Germantown saddled with three stalled developments

by Tom Beck
Posted 3/16/23

After years of decline, Northwest Philadelphia’s Germantown neighborhood has in recent years become attractive to developers.

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Germantown saddled with three stalled developments


After years of decline, Northwest Philadelphia’s Germantown neighborhood has in recent years become attractive to developers as investors seek to capitalize on land for dense new housing projects. 

But despite having developers lined up, three of the neighborhood’s largest and most important buildings have so far languished – Germantown Town Hall, Germantown High School and the Germantown YWCA. 

All three are loaded with potential for neighborhood revitalization – and are prime candidates for redevelopment. But so far, despite three different developers working on each project, all of them remain vacant. 

The following is an update on their status. 

Germantown Town Hall

Germantown Town Hall is currently owned by the city via the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation (PIDC), which last summer granted a memorandum of understanding to developer Anthony Fullard of West Powelton Development. The agreement gives Fullard’s team access to the site, so they can conduct a feasibility study. 

In a public meeting last month, Fullard discussed his vision for a new 39-unit building to be constructed on the parcel of land behind the building, which is now used as a parking lot for the 14th Police District headquarters. 

He then described an array of possible uses for the original building, including commercial space, an event space, short-term AirBnB rentals and one-bedroom apartments. But the presentation lacked a formal proposal, and many questions remain unanswered about the timeline, and how the project will be funded. 

Ultimately, Fullard said, he’d like to turn the building into a “tourist attraction.”

“There's a lot of history obviously in this area and the hope is that people would like to stay here instead of staying downtown,” said Daryn Edwards, the architect on Fullard’s team. 

Neighbors, who have asked that the project include commercial spaces and an event space, have been skeptical about the viability of the project under Fullard, who some say might not have the resources to pull off such a complex project. 

Fullard, who estimated the project would cost between $10 and $12 million, said funding “has not been ascertained by this point.” He noted, however, that his company would attempt to procure both public and private funds.

SoLo Germantown Civic Association president Allison Weiss said Fullard appears to be telling neighbors what they want to hear, rather than providing a serious appraisal of what is possible. 

“He’s saying OK to anything and everything. Any idea anybody said, they said ‘oh great, we’ll do that,” she said. “I want facts. I want to know what’s going to succeed.”

Julie Stapleton Carroll, president of Germantown United CDC, concurred. 

“It seems like they were just trying to throw things at the community they think they’d like,” she said. “We need more answers.”

Fullard, who estimated the project would cost between $10 and $12 million, said funding “has not been ascertained by this point.” He noted, however, that his company would attempt to procure both public and private funds. 

According to city spokesperson Kevin Lessard, the potential development has seen “no substantive update” since this time last year. It’s unlikely, he added, that there will be any updates until later this spring “at the earliest.”

Fullard did not return a phone call from the Local for this story before the print deadline.

Germantown High School

Germantown High School developer Jack Azran didn’t return phone calls for this story, but the Local did see workers inside the main building, located just across the street from Germantown Town Hall, as recently as last month. 

Construction could be heard inside the building, where workers had their radios blaring through the open windows. About this time last year, Azran told the Local that the building was still in the process of being cleared out and that he wasn’t sure how he would develop it. 

The School District of Philadelphia closed Germantown High School in 2013, along with 22 other schools, due to dwindling enrollment and budget cuts. It has been vacant ever since. 

In 2017, Azran acquired the property for $100,000 – only about six percent of its assessed value. Then, in early 2020, word that the developer planned to put a strip mall on the front lawn prompted neighborhood activists to get the building, and the lawn, added to the city’s Register of Historic Places. 

The building’s historic nomination turned out to be a double-edged sword. It prevented the building from being torn down, but it also cut the community out of the development process, thanks to 2019 legislation that gave zoning relief to developers of historic properties. Azran and his partner on the project, Eli Alon, no longer needed a zoning variance to turn the school into apartments, so they no longer needed to work with the neighborhood RCO.

To this day, it’s unclear what the Germantown High School redevelopment will include and when it will be completed.

Germantown YWCA

Of the three big potential Germantown developments, the Germantown YWCA is the one that has been the most frustrating for residents. 

The building has been vacant since 2016, when the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority (PRA), which owns the building, awarded a contract to KBK Enterprises to develop the building. Germantown residents and activists successfully lobbied the PRA to revoke that contact. But the PRA reversed that decision nine months later, saying in an email that asking a new developer to step in would be fruitless without the support of Councilmember Cindy Bass, who supports KBK.

At the time, members of a group called Friends for the Restoration of the Germantown YWCA Building called the PRA’s decision “a slap in the face to us and the hundreds, if not thousands, of others who have been engaged in the campaign to preserve and repurpose the Germantown YWCA Building.”

Bass, in response, told the Local that “I've always indicated I was open to supporting new development proposals. However, this current one is still on the table and is still very much in dispute. I'd like to tie up those loose ends first.” 

The Local has repeatedly contacted KBK to ask about progress on the building, and has never received a response.