In West Philly, the site where a fire took a neighborhood favorite on Christmas Eve in 2012 will become the newest site for Greensgrow, an organization dedicated to increasing healthy and fresh produce options in underserved urban areas.
Beginning in April, Greensgrow will take over the former site of Elena's Soul at 4912 Baltimore Ave., which has remained vacant since the building was demolished following the fire, the West Philly Local reported. The site will operate as an urban farm growing small plant starts and trees; there will also be workshops and a small farmer's market, according to the WPL.
Neighbors say the proposal was developing unbeknownst to them. That was the subject of a November meeting. “Some things were brought to light at that meeting,” David Hincher, Cedar Park Neighbors' development task force chair.
Considering how much new retail is coming and the increased value of the properties on and near Baltimore Avenue in Clark Park and Cedar Park, it’s surprising that we haven't yet written about the vacant lot at 4829 Baltimore Ave., across the street from Mariposa Co-op.
You may recall, the co-op moved to a new and improved space on this block a couple of years ago, dramatically increasing the size of their operation. And it seems possible that their move has inspired others to take a shot with this part of Baltimore Ave., with businesses like Little Baby's Ice Cream opening at 49th Street last spring, and before that, Marvelous Records just up the block, and Seeds Gallery on the 5000 block. With all the retail momentum in the area, it seems like any vacant lot would be ripe for redevelopment.
In Cedar Park, neighbors are upset over a planned development that’s would take place through eminent domain. They say this plan would strip homeowners of their properties and the local community association of their right to create the neighborhood that community members envision. According to local developer Ryan Spak, a public meeting in November clued in neighbors about the PRA's proposal to develop a mixed-use project on parcels now occupied by privately owned dilapidated homes west of the Mercy Wellness Center on the 5000 block of Baltimore Avenue. The non-profit owners of the Mercy Center would develop the site. But neighbors feel slighted.
Could these be taken?
Mercy down the street
“Why are we being blindsided by this?” Spak said.
To develop the project, which, according to Spak, was vague and lacked detail, the City would acquire the strip of distressed homes through eminent domain. According to Spak, neither area homeowners nor local neighborhood associations were contacted early in the process. Nor were any local developers already working in the area considered. The main question from Spak and other neighbors is why is there was no public process here. Why was there no RFP? At least, they maintain, there should be a process where various alternatives for development of that area are presented.
On Baltimore Avenue, we’re still waiting for a number of projects we wrote about over the summer to start moving. At 5021-23 Baltimore Ave., the complex legal process for acquiring a liquor license is slowing the opening of the planned Babylon Bistro. If a liquor license cannot be procured, it will drastically change the plans for the restaurant and cause the owners to scale back their investment.
Meanwhile, Pound Cake Heaven recently opened at 5029 Baltimore Ave., and plans for a jazz club at 5027 Baltimore Ave. are also still in place, but moving slowly.
Pound Cake Heaven is open, jazz club still on the horizon, in theory
At the future site of Babylon Bistro, owner Saba Tedla, who also owns Aksum, the popular Mediterranean eatery at 47th & Baltimore, purchased the properties a year ago, with plans to open a ground-floor restaurant and gut and renovate the apartments above. Six one-bedroom units with hardwood floors and granite countertops, starting at $750/month, were completed in October.
While members of Cedar Park Neighbors did work with the developers to guide the design to be in tune with the Victorian tone that lines Baltimore Ave., and while developers added some changes like the use of wood instead of metal on the bay windows, and added a kneel wall to the commercial level, the look of the new building so far suggests that it will still stick out some. Whether that is a good thing or otherwise is a matter of opinion. What is certain is that Diversity Realty Ventures purchased the building in June 2012 for $92K at a time when Cedar Park was jumping off with a swing of new businesses coming to Baltimore Ave., like Little Baby's Ice Cream, and plans for multiple new business at 50th & Baltimore.
If a sleek online presence indicates the organization and strength of a civic group, than the Baltimore Avenue Business Association (BABA) is stepping up its game. In conjunction with the Baltimore Avenue Dollar Stroll, which brings hundreds in and out of the shops along the corridor, BABA launched its first official website last month.
Stores on Baltimore Ave.
The site, babawestphilly.org, includes your standard information and business directory in a new format. While this certainly isn't groundbreaking news, it means that the Baltimore Avenue business corridor is concentrating on increasing its presence in the neighborhood and online. In case you didn't know, the corridor stretches from 40th to 52nd St., plus a block each way off the avenue.
The cafe welcomed eaters back through its doors on August 15th. It was forced to close early last winter after a Christmas Eve fire at Elena's Soul caused damage to its neighbors on both sides. The fire eventually forced the demolition of Elena's, sadly. Gary's Nails, the business on the other side of Elena's, also plans to reopen, but its owners are still working out insurance issues. Earlier this year, community members hosted fundraisers to support the damaged businesses.
Last October, we wrote about the Baltimore Avenue transformation in West Philly and wondered how far its effects would crawl on either side of the growing corridor. We cited a trash-logged and abandoned construction site at 4809 Chester Ave. in Squirrel Hill as an example of a property that would benefit from the good vibes drifting a few block south. According to Google images, the building existed in its laissez-boarded up shape since at least 2009.
This winter, we initially wondered whether this block in the Kingsessing neighborhood might attract a developer with its proximity to the Baltimore Ave. commercial corridor and the 13 trolley running outside its front doors right into University and Center City. While the renovations seem to be getting on, perhaps now is the time for the two homes across the street that intersect with Divinity & Chester to be transformed from worn to welcoming. 5130 Chester was last acquired for $32K in December, 2012, by the same individual who purchased 5120 two months earlier in October for $38K.