Francisville NDC Discusses The Lenni – Community Organization Roundup
While a few of the neighborhoods in the larger Art Museum area are witnessing an influx of new private housing developments that will change the face of those communities, Francisville is developing its own residential and community space called “The Lenni” as a step toward bringing vibrancy back to that neighborhood.
The Lenni is phase one of the Francisville Neighborhood Development Corporation’s (FNDC) Comprehensive Corridor Revitalization Initiative which was created in 2005. Interior construction of the four-story mixed-use building at 1608-12 Ridge Ave is nearing completion. It was built on three empty lots donated by the city and will consist of 14 condominium units on its four floors and 4,000 square feet of commercial space on the first floor and in the basement. A roof deck with panoramic views of Center City and of rooftops spreading toward the Art Museum will be used for private parties catered by the cafe which is planned for the first floor. Construction on the Lenni began in 2014. The project was funded privately, according to Penelope Giles, executive director of the FNDC.
Giles said the revitalization plan was written to address a loss of residents and business in Francisville. It was a loss of residents in the 1960’s and 1980’s that led to the decline of the commercial activity on Ridge Avenue, she explained. While the current trend in population change is upward, Giles said “We’ll never be able to renovate Ridge Avenue and [achieve] economic diversity without a plan.” The FNDC plans to sell ten of the condos and retain the other four for short-term rentals as Airbnb properties, she added.
The condo units feature one bedroom, a large living area and an open kitchen. Some also include an outdoor balcony. “We need to attract higher income individuals [to] blend into what has become a lower-income neighborhood,” said Giles.
Phase one of this renovation will build the concept in the block between Wylie and to Vineyard Streets this year. Later phases will extend it two blocks farther to Girard Avenue, the northern border of Francisville. In June, at Francisville’s Martin Luther King Park, at Ridge Avenue and Vineyard Street, the FNDC will stage an artisan festival featuring persons working at various crafts to demonstrate the types of entrepreneurship the project is trying to lure to Ridge Avenue and to show off the Lenni, Giles said.
Giles expects improvements to Ridge Avenue to spread to the community at-large, not just as a trickle-down effect, but as a feature built into the plan. “We’re rebuilding not just the commercial corridor, but the fabric of the people already there,” she said.
“There are very few families ready to walk into jobs on the corridor,” Giles added. “Our project will address that in a very organic way, [using] a for-profit/non-profit development partnership. We’re creating opportunity for us to [attain] economic sustainability through our economic corridor.”
She explained that on the first floor of The Lenni the FNDC will open Le Cafe Enterprise, a working vegetarian cafe that will double as a means to teach artisans and entrepreneurs living in the neighborhood how to build a business and how to interact with customers by helping to operate the cafe. That hands-on training will continue on the lower level of the building where space will be made available for seamstresses to design and make clothing for sale and for a silk screening operation to create signage for the new businesses that come to the corridor.
Workshops will be held in the space as well, all geared toward sustainability of the neighborhood’s business life, including bookkeeping and business accounting, Giles said. “We [will be] teaching them how to fish and giving them a place in the pond to do so.”
Giles said The Lenni was named in honor of the Lenni-Lenape tribe of indigenous people who lived in Eastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Eastern Delaware. The tribe was re-named the Delaware by European colonists, who also drove them from the area.
She said her larger plan for the revitalization of Ridge Avenue is to open it to artisans, artists, musicians and other entrepreneurs to create an atmosphere that will draw a new breed of foot traffic to the neighborhood and turn Ridge into a vibrant 18-hour corridor. “We now have a new corridor that is a blank slate,” she said.
The FNDC will show off The Lenni to the public on March 24 with a grand opening fund raising event to build revenue to open Le Cafe Enterprise. The event will also feature music and education about the Lenni-Lenape’s history in the area.