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Wayne Junction Diner is back, kind of, in $12M revitalization plan for N. Philly

Mount Airy-based developer Ken Weinstein is returning a diner to Wayne Junction's blighted midst in his plan for a new neighborhood commercial core.

Mount Airy-based developer Ken Weinstein, 53, is on the roof of the Marv Levy building overlooking the intersection of Wayne Avenue and Berkley Street, an area he plans to redevelop.
Mount Airy-based developer Ken Weinstein, 53, is on the roof of the Marv Levy building overlooking the intersection of Wayne Avenue and Berkley Street, an area he plans to redevelop.Read moreCLEM MURRAY

Long after the area around Wayne Junction station in North Philadelphia lost its industrial-era bustle, it still had the Wayne Junction Diner, a 1950s eatery turned ruin-porn landmark that was demolished in 2008.

Mount Airy-based developer Ken Weinstein is now returning a diner to the station's blighted midst as part of his plan to transform the enclave of vacant factories and warehouses into apartments, restaurants, and offices.

A vintage Mountain View Diners Co. car acquired by Weinstein's Philly Office Retail LLC is on its way from Connecticut to a vacant parcel near the core of what the developer hopes will become a lively commercial district joining Germantown and Nicetown.

In all, he said, about $12 million is being spent by Philly Office Retail to purchase and renovate seven properties encompassing nearly 123,000 square feet on streets west of the station and along Germantown Avenue to its north. Construction is to begin in early 2018.

Working in his favor are the potential retail and restaurant patrons, office tenants, and residents fed by Wayne Junction station — among the region's busiest — and by U.S. Route 1, which has an on-ramp barely a half-mile away, he said.

"It really is a unique site, with such an active train hub and easy access to the highway," said Weinstein, who plans to formally announce his vision Tuesday. "It just seemed like an obvious choice."

Weinstein has developed properties throughout the region, with a focus in Germantown and Mount Airy. His Trolley Car Diner & Deli has spawned sibling cafes in East Falls and — soon — University City. He also runs a training program for aspiring developers in underserved communities known as Jumpstart.

His Wayne Junction plans most closely echo his work more than 20 years ago in Mount Airy, when he helped spark a neighborhood retail-strip renaissance by filling blighted properties on Germantown Avenue between Mount Pleasant Avenue and Allens Lane with shops and restaurants. The blocks are now home to the Earth Bread & Brewery pizzeria and the upscale Cresheim Valley Grain Exchange restaurant.

Weinstein acknowledged that the swath of Mount Airy he helped revive is not directly comparable to the less affluent Wayne Junction area, but he said he's up for the challenge.

He's also not starting at Wayne Junction from scratch, with SEPTA having completed a $31.5 million station renovation in 2015. And just east of the station, the Nicetown Court I and II mixed-use developments have brought in apartments and businesses.

"I'm glad there's someone who has the capacity to improve the conditions of the neighborhood and help revitalize it and improve the economy," said Majeedah Rashid, chief operations officer for Nicetown Court developer Nicetown Community Development Corp. "Those are a lot of the same things that we're doing."

Also buttressing Weinstein's efforts is West Philadelphia-based Mosaic Development Partners, which plans to convert a former 40,000-square-foot medical supply manufacturing facility at Wayne Avenue and Apsley Street into a complex of 29 apartments with a daycare center, a High Point Cafe, and another restaurant.

Mosaic co-founder Leslie Smallwood-Lewis said she hadn't been aware of Weinstein's plans when her company began working in the neighborhood but was glad to learn of them.

"It's great synergy," said Smallwood-Lewis, whose company plans to spend $7.4 million on what it's calling Golaski Park. "It helps both of us to have both our companies investing time and resources into the community."

The centerpiece of Weinstein's plan involves the conversion of a former pencil factory at 137-45 Berkley St. into offices and restaurant space for a Deke's Bar-B-Que, which also will continue operating its existing location in Wissahickon. Also planned for the building, across the street from the still-functioning Wayne Mills textile plant beside the rail station, is a microbrewery or craft distillery, Weinstein said.

On an empty lot beside that building, Weinstein plans to install the vintage diner car, which will be named the Wayne Junction Diner in tribute to its demolished forerunner. While the diner is a near-identical model to the one that houses his Trolley Car eatery in Mount Airy, he has no plans to run this one himself.

Also part of Weinstein's plan is the conversion of the three-story 1902 warehouse at near Roberts and Wayne Avenues, where the Max Levy Autograph Inc. precision instruments business once operated. It will house 21 apartments.

And about two blocks to the north on Germantown Avenue, across the street from Loudoun Park, Weinstein is renovating the 140-year-old former Charles Schaeffer School to accommodate his own offices, which will relocate from Mount Airy, as well as coworking spaces for his Jumpstart program.

"It's important to show a commitment, not just with investment dollars, but also with our personal presence," he said. "I wanted to invest somehow that I could make money, but also to satisfy a need."