Ken Goldenberg has been selected to redevelop the long-vacant Logan Triangle with a mixed-use project of undisclosed dimensions and specifications, according to a city official.
The Triangle is a 40-acre sprawl of grass, trees and shrubs that used to be the site of hundreds of homes. Those homes, built on unstable soil, started sinking in the 1950s. Since the 1980s, the city has relocated former residents, and the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority (PRA) has acquired all the vacant parcels through eminent domain.
Brian Abernathy, executive director of the PRA, has been saying over the course of the year that he's been in talks with a developer to redevelop the site. He announced a preliminary agreement with Goldenberg at a community meeting in Logan on Tuesday night that was focused on completing a neighborhood plan for the area surrounding the Triangle. Another meeting will be scheduled in October to talk about the specifics of the Triangle plan. Abernathy didn't offer additional details about the project on Tuesday and declined to disclose the terms of the deal with the Goldenberg Group.
The Triangle is one of the largest vacant lots in the city and easily the biggest planning concern in Logan. But it's not the only one. Last summer, Logan CDC was in the midst of carrying out a neighborhood plan when it ran into financial problems and abruptly shut down. The work, which was funded by Wells Fargo Regional Foundation, has languished since then. But the PRA has now taken it upon itself to see the neighborhood plan to fruition. It has reengaged WRT, the Philadelphia design firm that was working with Logan CDC on the neighborhood planning and resident survey, to finish the job.
"First of all, I want to say I know the city has been absent for too long," said Abernathy at the beginning of the meeting. "I know we haven't served your community well over the last 30 years, and I apologize for that."
Abernathy said he's working to gain the trust of the community, and that he feels confident work at Logan Triangle — which has seen a series of failed proposals over the last three decades — is on track this time. Construction could begin within two years, Abernathy said, though he was careful to point out that Goldenberg himself is less firm on that time line.
Tuesday night's meeting was meant to prioritize community needs identified during previous planning meetings.
Garlen Capita, of WRT, outlined some of those priorities at the outset, including improvements to public safety, workforce development, recreation amenities, and maintaining the neighborhood's historic assets. Residents, gathered at Beloved St. John Evangelistic Church on North Broad Street, then split into groups to discuss individual aspects of the plan.
In a back corner of the church, one of the larger groups met to discuss forming a new community association for the neighborhood, which has been lacking centralized civic leadership since Logan CDC shut down. PRA has been in talks with a number of church leaders, small CDCs, and individual community residents, and Abernathy has stressed the importance of rebuilding the civic infrastructure in the area before the Logan Triangle plans get too far along.
Charlene Samuels, a Logan resident and longtime community advocate, quickly took charge of the discussion and outlined the basic needs of a community group: bylaws, officers, and a mission. Before long, someone nominated her to be the new group's president. The meeting adjourned before any charters were drawn up, but PlanPhilly asked to be kept in the loop. (Note: PlanPhilly is hosting an event focused on starting, joining, and effectively running civic associations next month.)
"It's been a long time coming …" said Walter Yarbrough, a deacon at Beloved St. John Evangelistic Church and director of the St. John Beloved CDC. "Here in Logan, we've been suffering in poverty and crime."
Yarbrough said keeping community members connected is key to the success of the Triangle project and the wider community plan. He said personally, he hopes the redevelopment produces a supermarket in addition to workforce training for young people in the neighborhood. He credited the PRA for meeting with the community and actually revealing the developer's name.
"I think that we're well on our way to getting something done," Yarbrough said. "If we waited 30 years, I think I can wait another three or four."
Goldenberg's most visible built legacy in the city are big box stores, the IKEA complex on South Christopher Columbus Boulevard and the Park West Town Center at 52nd and Parkside. The latter was partially subsidized with a tax increment financing package (TIF). His most visible unbuilt legacy is the Disney Hole, the massive surface parking lot at 8th and Market streets.
Goldenberg had worked on a proposal to help develop a Disney theme park on the site in the late 1990s and early 2000s, a proposal which later fell through, leaving Philadelphia taxpayers out $10 million. The developer, who was once among former Mayor John Street's most generous campaign donors, most recently sought to build the Market8 Casino on the same site, but was passed over for a casino license from the state gaming board.
Abernathy said on Tuesday night that Goldenberg is the right choice to redevelop Logan Triangle for a number of reasons. For one, he's the only developer who has shown continuous interest in building something on the site, according to Abernathy. Back in 2007, both Goldenberg and fellow would-be casino operator Bart Blatstein submitted proposals in response to an RFP from the Redevelopment Authority. Those plans were shelved when the recession began soon after.
Abernathy also said that Goldenberg, a native Philadelphian, believes his development projects shouldn't work to his benefit alone. (Goldenberg has started a charity called the People Helping People Foundation.) Investment from the developer has already allowed the PRA to start doing cleanup work at the Triangle, and Abernathy said he believes Goldenberg has the means and wherewithal to get a redevelopment project done. He also believes he has the "right outlook" on the project.
"These folks have had government officials cycle in and out," said Abernathy, who was appointed by outgoing Mayor Michael Nutter, after the meeting.
He said he's focused on getting something built at Logan Triangle that serves a community need, creates a profit for the developer, and respects the surrounding neighborhood.
"This is what we should be doing," he said.
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