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November 12, 2016

Historic Germantown YWCA, left to languish, on track for 'new era'

Development Historical Buildings
02.15.15 User @PHILLYnowAPP/Twitter

The Germantown YWCA, located in the neighborhood's business district.

After years of disrepair and unraveling negotiations, the historic Germantown YWCA building is primed for redevelopment as a mixed-use facility with apartments and office space.

In a statement earlier this week, the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority announced the selection of KBK Enterprises to lead the rehabilitation of the century-old Georgian structure, once a thriving community hub at 5820-24 Germantown Avenue.

“The PRA was impressed by KBK’s proposal for the Germantown YWCA,” said Greg Heller, executive director of PRA. “They have a track record of building quality projects in other cities across the U.S. We are thrilled to welcome a new developer to Philadelphia!”

Over the last decade, the building became a controversial symbol of the frictions between Philadelphia City Council, the Department of Licenses and Inspections and the Redevelopment Authority. Sold by the Y in 2006, it fell into bankruptcy and was declared "imminently dangerous" by L&I in 2012. Inspectors discovered heaps of combustible trash and questioned why PRA, which had taken ownership of the property, would leave the building vulnerable to vandalism and arson.

A plan by developer Ken Weinstein to build affordable housing at the site was shot down by Councilwoman Cindy Bass and the RDA in hopes of finding an unsubsidized solution for the neighborhood.

Heller, a Philadelphia historian and former CEO of community-based nonprofit ACT, became head of the Redevelopment Authority in March 2016. He issued a new Request for Proposal (RFP) in July and scored the bids received based on factors including project concept, community alignment, developer experience and potential to create economic opportunity in Germantown.

The minority-owned KBS Enterprises, based in Pittsburgh and Columbus, Ohio, plans to renovat the redbrick building with 12 one-bedroom and 12 two-bedroom units. Half will be affordable and half will be market-rate. The first two floors will contain commercial and office space.

“Our goal is to make Philadelphia business-friendly for both local and national developers,” said Fred Purnell, Deputy Director of the Division of Housing and Community Development (DHCD). “This developer, while new to Philadelphia, brings a wealth of experience and some interesting approaches to this project. We are excited to bring a different perspective to Philadelphia’s affordable housing development efforts.”

Councilwoman Bass praised the PRA's selection, anticipating accelerated progress in the neighborhood's revival.

“The Germantown YWCA is a critical piece in the puzzle of revitalizing Germantown Avenue,” Bass said. “Once this beautiful community asset is brought back to life, we believe it will catalyze other development and investment along Germantown Avenue.”

Developers hope to complete the renovation by summer 2019.

“Entering the Philadelphia market is exciting for KBK,” said Keith B. Key, President and CEO of KBK Enterprises. “We are looking forward to working with the City of Philadelphia, PRA, and the community to make our first Philadelphia project a huge success."