing that fits the needs of the com­munity, the wants of the com­munity and fits the con­di­tions of the [PHA con­tract], so noth­ing has changed drastic­ally.” ••

You can reach at wkenny@bsmphilly.com.

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