Mayor Michael Nutter (left) announces funding for renovations along Germantown Avenue on August 30, 2012. (Photo by Sue Ann Rybak)

by Sue Ann Rybak

Anuj Gupta, executive director of Mt. Airy USA, said Mt. Airy will “usher in the next chapter of the rebirth of America’s most historic corridor – Germantown Avenue” at an Aug. 29 press conference to announce plans for four mixed-use redevelopment projects along the 6500-6700 blocks of Germantown Avenue.

The renovations, which include the vacant historic post office at 6700 Germantown Ave, are funded by $600,000 in mixed-use and neighborhood economic development grants. Three other buildings slated for renovations include 6614 Germantown Ave., 6651-53 and 6513 Germantown Ave.

Most of the rehabilitations will be mixed-use projects with commercial space on the ground floor and apartments on the upper floors. The post office building will be renovated to accommodate three commercial spaces.

Mayor Michael A. Nutter called the project part of the “Germantown Avenue Renaissance.”

“The work that Mt. Airy USA is doing will transform this section of Germantown Avenue, providing new apartments for families and expansion space for existing businesses and opportunities for new businesses to grow and prosper,” Nutter said. “Over the last few years, the Commerce Department has invested over $1 million in neighborhood projects from Lancaster Avenue to Broad and Erie, West Philly to Fairmount and Ridge, leveraging $100 million in additional funding and creating more than 450 jobs. We will continue to make these investments to ensure that all of our neighborhoods reach their full potential.”

Nutter said projects like this are one of the reasons why the 2010 Census showed a population growth in the city for the first time in 60 years. He added that revitalizing Germantown Avenue is a part of the city’s commitment to its people. The mayor said that while his office is downtown his work is here.

“My work gets done on Germantown Avenue,” Nutter said. “My work gets done on Lancaster Avenue. My work gets done on Frankford Avenue. My work gets done on Girard Avenue, on Market Street in West Philly, and streets in the northeast and up in the northwest and down in South Philly and along the river wards.”

He added that these neighborhoods and their local businesses were “the backbone of the economy of Philadelphia.”

“Change like this does not happen in a vacuum,” Gupta said. “There are essential ingredients to making it happen: leadership, partnership, drive, persistence, diligence and vision.

Gupta said that it was only through strong partnerships, determination and hard work that redevelopment projects get successfully completed.

Brad Copeland, real estate director at Mt. Airy USA said during the last 10 years Mt. Airy USA has invested about $19 million in the Avenue. Copeland added that Mt. Airy USA will be investing $1.3 to 1.6 million in this stretch of Germantown Avenue.

“The overall impact of real estate development is often very visible and physical, but at the end of the day what were doing is trying to create beautiful space,” Copeland said. “We’re trying to create space that community life can flow into and use.”

Karen Lockhart Fegely, director of the Office of Neighborhood Economic Development for the Philadelphia’s Commerce Department, said these and other projects by Mt. Airy USA will “strengthen the whole corridor for other businesses and residents.

“The Commerce Department supports these development grants to help nonprofits develop key properties on the corridor that may not get done without some public investment to help spur further private investment,” she added.

Alan Greenberger, deputy mayor for economic development, said shopping patterns have changed over the years.

“We still rely on these corridors not only for certain services and good, restaurants and things that we need, but we also rely on them as a statement about ourselves and who we are as a people,” Greenberger said. “So when things look shabby, it’s sort of a reflection on all of us.”

He pointed out that “this kind of small-scale, neighborhood-base economic development” plays a vital role in creating a flourishing city, adding that such projects are like “a mosaic tile that you do one tile at a time.”

“After a while the image starts to make itself evident, and it becomes clear,” Greenberger said. “Thanks to groups like Mt. Airy USA, Germantown Avenue is becoming part of that great picture.”