by Sue Ann Rybak
At its peak, Wayne Junction and its surrounding neighborhood was an industrial hub. Recent years have been less than kind to the area – many of its factories are empty and others were razed by the city leaving behind weedy, vacant lots.
The fortunes of Wayne Junction are now set to change thanks to Ken Weinstein, president of Philly Office Retail and owner of The Trolley Car Diner, who has invested roughly $12 million to revitalize the area.
Weinstein plans to redevelop seven formerly vacant properties and create new office space, apartments and a vintage trolley-car style dinner in the area. The redevelopment will also incorporate attractive streetscaping – new street trees, pedestrian lighting and murals.
Weinstein said The Wayne Junction Revitalization Project is very different from Philly Office Retail’s typical projects.
“Over the last 29 years, I worked on scattered site rehab,” he said. “Which means we buy and renovate properties one at a time. In the case of Wayne Junction, you can’t just renovate one building and expect tenants to sign leases and move in. It’s an area that has seen significant disinvestment over the years and needed the renovation of several buildings at once in order to revitalize.”
Wayne Junction Station, located on Windrim Avenue in the city’s Nicetown neighborhood just below Germantown, is a major transportation hub for SEPTA. It was opened by the Reading Railroad company in 1881. The original station was designed by architect Frank Furness (who also designed Gravers Station in Chestnut Hill among others) and was rebuilt in 1901.
Today, Wayne Junction serves as a multi-modal transfer point between six of SEPTA’s regional rail lines as well as three major transit routes – the Route 75 Trackless Trolley ant the Route 23 and 53 bus lines. The station serves more than 321,000 riders annually.
In 2015, SEPTA invested $31.5 million to renovate and upgrade the station. Those improvements included installing new elevators and an American with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliant egress throughout the station, new lighting, repairing passenger tunnels and stairways, repaired structures and canopies and security cameras. The Federal Transit Administration granted $3.98 million to SEPTA to help with renovations.
Earlier this month, the state Historic Preservation Review Board approved the Philadelphia Historical Commission’s request to create the Wayne Junction National Historical District, a collection of eight large-scale industrial buildings built between the late-19th and mid-20th century surrounding the Wayne Junction Station. The eight properties include Wayne Junction Train Station at 4481 Wayne Ave., New Glen Echo Mills at 130 W. Berkley St., Brown Instrument Company at 4433 Wayne Ave., Max Levy Autograph at 212-220 Roberts Ave., Arguto Oilless Bearing Company at 149 W. Berkley St., Blaisdell Paper Pencil Company at 137-45 Berkley St., The Keystone Dry Plate & Film Works / Moore Push Pin building at 113-29 Berkley St. and 200-10 Roberts Ave.
While a historic designation can make a project more complicated – renovations must adhere to guidelines that ensure historic structures are preserved right down to particular building materials, facedes and windows – Weinstein said he is happy for the designation.
“Even though, the designation will likely cost Philly Office Retail more in construction, as we revitalize the Wayne Junction area, it will ensure that no more historic factory buildings are demolished,” he said. “These buildings are the fabric of our community and need to be saved.”
Andrew Trackman, Germantown United CDC’s executive director, agreed, calling the designation positive.
“I think that the historic built environment of Germantown is a community and economic asset,” he said. “Although, I do believe that the whole historic process in Philadelphia needs a lot of work.”
Trackman said the work Weinstein (Philly Office Retail) is doing near Wayne Junction “will bring life to those buildings” and Germantown, especially since, business owners, who are moving in there, will create jobs and promote healthy economic growth.
With any urban revitalization project, however, there are always concerns that rising property values could displace current residents. Similar developments in the city’s Point Breeze, for example, have pit long time residents against developers over gentrification fears.
Villia Lateef, a block captain in the area, said while she is excited about the redevelopment project, many homeowners are worried about the potential for gentrification.
“There has been a huge influx of people in the neighborhood putting notices in homeowners’ mailboxes asking them if they are looking to sell,” she said.
Lateef added that recently three homes were bought and “flipped” into apartments. She said they’ve all turned into nuisance properties.
Councilwoman Cindy Bass, whose district includes the Wayne Junction district said she is working to make sure communication between the neighborhood’s residents and Weinstein remains open.
“We need development and we want development, but we do not want displacement by forces like gentrification,” she said. “There are families who have been in the Wayne Junction community for generations. They have been as much a part of fighting to maintain their neighborhoods, bring resources to their communities and keep the children safe despite negative influences as any developer. These families have been there, and the challenge is to find ways to facilitate everyone working together in a way that will benefit everyone. My office is committed to working with Ken and all developers to ensure that the community is heard and can be a part of uplifting this neighborhood and all of its residents.”
Lateef said everyone in the community wants to live in a safer, more pedestrian-friendly environment with urban green space. She said change is good, but steps must be taken to ensure that current homeowners are not priced out, so residents “who stuck it out in difficult times” can enjoy the benefits of the Wayne Junction Revitalization. After all, the fabric of any community is made up of its people, and research has proven that everyone benefits from living in a diverse socio-economic community.
Sue Ann Rybak can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 215-248-8804