“The subsidies the developer will apply for require the developer to have community meetings,” PRA spokesperson Jamila Davis said in an email. “This meeting is part of that process.”
After failing to meet a May deadline to find financing for a development proposal at the Germantown YWCA under the terms of its agreement with the city, KBK Enterprises, the company contracted by the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority to redevelop the property, has a new deadline: Oct. 30.
The new deadline was given, according to PRA spokesperson Jamila Davis, to allow KBK time to apply for a development subsidy that helps finance the project. The application process for the subsidy requires that KBK hold a public meeting, Davis said, which has been scheduled for Oct. 12 at 6 p.m. It’ll take place at Center in the Park, located next door to the Y at 5818 Germantown Ave.
“The subsidies the developer will apply for require the developer to have community meetings,” Davis said in an email. “This meeting is part of that process.”
Davis declined to provide details of the subsidy, including how much it was worth and where it was coming from. That information would have to come from KBK, she said.
KBK has not responded to questions about the project since 2019, the last time the developer appeared at a community meeting. No KBK representatives were present at the most recent community meeting about the development in late 2021.
In December 2021, in response to an emailed list of questions sent by the Local, communications manager Malcolm Murray told the Local that “we will not have any comments to make regarding this development.”
For years, KBK has struggled to find financing for the building, which has sat vacant for nearly two decades. The development company, which is based in Columbus and Pittsburgh and has not developed any other properties in Philadelphia, was first given a contract by the PRA to develop the building in 2016. Since that time, residents, many of whom have organized into a group called Friends for the Restoration of the Germantown YWCA Building, have grown increasingly frustrated with KBK’s lack of progress, as the abandoned building continues to be an eyesore along Germantown’s main corridor.
However, there are some, like West Central Germantown Neighbors president Suzanne Ponsen, who are “cautiously optimistic” about what the meeting could mean for the building’s future.
“I’m encouraged that things are moving,” Ponsen, who is a member of the Friends group, said in a phone call. “Hopefully there won’t be the tie-ups and [KBK will] be able to proceed.”
Ponsen, like many Germantown residents, is hopeful KBK finds a way to include affordable housing in her neighborhood – something she feels it desperately needs. But ultimately “If the plan is feasible and it’s good for Germantown then that’s good for me,” she said. “We just want The Y occupied and to be a vibrant place. People walk by there now and it’s dead.”
Ann Marie Doley, another Germantown resident who has been active in the fight to get the Y redeveloped, is also open to the possibility of giving KBK another chance at developing the building.
But for that to happen, KBK’s proposal must include low- or mixed-income housing, ideally for seniors, she said.
According to a press release for the meeting, Doley might just get her wish. The project, the press release says, is slated to have 45 affordable rental units consisting of studios and one- and two-bedroom flats and lofts. It will also include 10,000 square feet of commercial retail space on the ground floor and 10,000 square feet of office space in the basement.
But Doley also wants to see the building’s first floor dedicated to some sort of cultural and social hub for the neighborhood, like a performing arts space, an exhibition center or space for a room that can hold meetings or classes. She also wants to see the mural on the side of the building restored, a timeline for completion and for Center in the Park to maintain access to the building’s rear parking lot, which serves as the only ADA-accessible entrance to the building for that organization’s many mobility-impaired elderly guests.
But most of all, Doley said, KBK has to find a way to inspire confidence in the community that the company can get the job done.
“It’s been seven years and they still don’t have all the money needed to get started,” she said. “None of this inspires confidence nor does KBK’s lack of experience repurposing historic buildings.”
Then there are some Germantown residents, like Yvonne Haskins, who aren’t getting their hopes up. Haskins, who is also a member of the Friends group, said she has “no knowledge of whether KBK is prepared to develop this building.”
Haskins, who has arguably been the most vocal opponent to KBK, cited residents’ success in lobbying the PRA to terminate its contract with KBK in 2021 – only to see their efforts reversed by District City Councilmember Cindy Bass the following year – as evidence that nothing should be taken for granted.
“With all of that,” she said. “How in the world can we have any expectations of what’s coming with this meeting?
Bass’ office did not respond to the Local’s request for comment before its Tuesday deadline. However, she told the Local in June that she remains committed to keeping KBK, which she said has been treated unfairly by the PRA, on the project. Now that the pandemic is out of the way, she said, she expects the company will be able to find financing.
“Only now is the development in a position where an appropriate model stands a real chance of gathering state support to put this important asset back into a position where the community can benefit,” she said.
Bass has also been vigilant that a large part of her desire to keep KBK on the project wrests upon her opinion that Germantown, a majority-Black neighborhood, deserves to have Black-owned development companies building inside of it.
“The narrative [is] that KBK is somehow incompetent, unable,” Bass said at the December 2021 meeting. “This is a narrative that I hear over and over and over again when it comes to Black and Brown developers in this city and enough is enough.”