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SEPTA smooths rift with Frankford neighbors

August 6, 2015
In The News

Plan­ning ahead: A SEPTA rep­res­ent­at­ive said that the trans­port­a­tion agency is will­ing to re­devel­op its em­ploy­ee park­ing lot at Pratt and Griscom streets for com­mer­cial uses sought by the com­munity. Such a pro­ject would not con­flict with the agency’s plan to build the con­trol cen­ter and dis­trict of­fice on an ad­ja­cent par­cel. Above, an artist ren­der­ing for the pro­ject is shown. SOURCE: SEPTA
 
A clash between Frank­ford com­munity lead­ers and SEPTA over the agency’s planned con­struc­tion of a new $12 mil­lion con­trol cen­ter and a $9.7-mil­lion dis­trict of­fice near the Frank­ford Ter­min­al eased last Thursday when agency of­fi­cials said they would help bring a new su­per­mar­ket to the neigh­bor­hood.

Dur­ing a pub­lic meet­ing hos­ted by state Rep. Jason Dawkins, SEPTA’s as­sist­ant gen­er­al man­ager for pub­lic and gov­ern­ment af­fairs, Fran­cis Kelly, said that the trans­port­a­tion agency is will­ing to re­devel­op its em­ploy­ee park­ing lot at Pratt and Griscom streets for com­mer­cial uses sought by the com­munity. Such a pro­ject would not con­flict with the agency’s plan to build the con­trol cen­ter and dis­trict of­fice on an ad­ja­cent par­cel.

Frank­ford Com­munity De­vel­op­ment Cor­por­a­tion Ex­ec­ut­ive Dir­ect­or Kim Wash­ing­ton de­scribed Kelly’s an­nounce­ment as a first step in en­sur­ing that the neigh­bor­hood doesn’t be­come Phil­adelphia’s next “food desert.”

“We star­ted at a place where we were at total op­pos­ite ends of the spec­trum,” Wash­ing­ton said. “It took a lot of push from the com­munity, not only among ourselves but also to show up at SEPTA board meet­ings, to get our mes­sage to the top.”

The com­munity first learned of SEPTA’s con­struc­tion plans in March when the agency ap­proached the CDC to so­li­cit sup­port for zon­ing changes for the af­fected prop­erty on the west side of Frank­ford Av­en­ue, between Pratt and Dyre streets.

The neigh­bor­hood’s lone su­per­mar­ket, Hol­i­day Thrift­way, is on the op­pos­ite side of Frank­ford Av­en­ue, but its days are numbered. Ac­cord­ing to Wash­ing­ton, Rite Aid owns that prop­erty and plans to de­mol­ish the su­per­mar­ket once the cur­rent lease ex­pires in about two years. Rite Aid wants to build a new phar­macy there, Wash­ing­ton said.

CDC lead­ers figured that the va­cant SEPTA-owned par­cel would be a great place for a new su­per­mar­ket, but SEPTA had oth­er ideas. Ac­cord­ing to Kelly, the con­trol cen­ter is a fed­er­ally fun­ded pro­ject and is cru­cial to pub­lic trans­port­a­tion in Phil­adelphia. It will be cap­able of co­ordin­at­ing rail and bus traffic throughout the re­gion and serve as an aux­il­i­ary to SEPTA’s primary con­trol fa­cil­ity at 1234 Mar­ket St. If the main con­trol cen­ter goes down for any reas­on, the Frank­ford cen­ter can man­age the sys­tem. The fed­er­al tax dol­lars will fund $9 mil­lion of the cost, with the state con­trib­ut­ing $2.9 mil­lion and loc­al sources $100,000.

Mean­while, the new dis­trict of­fice will abut the con­trol cen­ter and serve Frank­ford-based SEPTA em­ploy­ees. The state will pay for $9.39 mil­lion of the cost with a loc­al con­tri­bu­tion of $310,000.

The CDC was still try­ing to per­suade SEPTA to in­clude some com­mer­cial de­vel­op­ment in the pro­ject on June 23 when the agency an­nounced at a meet­ing of the Frank­ford Busi­ness and Pro­fes­sion­al As­so­ci­ation that it would soon break ground on the con­trol cen­ter and dis­trict of­fice. SEPTA had got­ten City Coun­cil to ap­prove the zon­ing changes without the CDC’s in­put. Shocked by that news, Wash­ing­ton or­gan­ized a demon­stra­tion at SEPTA’s pub­lic board meet­ing two days later. About 35 pro­test­ers joined the CDC lead­er, who re­portedly de­bated Kelly about the is­sue for an hour.

Dur­ing the in­ter­ven­ing weeks, Wash­ing­ton lob­bied Dawkins, state Rep. John Taylor, Coun­cil­wo­man Maria Quinones-Sanc­hez, Con­gress­man Brendan Boyle and oth­er elec­ted of­fi­cials to in­ter­vene on the com­munity’s be­half. Wash­ing­ton ar­gued that large de­velop­able par­cels are rare in Frank­ford so any trans­port­a­tion-re­lated pro­jects should also in­clude com­mer­cial com­pon­ents that will boost the loc­al eco­nomy, be­ne­fit­ting res­id­ents and SEPTA.

“We can’t let an as­set like that de­vel­op without something that has a lar­ger eco­nom­ic im­pact on the com­munity,” Wash­ing­ton said.

Kelly said that SEPTA will seek pro­pos­als from de­velopers for the ex­ist­ing em­ploy­ee park­ing lot at Pratt and Griscom through a form­al bid­ding pro­cess. The com­munity will have in­put in de­term­in­ing the best op­tion among those re­ceived. Ul­ti­mately, Kelly said, SEPTA will re­tain own­er­ship of the new com­mer­cial de­vel­op­ment, leas­ing it to its fu­ture oc­cu­pants. SEPTA has room in a nearby park­ing gar­age for em­ploy­ees to park.

“We want a bet­ter com­munity around the trans­port­a­tion cen­ter be­cause that’s bet­ter for us,” Kelly said.

SEPTA of­fi­cials have not an­nounced a timetable for a bid­ding pro­cess.

“At the end of the day, if we can bring a su­per­mar­ket and we can bring jobs to Frank­ford, that’s the way to go,” Wash­ing­ton said. “The com­munity needs to be con­sidered any time any­thing comes to Frank­ford. I think we’re mov­ing in the right dir­ec­tion, but we have to put our trust on the line and give SEPTA time to do what they say they’re go­ing to do.” ••

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