Archive for the ‘LISC’ Category

Upgrades on “The Strip”: Persistence and collaboration behind the scenes bring changes to 52nd Street

December 14, 2012

Can a commercial corridor get a facial? Maybe not, but 52nd Street, also known as “The Strip” and the “Main Street of West Philadelphia,” does look like it just returned from a long awaited appointment at the beauty salon.

Facade on 52nd

The corridor recently received major cosmetic improvements that make the district more inviting. A total of 24 stores enjoy new façades and storefronts, complete with colorful fabric awnings and improved security gates installed behind storefront windows. Over the past few years, the Philadelphia Commerce Department has really championed 52nd Street, encouraging collaboration among a diverse set of stakeholders that led to the recent changes.

The new façades are a welcome and hopeful sign of improvement on a corridor that’s been struggling for years. Neighbors and customers have retreated from 52nd Street over the last few decades as it became renowned with drug dealing. Whether the safety concerns are real or perceived, the area suffers from a lot of leakage – neighbors are finding what they need and spending their money elsewhere.

A number of other issues have impeded progress. Thanks to the intentional and collaborative work to address these deeper problems, 52nd Street may yet experience the renaissance everyone’s been hoping for.

Building A Strong Organization to Champion Development

Without a Community Development Corporation (CDC), 52nd Street could not contract with the City’s Commerce Department to perform corridor improvement and maintenance work. LISC has supported the efforts by the Commerce Department, The Enterprise Center, and the Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians to finally get the 52nd Street CDC up and running in 2012.

LISC and its partners worked to help the up-and-coming CDC develop and position itself to implement the economic development plan written by the City. “The [52nd Street] CDC was created to drive that plan forward, but we want to build their ability to be more effective as an agent of change on the corridor,” explained Jamie Gauthier, a Program Officer for LISC.

The Corridors of Retail Excellence (CORE) program, a national initiative of LISC’s funded by PNC, has supported the organizational development work of the 52nd Street CDC. The CORE program also helps selected corridors analyze market data, identify issues and opportunities, and drive projects that can be catalysts for successful corridor revitalization.

Thankfully, last spring, the 52nd Street CDC came to an agreement with the Commerce Department around storefront improvements. Commerce made special allowance to help business owners on 52nd street afford façade renovations. Business owners only had to come up with 10% of the cost, instead of a 50% match as required to participate in the standard Storefront Improvement Program (SIP). This attracted more buy-in from merchants, and in five short months, 24 stores would enjoy new facades.

Strengthening Unity through Respect for Differences

Disagreements between street vendors and storefront business owners have also slowed progress, as well as conflicts between leaders vying for input and recognition. But recently, thanks to efforts of local business owners like Art Williams, businesses and vendors are working more closely together, in spite of their differences.

Williams remembers his own turning point. One night over a year ago, another community leader pulled him into a meeting. Williams was not in favor of having street vendors, at least not in a way that detracted from overall business on the corridor. And he openly spoke up.

An immigrant street vendor stood up to respond. “Look, I’m out here every day because I have to feed my family. I have a little girl I have to feed.”

Williams was taken aback. “I have a little girl, so it was easy to put myself in his shoes,” Williams said. “That changed my perspective on the idea of having vendors on the corridor.”

After that night, Williams became a mediator who worked to foster dialogue between vendors and owners, and between African American and immigrant merchants. He understood that change was only going to happen with hard work and collaboration. He didn’t want progress to leave anybody behind.

“Art Williams has been able to bring together so many different business owners from different backgrounds,” explained Karolyn Chamberlin of The Enterprise Center and formerly of the Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians. “52nd Street has a majority of immigrant business owners… [Williams] has been able to bring people together in a way that hasn’t happened before, to my knowledge.”

facade 52nd

Williams played a key role in mobilizing and uniting the people on 52nd Street around the storefront and façade improvement work with the Commerce Department. In addition, his construction company contracted with the City to complete the renovations in just 5 months.

According to Chamberlin and others, progress would have been much slower and more difficult without the Williams’ organizing efforts. “I’ve worked really closely with 52nd Street for a long time, and I do find Art Williams to be someone who has succeeded in moving things forward in a lot of ways that other neighborhoods haven’t been able to,” Chamberlin said.

Strengthening Business Leadership

Businesses on the corridor have also lacked the capacity to drive changes on 52nd Street. Throughout 2012, LISC supported the SCI-West Corridors Connect program, linking business association leaders from commercial corridors in West Philadelphia to training and assistance to help strengthen their organizations and bring new businesses and customers to their corridors.

Leaders from 52nd Street, including Williams, participated in the process, bringing back valuable information to inform their work. The street’s primary business association, the 52nd Street Business Development Corporation (or BDC) is now more equipped to fulfill its mission: beautify the corridor, attract a more diverse mix of businesses, reverse the perception of 52nd street as being unsafe, decrease blight, improve relations with street vendors, and promote the corridor as a whole.

After all, 52nd street is only making a dent in the market it has – it could be a regional corridor, said Gauthier. “It is a corridor that has huge potential in terms of its market, and this work will help it to get there.”

Championing the Whole Commercial Corridor

For all of the effort put forward by institutions and agencies at the city level, ultimately you need people who understand the context on the ground, who relentlessly bring people together, and who have a stake in making change happen. And you need organizations like the 52nd Street BDC and CDC who can own projects and push them along.

station diner

“The façade work is an actual intervention. It signals new life. It’s exciting to see things actually changing,” said Gauthier, “but imagine once these organizations get stronger, and they are a steady presence and can act as stewards for 52nd street and can connect with the community and focus on a number of different efforts. Then even more can happen – with respect to business attraction, safety, beautification.” This is what LISC’s commercial corridor work is all about: empowering the business leaders and organizations to move revitalization efforts forward.

