ERNEST SAXON remembers the good old days when he could leave his house on Park Avenue in Fern Rock and saunter a couple of blocks to Broad Street and Olney Avenue for some breakfast and a cup of coffee in the morning.
But those days, says Saxon, 72, are long gone.
"Around the '80s was the transition, because the whole neighborhood at that time started to change," said Saxon, who bought his house near Nedro Avenue in 1969. "I've seen the transition from being the second African-American family that moved on our block to watching the whole area change, and watching the whole area's economic status change."
Now, Saxon, an organizer for the Park Avenue Civic Association, has hope for bringing the area back to its glory days: Councilwoman Cindy Bass, along with Councilwoman Marian Tasco, state Rep. Stephen Kinsey and a number of city agencies, community stakeholders and businesses are teaming up on an effort to revitalize the corridor, which is home to the Olney Transportation Center, the second-busiest transportation hub in the city.
On Friday, Bass and Kinsey hosted a walk-through of the business sector near Broad and Olney. Representatives from SEPTA, the Department of Licenses and Inspections, the Police Department, the Streets Department and numerous other city agencies joined property managers and community members on the walk to take a closer look at where improvements are needed and begin to form a plan.
"Wouldn't it be great if this was a destination?" Bass asked the several dozen people who joined the walk. "We believe it can be."
Tasco, whose district borders Bass' on the east side of Broad, said she's been working since taking office in 1988 to improve the area, but plans like special-services districts have been a hard sell to business owners.
"What we have to do is find the will," Tasco said. "It won't come to fruition unless everybody's on the same page."
Bass stressed trash cleanup and streetscape improvements - like trees - as early potential fixes. Long term, she said, she wants to bring a more diverse mix of businesses to the area - now filled mostly with hair and nail salons, beauty shops, takeout restaurants and vacant storefronts - and work with police to combat such quality-of-life issues as drug sales and loitering.
Kinsey said the most important part of improving the corridor will be input from the community and business owners, and a coordinated effort among stakeholders.
"The reality is, when you have individuals, elected officials and businesses out of sync, it doesn't work," said Kinsey, whose legislative district soon will include Broad and Olney. "We're in the business of listening and working together."
As Saxon walked on Friday, he recalled Broad and Olney's bygone era, pointing to the old Smith Deli, which drew residents from every corner of the city.
"This meeting is a long time coming," he said. "My goal and objective is to bring this area back to the quality that it used to be."