Category Archives: Development

Fairmount Park Conservancy Breaks Ground on Centennial Commons Project

By Michael Burch


Last month there was a special ceremony held on Parkside Avenue in Fairmount Park. It was the groundbreaking program to formally recognize the start of construction on Phase 1 of the Centennial Commons project. This venture is a major initiative of the Fairmount Park Conservancy.  This project is designed to create a more welcoming public space along Parkside Avenue from 41st and Parkside to Belmont Avenue.

If you are a regular reader of the Parkside Journal, then you may be somewhat familiar with the project for we have often written about its planned start. The new layout designed by Studio Bryan Hanes will include innovative play spaces for kids and young people, seating areas, a rain garden, and better access for Parkside residents to nearby cultural institutions. The groundbreaking took place on April 20th and is considered the physical start of the project. The expected completion time will be the Fall of 2017.

Centennial Commons is part of the national Reimagining the Civic Commons initiative, which seeks to counter growing economic and social fragmentation in our cities by revitalizing and connecting parks, libraries, community centers and other public spaces. In 2015, Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park Conservancy and local partners embarked on a three-year, $11 million pilot project of Reimagining the Civic Commons, supported by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the William Penn Foundation. The project has since added additional partners and expanded to four other cities. The work that has begun is only Phase 1 of the Centennial Commons project, called “Parkside Neighborhood Edge.” This work will make it easier for pedestrians to cross Parkside Avenue, where they will be able to rest on new bench swings and benches or stroll among new ornamental plantings and trees – including 68 new shade trees and over 42 species of perennials, grasses, and shrubs covering 67,000 square feet.

“Centennial Commons is an outstanding example of what happens when our public agencies work together to bring innovative projects to our Parks and Recreation facilities,” said Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney. “I want to thank the leadership at Parks and Recreation, Water Department, Streets Department, and Commerce Department for sharing my vision for a cleaner, greener city for all Philadelphia residents. I also want to thank Fairmount Park Conservancy, John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, and William Penn Foundation for their leadership on the Centennial Commons project.”

After speaking to the larger audience gathered the Mayor found the time to stop and talk to us and answer a few questions. I asked him what his thoughts were on the Parkside community and how this new park will enhance the neighborhood.

“I see Parkside as a jewel that’s in need of a little bit of polishing” said Mayor Kenney. “The Parks and Rec people have done a good job maintaining but they we were in need of an infusion of outside resources. Every neighborhood in our city should have amenities like this, a place where our elderly, can come and relax and where our children can enjoy recreational activities.”

Mayor Kenney continued to elaborate on other related issues such as how funds from project rebuild will help fund Parks, libraries and recreation centers around the city. Many local residents were on hand for this event. This was a big deal in Parkside. Residents are pleased to see the improvements to the park but many are uncertain as to what it means to their futures. Updates to the park system in Parkside is wonderful but just across the street is the Parkside community. A community that has suffered through years of disinvestment. It remains to be seen how this new park will positively affect the people that live here. One resident asked me at the event “what does this mean for me, I don’t use the park and I still don’t have a laundromat around the corner.”

Joyce Smith from Viola Street Residents Association and Centennial Development Corporation had a speaking role at the ceremony and represents the community on many issues.

Joyce Smith knows the improvements are going to make the park more user friendly, but she also hopes this will lead to greater investment in the part of the community where the residents live and not lead to the removal of current residents. Longtime residents Joe Clark and Harmon Thurman also have fond memories of the Park and both are concerned about the community’s future. These longtime residents have been the stewards of this community and the park for many years. Let’s work together to bring about a bright future for Parkside.




Centennial Park CDC Awarded $10,000 by U.S. Energy Dept, Selected to Participate in National Solar Competition

Recently, Centennial Parkside CDC announced that it was selected from an early set of applicants to participate in the U.S. Department of Energy SunShot Initiative’s Solar in Your Community Challenge, a $5 million prize competition aimed to expand solar electricity access.

Awarded $10,000 in technical assistance, Centennial Parkside CDC will use this money over the next 18 months to develop innovative solar projects that enable the Parkside neighborhood in Philadelphia to go solar. “We are thrilled that our team was selected to join the Challenge,” said Christopher Scott, President of Centennial Parkside CDC. “Our project will benefit the people of Parkside, and demonstrate an innovative new business model that can scale city and statewide. ”Centennial Parkside CDC will join dozens of other teams from around the country in their pursuit of solar projects and programs that expand solar access to low and moderate income households and non-profit organizations.

