Streetscape Celebration Crowns West Girard’s Economic Boom
On Saturday May 20th, West Girard Avenue will celebrate its recent streetscape improvements with free tote bags, a sidewalk sale courtesy of local businesses, and a dedication ceremony at noon.
The $1.5 million dollar improvement, organized chiefly by the Fairmount Community Development Corporation (CDC), involved planting trees, improving lighting, installing trash cans and bike racks, and smoothing out the stone Belgian Blocks that line the sides of West Girard and have suffered from weeds.
“You’re going to notice a really big difference,” Kevin Moran, Executive Director at Fairmount CDC, said.
Fairmount CDC also manages daily street sweepings thanks to the project money, which came from the City Commerce Department.
Planning on the project began in 2014, when different neighborhood organizations, spearheaded by Fairmount CDC, came together with experts from city government to brainstorm how to restore the avenue. “Similar projects on other corridors can really run upwards of $5 million,” Moran said.
But Girard “just needed some TLC,” and not fundamental changes, he added.
The work took nine months once the Streets Department began work.
“Overall the enhancements have been very good,” Tim McAdams, who owns Best In Show Grooming at 2708 West Girard, said.
As summer lures restaurant patrons to sidewalk patios, the brighter flush of West Girard’s new lights “make it feel more lively,” he added
McAdams also said he appreciated the decreases in weeds and litter.
He has been in business since 2004, and his thirteen years on the avenue give him a longer view of its successes. “Clients have commented on how the avenue has changed over the years. They’ve noticed the new restaurants, more activity,” he said.
McAdams thinks that some of this has to do with looser credit following the slump of the 2008 mortgage crisis, as well as new creative financing options like crowd funding.
But a lot of West Girard’s success may come from MM Partners, a development company.
“For years and years and years we’ve driven development in the area,” Co-founder David Waxman said about the Avenue and the larger neighborhood, Brewerytown, that it is situated in. “We put on events, we brought public art to the neighborhood, coached little league, donated to local schools,” he added.
And that’s not counting the “well over 50 or 60,” properties that MM Partners owns.
Waxman’s investment started in 2001, when he and co-founder Aaron Smith bought eight properties on the 2900 and Girard block of Brewerytown, which Waxman said had been “left to rot.”
Despite disinvestment and vacancy, Waxman saw potential in Brewerytown; Fairmount Park was right in the “backyard,” transportation was excellent, the historic row houses and brownstones were still in good condition, Center City was close, and the core community was intact, he said.
As MM Partners started developing properties – they count Crime and Punishment Brewing, Aldi’s, Dollar Tree, and Steel Works Strength Systems as some of their partners – the city started increasing investment.
In 2005, a trolley line was opened, and an initial streetscape project completed. Meanwhile, MM Partners was using business development, both retail and corporate, to generate residential interest in Brewerytown. “We’ve had one but not the other. Now we are at a point where we have both, and it’s become self-fulfilling,” Waxman said about the balance between commercial and residential activity.
The area has diversified without fully gentrifying. A Cash transfer store and a liquor store share a block with cafes and a bike shop. Peeling rowhomes and a brand new condo both lie a block off West Girard.
According to Moran, from Fairmount CDC, growth has been robust without being explosive.
“We’re not seeing property values rise quite as quickly or drastically. That helps neighborhoods grow in a way where neighbors feel like they are a part of that growth,” he said.
Renters are most at risk for displacement by economic development, but Brewerytown leans more toward home ownership, said Moran.