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Breaking Ground on NKCDC’s New Development Project in Neighborhood North of Lehigh

The five story Orinoka Mills building in Kensington will undergo an ambitious $16.2 million transformation. On October 27th, The City of Philadelphia and New Kensington Community Development Corporation (NKCDC) broke ground on the development project that has been in the works since 2007.


/Thomas Weir

In attendance for the groundbreaking were representatives from the development’s partners, including the NKCDC, Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sanchez, Councilman Mark Squilla, the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority, Office of Housing and Community Development, Somerset Neighbors for Better Living, Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency, the City of Philadelphia, Federal Home Bank Loan (New York and Boston) and TD Bank.


Councilman Mark Squilla/Thomas Weir

The Orinoka Civic House, as the building will come to be known as, will include 51 units of affordable mixed-income housing. Retail space will take up 1,000 sq. feet on the ground floor and will be the home to a new office space for the NKCDC. Also laid out in the plans are a coffee shop, a community room and parking for residents.

“Nothing was going to happen in this area unless something happened to this building first,” Sandy Salzman, Executive Director of the NKCDC, said.


Sandy Salzman/Thomas Weir

Located on the corner of Ruth and Somerset Streets, one block away from the Somerset Station on The Market-Frankford Line, the former Orinoka Mills building is an obvious choice to spearhead the North of Lehigh Neighborhood Plan.

“Replacing blight with a community asset is key to neighborhood transformation,” Deborah McColloch, Director of the Office of Housing and Community Development said in a statement released to the media.

The neighborhood wasn’t a safe place when the idea was first proposed by Salzman. She told a story to the crowd about drug dealers approaching her and other board members on their preliminary visits to the site and offering them “works,” a slang term to describe all the necessary materials used to inject intravenous drugs.

If you look next to development’s site there is another abandoned building. “It’s like the broken window theory, it’s really complementary to our project,” Kevin Gray, Director of Real Estate at NKCDC, explained.

The Civic House is the first step in the NKCDC’s plan in rebuilding the community — a plan that has garnered the backing of neighborhood residents. Gray explained how the owner of the abandoned building is “a great neighbor who wants change to happen. He’s looking to see positive things happen in the neighborhood. He’s invested and he’s shown it.”


/Thomas Weir

The property’s owner has spent the past few months boarding up all windows, securing it and making the area safe. “You don’t want to have this major development and have this derelict building next door to it,” Gray said.

Even though the project only just recently broke ground, great progress is already underway in the neighborhood. Even if it is just some general maintenance and boarded up windows, the effects are in motion. Imagine what the space will look like in spring 2017 when the Civic House project is finished: The sidewalk will be lined with newly planted trees, added street lights will provide safety and the easily accessible Orinoka Civic House will be the hub of community engagement in this newly reclaimed neighborhood.


Kensington Capa Drum Line/Thomas Weir


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