All teams will compete for $1 million in final prizes which will be awarded by judges based on each project or program’s innovation, impact, and replicability. The CDC will develop 1,250kW of solar to sell energy to the local cultural institutions. The power will benefit both the cultural institutions and the revenue derived from selling the power will be recycled back into community to support programs and services that benefit residents of Parkside. This will be the first such project of its kind and scale in the city Philadelphia.

About the Solar in Your Community Challenge

The Solar in Your Community Challenge, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy SunShot Initiative and administered by SUNY Polytechnic Institute, is a $5 million prize competition that aims to expand solar access to low and moderate income households; and state, local, and tribal governments; and non-profit organizations.

The application deadline to be considered as team or expert for the challenge was March 17, 2017. More information about the selected teams and the Solar in Your Community Challenge is at

About the SunShot Initiative

The U.S. Department of Energy SunShot Initiative is a national effort to drive down the cost of solar electricity and support solar adoption. SunShot aims to make solar energy a low cost electricity source for all Americans through research and development efforts in collaboration with public and private partners. Learn more at


Viola Alley Connector Project — UPDATE

by Michael Burch

In our last Parkside Journal, we reported that the Viola Street Resident’s Association (VSRA) was among several finalists in Philadelphia, for the Knight Foundation Cities Grant. Their plan was to transform a little used alley in their neighborhood and turn it into a community focal point. Well, as we reported they did not receive the grant and future plans for this space were put on hold. That is until recently. The idea was such a good one that a variation of the plan has been picked up by other interested parties.

Now spearheaded by our own Centennial Park CDC & Viola Street Residents Association (VRSA) a unique partnership has formed between Penn Praxis, Bartram Gardens, The Fairmount Park Conservancy, The Free Library, Reading Terminal, and Philadelphia Horticultural Society. With funding from the Knight Foundation they have come together to bring us: “The Viola Alley Connector Project. The Connector project seeks to a create a place where residents and others can gather, share stories, share food, watch movies and reconnect as a community. The First session in the Viola Alley Connector series is planned for September 24, 2016 from 11am. – 4pm. For more information go to the Centennial Park CDC Website at

New Dorm Plan to Force Out Seniors on Monument Road

by Manuel McDonnell Smith

This spring, residents of Overmont House received an unexpected notice from the managers of their beloved apartment building. That it was time for each and every one of the nearly 220 residents to move out.
The buildings’ owners, the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine (PCOM) have decided to transform the red brick building on Monument Road, located next to the Channel 6 studios from low-cost senior housing into apartments for students at the school.

For 40 years, Overmont House, originally constructed and built with the use of Federal Housing Finance Funding has provided subsidized and “Section 8” housing for seniors aged 62 and older. Part of the building’s appeal for longtime residents, who are now being forced to move, is that it Overmont is located in a relatively quiet section of West Philadelphia that also provides convenient, walkable access to two shopping centers and multiple bus routes.

“Medical students have a very heavy workload and the school’s leadership determined that having housing on campus would save students travel time and allow more time for study.” said Larry Miller, spokesman for the Overmont Relocation Office. Plans for the buildings’ renovation are not yet complete explained Miller, who said that the school is still reviewing proposals for reconstruction at this time,” but added “Ideally, PCOM would like to open the new building approximately 18 months after Overmont House closes.”

A wide view of Overmont House
A wide view of Overmont House

Officials at PCOM, sensitive to the nature of the building’s mostly senior and disabled population have been working to ease the transition for residents. Since the announcement, “relocation specialists” have been on hand to help residents select their next places to live. “Only a few have moved out so far”, says Miller.

The deadline for all residents to vacate the building has been set for April 30, 2017, but through the relocation office program will have the opportunity to have the complete cost of their move paid for by Overmont House management, including packing and unpacking of resident belongings. HUD is also reportedly planning to issue housing vouchers this fall that will allow residents the ability to select from a large variety of apartment buildings in which to move to.

