Category Archives: Development

Could A New Monorail Take A ‘Bite’ Out of Zoo Area Traffic Crunch?

by Manuel McDonnell-Smith

The image above is not the proposed Monorail for the planned zoo project. We show this file photo of what the Monorail could possibly look like.

Executives from the Philadelphia Zoo are on tour asking residents of Parkside and Mantua to support a new train plan from 30th Street Station. Anyone from Lancaster Avenue to Leidy Avenue knows the weekend routine – get into your car and avoid 34th and Girard Ave if you want to get anywhere fast. Zoo crowds are notorious for backing up traffic in and around the neighborhood. While things have gotten somewhat better in the past few years with the addition of the parking deck at the Zoo Transportation Center and other slight traffic pattern changes on Girard Avenue and 34th Street, backups are still a too-often occurrence.

So, with packed roads and less-than-ideal public transit options for Zoo Visitors, where should we look for solutions to the traffic nightmare around 34th and Girard? “Up high” says Kenneth Woodson, Vice President for Community Relations at the Zoo who has been circling around the neighborhood touting a new Zoo community outreach plan, part of which includes the monorail, which if built, would operate on a new line to be built between the Zoo and 30th Street Station, with a possible future extension from the Zoo up Parkside Avenue to the Mann Music Center.

With a high-flying idea like this, you might think Woodson is over-inspired by the runaway success of the Zoo Balloon, which sends huge crowds into the air over the Zoo each weekend. But a recently released study published by the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC) shows there is some merit to the Zoo’s idea.

In the DVRPC analysis, commissioned by both the Zoo and SEPTA, a 1.5-mile system is envisioned beginning at 30th Street Station and then snaking northward along SEPTA’s Powelton Rail Yard through University City and Mantua before making a stop at the Zoo. An expansion across Girard Avenue, and up Parkside Avenue providing access to the Please Touch Museum and the Mann Music Center “is only a possibility”, says Woodson, but it’s enough of one that conceptual plans for the actual Zoo stop have not been finalized. If the eventual monorail line stops in front of the Zoo, then future expansion north and west would be stymied by the large four track Northeast Corridor Bridge that abuts Zoo’s western boundary. “Going along Zoological Avenue could offer options for an overpass,” explains Woodson.

But those Parkside Avenue options are far-off in potential phase two plans. There’s still much to be decided in the first phase of the project. Two guideway options currently exist, one that stays closer to the rail yard, and another that would stop closer to the existing street grid along 32nd Street. Under either scenario, neighborhood access would be provided by stops at Race Street, Spring Garden Street and on Mantua Avenue. Authors of the study propose that operations be kept “simple, realistic, and easy to understand”, who plan service to operate with ten-minute headways.

While the report authors and Zoo Officials are optimistic about simple operation, much of the monorail concept faces complex questions. What would it look like, and how big would it be? Will residents in neighborhoods with historic character like University City, Mantua, and Parkside support a dual-track modern monorail running down the streets?

Another issue is ridership. If you build it, will they come? In the most optimistic ridership projections provided by the study about 6,000 riders would use the system daily. But that’s only if the system offered free fares. With full-fare added, the daily total of passengers drops to just over 1,400.

The Zoo is also promoting the monorail plan as a way to relieve congestion caused by crowds visiting the Zoo. But even free monorail service is only expected to capture just over 220 riders daily. Most riders using the potential service are forecast to use the neighborhood stops, not the one at the Zoo. Woodson says the Zoo prefers to see the project in terms of “total ridership: how many residents will get to ride and the opportunity for access to other cultural institutions in the area”.

SEPTA, the most-likely potential operator of the system, and one of the stakeholders in the eventual fare decision on the monorail system declined to offer formal comment other than to confirm their participation in the study and to commit to “continue to work with area stakeholders in the future.”

Marjorie Ogilvie, chairperson of the Business Association of West Parkside was one of the first in the neighborhood to learn of the monorail plan and is initially supportive of the plan. “We need more viable direct transportation in this community. What we really need is a train stop [along SEPTA’s Paoli Line] to allow our residents access in and out for work and play. But we’ll support a monorail if that’s what we can get.”

Woodson says additional community outreach events are planned for later this month where he hopes to get more feedback from neighbors as the Zoo plans the next steps in promoting the project. He says that there could be additional benefits beyond traffic relief from this project, adding that “this could be an huge opportunity for economic development.”


Breaking: Permanent Closure of 48th and Lancaster Church announced

Our Mother of Sorrows Church at 48th and Lancaster Ave will no longer serve as a worship site of Saint Ignatius of Loyola Parish and will close as a Roman Catholic Church announced the Archdiocese of Philadelphia on Monday.  Over the past year, there was minimal attendance at the once-monthly mass, and no weddings or funerals were held. Future plans for the large site are still to be determined. The full press release announcing the closure is below.

Contextual Background

In January 2013, Our Mother of Sorrows Parish merged with Saint Ignatius of Loyola Parish, both located in West Philadelphia, as part of the Parish Areas Pastoral Planning Initiative that has been ongoing in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

At that time, the Our Mother of Sorrows Church building became a worship site of Saint Ignatius of Loyola Parish and was available for the occasional celebration of Mass, funerals and weddings as is customary whenever possible in the case of a parish merger.

Additional information regarding the merger can be found at the following link

Today’s Announcement

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia announced today that Archbishop

Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap. has approved the relegation of the Our Mother of Sorrows Church building to profane but not sordid use effective October 9, 2017.  This formal, canonical designation means that the church will no longer serve as a worship site and will close as a Roman Catholic Church.

This information was shared with Saint Ignatius of Loyola parishioners at all Masses during the weekend of September 2-3.  A copy of the official canonical decree regarding this matter can be found at

The formal request to close this worship site originated from the parochial administrator of Saint Ignatius of Loyola Parish together with his parish pastoral and finance councils.  The request was then reviewed by the Archdiocesan Council of Priests and presented to Archbishop Chaput, who, after a careful review of all supporting factors, made the final decision.

Our Mother Of Sorrows Church – 48th and Lancaster – source: Google

Additional Background

During the 2016-2017 fiscal year, Saint Ignatius of Loyola Parish incurred expenses exceeding $100,000 associated with care for the properties associated with the former Our Mother of Sorrows Parish.  Furthermore, at the conclusion of the 2015-2016 fiscal year, Saint Ignatius of Loyola Parish experienced a deficit of approximately $230,000 while having an approximate savings of $17,000.  During the same fiscal year, Saint Ignatius of Loyola Parish maintained an approximate debt of $80,000.

Since May 2016, one Mass per month was celebrated at Our Mother of Sorrows Church. That monthly Mass was discontinued in February 2017 due to minimal attendance.  No funerals or weddings have been celebrated.

When Our Mother of Sorrows and Saint Ignatius of Loyola merged, all real estate holdings, assets and debts of the former Our Mother of Sorrows Parish were transferred to the newly formed Saint Ignatius of Loyola Parish.  These transfers are standard procedure in the case of all parish mergers.

As such, the former Our Mother of Sorrows church building, along with the former school building and former convent is the property of Saint Ignatius of Loyola Parish.  The future disposition of these buildings will be determined by the parochial administrator of Saint Ignatius of Loyola Parish in consultation with his parish pastoral and finance councils in a manner consistent with providing for parish viability and sustainability.

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.