As for the businesses old and new, it ultimately comes down to increasing sales and revenue by attracting more customers. But to do that, everyone has to work together to improve the whole district. Thankfully, business leaders like Williams have learned this lesson. “In the future, we are looking at promoting the corridor as a whole,” he said, “instead of just our individual businesses.”

Corridors Connect Focus Group Dinner

March 16, 2012

Corridors Connect will build the capacity of Business Associations across West Philadelphia commercial corridors through training and technical assistance over the next nine months. Business owners and community leaders from six different commercial corridors gathered last night to begin building connections and make recommendations to shape the program. Here are some photos of the event!

Corridors connect is a collaboration led by The Enterprise Center with partnership of SCI West, Philadelphia LISC, the Partnership CDC, People’s Emergency Center, University City District, the Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians, the Philadelphia Commerce Department, and the Drexel University Center for Social Policy.

The New Corridors Connect Program to build business leadership along West Philly corridors

March 8, 2012

SCI-West is pleased to announce a new program called Corridors Connect that will help build and grow business leadership by strengthening Business Associations along selected commercial corridors.

The Corridors Connect Program, led by The Enterprise Center, will incorporate hands-on support for individual business leadership and a classroom Certificate from our partner, Drexel University. We believe that this effort will lead to important connections and collaborative projects that will increase traffic and sales along West Philadelphia corridors.

Corridors Connect is a collaborative effort among a great group of SCI-West partners: Philadelphia LISC (Local Initiatives Support Corporation), The Enterprise Center, Drexel University Center for Public Policy, Partnership CDC, People’s Emergency Center CDC, University City District, the Philadelphia Commerce Department and the Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians.

The collaborative is currently finalizing the design of the program and will be holding a focus group dinner at Drexel University on March 15th in order to incorporate the essential input of business leaders and corridor managers into the implementation of this Program.

New lighting marks beginning of 46th and Market Street Transit Hub Collaboration

March 8, 2012

An Update on the SCI-West Clean & Safe Project

Philadelphia LISC, the national LISC Community Safety Initiative, and the SCI-West partner organizations are working on a project led by UCD that aims to reduce crime through the creation of partnerships between West Philadelphia CDCs and police districts.

In February, UCD completed the installation of the pedestrian-level street lights near one of West Philadelphia’s major transit hubs: 46th and Market Streets, part of SCI West’s comprehensive Community Safety Initiative.

After participating in a LISC Crime Prevention through Environmental Design (CPTED) training, SCI West partners worked to develop strategies to mitigate crime and opportunities for crime around the target area’s two major transit hubs at 40th and 46th and Market. Following this training, UCD completed a lighting study and hired a consultant to craft a plan for an improved lighting strategy for the 46th and Market area. Moving forward with implementing this lighting plan, UCD will also begin installation of residential porch lights near the hub this week.

SCI West aims to expand these small but significant improvements into a broader 46th and Market Transit Hub Collaboration that would work for further improvements (from landscaping and signage to more intense improvements like real estate development and retail attraction).

SCI-West Philadelphia Gateway

June 11, 2010

The United Bank of Philadelphia’s parking lot was full of people attending the West Philadelphia Gateway Green Wall Dedication on June 10, 2010.

West Philadelphia Gateway Green Wall Dedication

June 4, 2010

You’re Invited to the West Philadelphia Gateway Green Wall Dedication.

RE:flect a Sculpture by JEFRE

June 10, 2010 from 4-6pm at United Bank of Philadelphia located at 38th Street and Powelton Avenue.

Please join Mural Arts, Sustainable Communities Initiative West (Enterprise CDC, Partnership CDC, People’s Emergency Center CDC, Local Initiative Support Coalition, and University City District) and United Bank of Philadelphia for a dedication and reception to celebrate the completion of the first “green wall” sculpture of its kind in Philadelphia. Reception/Open House with jazz to follow.

Henry C. Lea Healthy Post – Read It Here!

May 6, 2010

Download the April 2010 Edition of the Henry C. Lea Healthy Post.

The Henry C. Lea Healthy Post is a publication of the Henry C. Lea Elementary School in West Philadelphia. The Post is a project of the Penn Center for Public Health Initiatives and SCI-West. The publication is  produced by students staff members. Other partners include the Enterprise Center CDC, Barbara and Edward Netter Center for Community Partnerships, The Agatston Urban Nutrition Initiative and he People’s Emergency Center.

The Partnership CDC’s New Greenhouse

May 3, 2010

The Partnership CDC’s Green Professional Training Initiative is underway! As part of the program, The Partnership  built a greenhouse in their backyard. The greenhouse allows the program to grow sedum for green roofs locally. Additionally it provides an educational venue for the students to learn about plant selection, plant biology, and plant care.

The training initiative is part of the Green and Healthy Neighborhood program and through partnerships with The Urban Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, Drexel University, PhilaPOSH and BioNeighbors Sustainable Homes, and NAC.

If you would like more information about Green Professional Training Initiative, then please call Alix Howard at (215) 662-1612 x 22.

PEC Video

August 21, 2009

Short video about SCI-West partner, PEC. Video: Yanik Ruiz-Ramon, LISC.

The Partnership CDC Video

August 18, 2009

Short video about SCI-West partner, The Partnership CDC. Video: Yanik Ruiz-Ramon, LISC.


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