During this interview, the Parkside Journal also inquired about additional development plans that could affect neighbors of the school. “PCOM currently has no additional construction plans for its property”, said Miller, who also added that existing public space on the campus would remain. We also learned that there should not be much concern about effects on traffic and parking from the eventual new residents. “Plans for the student medical housing are not yet complete, but the number of apartments should be very close to the number in the existing building.”

While the college continues to review bids for renovation of the building, other plans remain up for consideration including the incorporation of additional public outdoor amenities and even the name of the building after it is renovated. “No decision has been made regarding the building’s name” said Miller, who added that “it will be up to the winning bidder to design the new building.”

Parkside Edge Construction To Start This Fall!

by Jennifer Mahar

The wait for new park amenities along Parkside Avenue is nearly over with the construction of the “Parkside Edge”project set to begin in October. After nearly two years of planning,representatives from the Fairmount Park Conservancy, city and state officials and community leaders will break ground on the project on October 20th at 10:00am. Project planners are confident the “Parkside Edge” will become a beloved community space and an activation of a currently unprogrammed portion of the park.

“We were very committed to a design that feels like an extension of the neighborhood. We wanted to create a landscape where neighbors feel welcomed, that they have the sense this is their part of the park,” said Fairmount Park Conservancy Sr. Director for Civic Initiatives, Jennifer Q. Mahar.

The design for the Parkside Edge features sitting areas configured into “rooms” or “porches” for socializing and relaxing. Designers were inspired by the great activity on Parkside Avenue’s architecturally-significant porches.
“We wanted to create a visual connection to those great spaces on Parkside, where family and neighbors gather to swap news, visit, relax, and have a laugh. We want that same energy across the street in the park,” said Centennial Commons project manager Chris Dougherty.

High quality granite seating areas, new benches and unique “porch swings” will create the feeling of a park-within-a park. A planted stormwater basin will parallel Parkside Avenue and feature shrubs and flowering plants. Small bridges will lead from the Parkside Promenade asphalt path into the seating areas.Screen Shot 2016-03-17 at 5.31.49 PM

In order to make the park more pedestrian-friendly, the project also includes streetscape upgrades designed with input from the Streets Department and sponsored by the city’s Commerce Department.

“We’ve understood that Parkside Avenue has been something of a deterrent, cutting the neighborhood off from the park. Our designs will slow the car speeds and make the road safer to cross, especially for folks who are older and the very young. In order to get more people to use the Edge, we had to address Parkside Avenue,” said Dougherty.

Residents can expect construction on Parkside Avenue as new curbs, ramps and pedestrian islands are constructed. The Conservancy hopes that these impacts will be minimal. Dougherty says that special controls will be built into construction management to lessen the impacts of the neighborhood on construction. Construction entrances used by heavy equipment will not be located on Parkside Avenue.

“We’re going to try to be as communicative as possible during construction and we want to hear what’s working and not working. We want to be as transparent as possible. If a neighbor doesn’t like how we’re doing something, we want to hear it,” said Dougherty.

The Conservancy is also committed to sharing the economic benefits of construction with Parkside’s residents. Working with the Centennial Parkside CDC and Business Association of West Parkside, the Conservancy is trying to identify contractors and vendors who may bring skills to the project. Opportunities such as apprenticeships, skill- building workshops and sidewalk upgrades in the neighborhood are also on the table.

“We want to go above and beyond in terms of neighborhood participation. If you’re a local contractor we want to know who you are, what your skills are. But we also want to build life-long skills so we’re instructing our contractor to provide things like apprenticeships or help building a small business,” said Dougherty.

“Ultimately, how this project is constructed, who builds it and how human capacities are built up are as important to us as the physical space,” said Mahar.

Residents are encouraged to visit the Centennial Parkside CDC’s website ( for more info on these opportunities. A community meeting outlining details of construction will be held at Christ Community Baptist Church on October 3rd. 2016 at 6pm.

