Keith B. Key, CEO of a development company that’s been contracted to redevelop the Germantown YWCA, announced a new funding plan.
Keith B. Key, chief executive officer of KBK Enterprises, a development company that’s been contracted to redevelop the Germantown YWCA for the past seven years, announced at a Thursday night town hall meeting that he’s seeking funding to redevelop the building from the Neighborhood Preservation Initiative, a city fund meant for supporting affordable housing and commercial revitalization programs in Philadelphia, and also through tax credits offered by the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency. If both funding sources come through, Key said, the project’s financing should be set.
“Those two pieces of the puzzle are really the last two pieces that really make this project become completed and closed,” he said. If all goes smoothly, Key said, KBK should have confirmation of the funds by April or May of next year. As a result, construction would be able to start in the fall of next year and the project would be completed in the fall of 2025.
KBK had struggled ever since being awarded the contract in 2016 to find funding, and as a result, many in the community called for the developer to be taken off the contract.
However, this time, Councilmember Cindy Bass said the project was “proceeding.”
“We're where we need to be,” she said at the meeting, which was hosted by her office. “This is not the moment to switch gears…we’re all ready.”
Key presented plans for the building, which include 45 affordable residential units consisting of studios, one- and two-bedroom flats and one- and two-bedroom lofts. They also include 10,000 square feet of commercial space on the ground floor and an additional 10,000 square feet of office space in the basement. Of the 45 affordable units, 22 will be offered at 60% of the area’s median income, 18 will be offered at 50% of the area’s median income and five will be offered at 20%.
Community reaction to the project was mixed.
At the beginning of his presentation, Key detailed some of his other projects around the country in cities like Pittsburgh and New Orleans.
“But everything he showed was prefab,” said Bernard Lambert, a Germantown-based neighborhood activist and member of the Friends for the Restoration of the Germantown YWCA Building group. “He did not show any historic buildings that he had already done. It ultimately comes down to a whole lot of nothing.”
But for some other Germantown residents, like Cornelia Swinson, that was no big deal.
“That’s not a problem for me,” she said. “Any developer can hire somebody with the [historic] expertise to be a part of their development team.”
Swinson said she doesn’t necessarily feel optimistic or non-optimistic about the project finally getting completed, but she considered Key’s presentation “a good start.”
“This is clearly not a man who doesn’t have development experience,” she said. “He does. That gives me comfort.”
Parking for Center in the Park
Another concern for residents, or more specifically the guests at Center in the Park, a community center that caters to older adults, was access to the rear parking lot along Rittenhouse Street. Currently, the Germantown Y and Center in the Park share a parking lot, but the lot is part of the Germantown Y’s parcel.
Because the Germantown Y is vacant, there’s plenty of space in the lot for SEPTA CCT Connect vans, which cater to people with disabilities and mobility issues, to pull in, drop off Center in the Park guests and turn around. Renee Cunningham, executive director of Center in the Park, is concerned about how Germantown Y’s redevelopment will affect access to her organization’s building for many of Center in the Park’s guests.
“Probably 90% use this Rittenhouse Street entrance,” Cunningham said. “If a participant’s knees hurt because of the rain and they can’t park in the upper lot, they might turn around and go home.”
When the Germantown Y was up and running years ago, Center in the Park had an easement with the Y that allowed the CCT Connect vans to use the space, Cunningham said. That easement has since expired, and Cunningham has been wanting to negotiate a parking lot access with KBK ever since she first became the organization’s executive director five years ago. However, Cunningham said, Key has been unresponsive since the latest in a series of meetings between the two sides, which happened in 2019.
“There has been not a hint of contact with KBK over the last four years,” she said.
Key addressed the parking issue during the question and answer portion of the meeting. He’s “hoping there's a collaboration and partnership,” he said, “so that the residents who live [in the Y] are part of the solution and say ‘Hey, I better park further so that our seniors can park closer.’”
Cunningham called this a “non-answer.”
“Center in the Park is very invested in coming up with a workable agreement that allows our folks to have as much access as possible,” she said. “But based on the conversation [Thursday] night, geez, I don’t know.”
Odds and ends
Earlier this month, the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority (PRA), which owns the building, confirmed to the Local that KBK was given an extension under the terms of a reservation letter to show that it has the funds to develop the building by Oct. 30.
Bass, who as a district councilmember has the power to block other developers from getting a contract for the property, has long supported KBK for the project – and has long blamed the company’s lack of progress on racial bias at the PRA, something she did again Thursday night.
After the bids were scored by the Redevelopment Authority, KBK’s score was listed as lower, Bass said, “because they were listed as a non-minority, and that is not the case.”
“My office pointed this out to the Redevelopment Authority,” Bass continued, “and sometime later, the Redevelopment Authority came back and made the correction and said that after fixing their error, they were then awarding the project to KBK.”
But according to the PRA, KBK did not originally get minority status because the development company failed to include a signed equal-opportunity form in its application.