“I guess you were all wondering how we could throw this project together so quickly,” LPMG principal John Longacre quipped at yesterday afternoon’s ceremonial groundbreaking for reNewbold, Postgreen Homes’ first project in South Philadelphia.
A fair bit of time has actually passed since this project was announced, which was why Longacre and the assembled bankers, builders, designers, elected officials and community leaders who were on hand to toss the ceremonial shovels of rocks yesterday were so happy to be there.
“This is a very good day,” said Claudia Sherrod, executive director of South Philadelphia H.O.M.E.S. Inc. “We worked vigorously 10 years ago to turn this into new homes, but the neighborhood didn’t want it then. So we’re glad to see this going up now. The southeast section of Point Breeze has always been higher in price than the part I live in, but if the people here don’t mind, neither do we.” Sherrod’s organization has focused on developing affordable housing in the neighborhood and had proposed converting the former St. Katharine Drexel parochial school to apartments.
“Today is truly a celebration,” said Councilman Kenyatta Johnson (D-2nd District). “This property had been a blight on the neighborhood for years. Now we’re here to celebrate a vision for a stronger South Philadelphia.” In remarks before the ceremony, Johnson, a lifelong area resident, recalled walking past the site as a young man. “This project will also bring jobs and revenue to support our cash-strapped school district.”
ReNewbold, a mixed-use project that will offer 16 townhomes, two condominium units and a retail space at the corner of 16th and Moore streets, represents several firsts for South Philly, Point Breeze and Newbold: The first LEED Platinum-certified development. The first ultra-Modernist design (produced by Interface Studio Architects) in a neighborhood of traditional brick rowhomes. Postgreen’s first major foray outside its home territory in Fishtown and Kensington. And the first high-profile project in the neighborhood financed by its newest bank, Valley Green Bank.
Postgreen President Chad Ludeman credited Valley Green with pushing the development towards the gold standard of eco-friendliness. “Not every project we build ends up being LEED Platinum certified, but John and Valley Green Bank pressed us to shoot for that target.” Ludeman also thanked the Philadelphia Water Department for providing water-management ideas that were incorporated into the development.
Robert Marino, president of the bank’s Delaware Valley region, grew up four blocks away from the site, and his bank opened a branch four blocks away as well – its Broad and Tasker branch opened this past spring. “Point Breeze and Newbold have become exciting for me personally,” he said, “but this is also an exciting professional opportunity for the bank.”
Johnson’s presence was purely ceremonial, as this project is 100 percent privately financed. ”Cities can’t do everything for you,” Longacre said. “It’s important that as a community, we do things on our own.” Longacre’s work in the area represents this philosophy in action; in his remarks, he recalled how, by opening businesses in an area that lacked them, he generated buzz and energy that then translated into an increased interest in living in the area. But, he noted, “legislative policy that encourages people to move in” also helps. To that end, he thanked Johnson for an op-ed he wrote that morning in support of keeping the 10-year tax abatement program intact.
One of those attracted by the buzz is Brian Jeans, who has already purchased one of the reNewbold homes. “I want to live in a diverse neighborhood,” he said. “I watched this neighborhood mold in front of me and was delighted with how harmoniously the various groups worked together.”
The project’s green credentials also drew his interest. Of its LEED Platinum certification, he said, “You can’t be more conscious of your impact on the environment than that.
“I also had patience,” he added. Jeans, who is manager of technology training for Xfinity Home at Comcast, currently lives in the Ben Franklin House and was in no hurry to move. ”I knew that [bringing this project to fruition] would be a lengthy process. I’m thrilled I’ll be able to take photos of its progress on a daily basis.”
We will be doing likewise, though not on a daily basis, as this project progresses.
Photos by the author