Cenntennial Park CDC Talks to Parkside Residents

Christopher Scott of the Cenntennial Park CDC
Christopher Scott of the Cenntennial Park CDC

In the September 2015 issue of the Parkside Journal,

we introduced readers to Christopher Scott and his

new venture the Centennial Parkside CDC. Chris is a

resident of Parkside by way of his grandparents who

moved to the area in the late 1940’s. As a kid growing

up in North Carolina Chris would spend many

summers in Parkside with his grandparents. He

enjoyed those summer visits and bonded with the

community. Those feelings never left Chris, which

lead him to move here after his grandfather died. He

joined together with other long time community

residents and business owners and supporters from

neighborhood cultural centers to create his new CDC.

Recently Christopher Scott found the time to sit down

and discuss what progress Centennial Parkside has

accomplished over the last eight months.

PJ: Chris what have you and the Centennial CDC

been up to since our last story in September of 2015?

Scott: We have continued to stay busy with the many

organizational setup matters that, while not

glamorous, we needed to push through in order to start

providing resources to revitalize Parkside.

Principally, I am happy to report that since we last

spoke, the Centennial Parkside CDC received notice

that we are recognized as a tax-exempt organization

under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code.

This is a critically important achievement, since

foundations and other philanthropic sources can only

provide grants to organizations that have this

designation. Centennial Parkside CDC is officially

open for business!

PJ: Have you and your team developed a strategic


Scott: We recently completed our 5-year strategic plan

with the assistance of a nationally known consultant,

American Communities Trust (ACT). We spent six

months in Board of Trustees training and strategic

plan development sessions with ACT.

The plan carries 5 core priorities for the CDC’s


1) Housing and homeownership

2) Marketing and branding

3) Sanitation and greening

4) Commercial Development

5) CDC organizational sustainability

This plan is our roadmap for the next 5 years. We will

post the plan in its entirety on our website when the

website is live. In the interim, if you want a copy

please contact me and I will ensure you get a detailed

version of the strategic plan.

PJ: When do you expect to have your website up

and running?

Scott: We are actively working on establishing a

website and we expect to have one publicly

available in the coming weeks. We expect the

website to be a central resource for the community,

so we are investing time to ensure we have a great

website that does just that. Stay tuned and look out

for a website announcement by the next edition of

the Parkside Journal.

PJ: If Parkside residents want to reach out to you

how do they contact you?

Scott: You can reach me by email at: or by phone: 917.254.2361.

The CDC also holds monthly meetings and we

encourage resident participation as we move

forward. Please contact me to learn more.

PJ: Is there a physical address to the Parkside


Scott: We have made significant progress on identifying

and securing financing for the physical headquarters

of the CDC. One of our key requirements in a

physical office space is that the space be accessible

to everyone in the community as a place to gather,

learn and play together. We are excited about moving to our own physical office space before the end of 2016 and we expect to

have an announcement on the physical address of

where that will be by the next edition of the Parkside


PJ : I know one of your early goals was to develop an

“Energy Improvement District” where you would

supply electrical energy to area residents from

renewable sources. Can you elaborate on this and has

there been any movement in that direction?

Scott: An Energy Improvement District

is certainly one solution we are exploring

as means to create wealth and opportunity

for Parkside residents. Low-income

communities are disproportionately

impacted by land use strategies that

negatively impact health. Fundamentally,

an Energy Investment District enables

communities – particularly communities

of color – to develop local renewable

energy generation and energy efficiency

programs that are accountable to the

community and produce healthier

neighborhoods, reduce energy costs,

create good jobs, and build the wealth for

those most in need.

PJ: And what kind of movement have

you had in that direction; is there anyone

out there listening?

Scott: I can say we have had some

success in building the case for an Energy

Improvement District in Parkside.

Leaders from across the city are taking

notice that we have an innovative solution

to transforming the structural inequities

borne by low-income communities like

ours. As an example of the notice we are

receiving, the CDC has been invited to

speak about the Energy Improvement

District solution at the Arts & Business

Council of Greater Philadelphia on June

9th. This is a conference that is hosted by

the largest Foundations in the city and

expected to attract 200 – 300 executives

and staff from across the nonprofit,

philanthropic and private sectors. This is

the type of platform that will help the

CDC continue to build momentum around

implementing this solution in Parkside.

PJ: Where do you get your funding?

Who are your Partners?

Scott: The CDC just completed its

strategic plan in April and we have been

using that plan as the basis to introduce

the CDC and its proposed activities to

potential funders, including the region’s

largest foundations. We are really pleased

by the level of interest the Foundation

community has in supporting our CDC

and we expect to cement those funding

relationships in the coming months.

This neighborhood is a focus area for the

philanthropic community, given the

Promise Zone and other assets we have

around us. Our job as a CDC is to harness

that interest and steer those investments

to the benefit of our residents. We are

working hard every day to ensure that


PJ:  What do you feel you’ve

accomplished over the past year?

Scott:  This has been a truly exceptional

year of growth and achievement for the

CDC. We started from nothing but a

concept exactly one year ago this month.

Yet, since that time we have:

1) Formally incorporated

2) Received 501(c)(3) designation

3) Raised over $20,000 in direct


4) Advocated for the installation of bike

share stations in Parkside

5) Established new partnerships with our

cultural institution partners

And importantly

6) We have a direct working relationship

with Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell,

who is supporting our efforts as we move


I’m proud to lead an energetic Board of

Trustees that is deeply committed to

providing an improved quality of life for

the residents of Parkside.

PJ:  Our thanks to Mr. Scott for sitting

with us.

Ten Transformational Projects Set for Parkside

by Manuel McDonnell Smith

For years, the homeowners and neighbors of Parkside have heard the repeated promise “development is coming.” Now it appears that 2016 will signal that promise’s fulfillment with a series of transformational projects underway in and around the Parkside community. Here’s a list of ten new construction projects to watch that have the potential for positive impact on our neighborhood for years to come.

    • University Place 3.0, 41st and Market Streets                      Status: Demolition complete, groundbreaking in Spring 2016

Screen Shot 2016-03-17 at 6.25.01 PMDeveloper Scott Mazo reportedly is investing $70 million dollars to transform the former Pep Boys site into a five-story office building. He’s hoping to lure tech firms (and their good-paying jobs) to the sleek,all-glass tower on the now-dormant corner.

      • Public Safety Services Complex , 4601 Market Street Status: Phase 1 under construction, expected to open in 2018

Public Services ComplexThe City is spending $250 Million Dollars to transform the long-shuttered 4601 Market Building into the “Public Safety Services Campus” that will house the headquarters for the Police and Health Departments, along with the Medical Examiners Office and City Morgue.

Another rendering of a future Centennial Commons area.

The Fairmount Park Conservancy is working with neighborhood groups and private foundations to raise over $7 Million dollars to “soften” the edge of Fairmount Park at Parkside with new playgrounds, picnic areas and other amenities.

Screen Shot 2016-03-17 at 5.41.54 PMThe busy store is set to break ground on a major expansion project to add a 200 seat jazz café to the store along with a new headquarters for the 900AM WURD radio station.

      • UCity Square, 36th and Filbert Streets.                               Status: Demolition Complete; construction TBA

UCity SquareUniversity City Science Center has partnered with Drexel University on a $1 Billion Dollar plan to transform the five-block, 14-acre former U-City High Site into new offices, apartments and stores for the growing area. Also planned, a new park and K-8 school to be partially operated by Drexel.

      • 4050 Apartments, 4050 Haverford Avenue                     Status: Under construction, no opening date set

4050_rendering_1_0People’s Emergency Center recently broke ground on a three story building rising on the long vacant lot near 40th and Haverford Avenue. When opened, it will feature 20 one, two, and three bedroom apartments for low-income artists. The new building will also feature a shared workshop/exhibit space and a community room open to the public.

      • Schuylkill Yards, 30th and Market Streets                         Status: In planning, groundbreaking scheduled for late 2016

JFK_esplanade_Schuylkill Yards-webDrexel University is working with a private developer on a $3.5 billion dollar plan to transform the sea of parking lots and “dead space” west of the train station into new living, educational, office, and retail spaces. First up, transforming the parking lot at the northwest corner of 30th and Market into a new public park.

      • Good Food Flats, 4000 Baring Street                                    Status: Under construction, set to open late 2016

imgThe nearly complete building will feature 44 student apartments along with a fitness center and gourmet public kitchen.

Screen Shot 2015-12-04 at 11.55.01 AMCommunity Ventures has secured funding to complete a combination of apartment buildings, single family homes, and commercial space for senior and disabled residents.The project in financed in part with $3.4 Million Dollars in federal funds along with $1.3 Million in Tax Credits.