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How Two Community Development Corporations Play Different Roles in Brewerytown

March 3, 2015 Category: Method

A lot of Philadelphia neighborhoods don’t have a community development corporation (CDC) — or any kind of devoted community organization — to serve their needs.

Brewerytown has two.

The Fairmount CDC and the Greater Brewerytown CDC both serve the neighborhood. Their work largely intersects along West Girard Avenue, a rapidly developing commercial corridor often considered a dividing line between North Philadelphia and Center City.

Girard Avenue is the northern boundary of the Fairmount CDC and a block away from the southern boundary of the Greater Brewerytown CDC (which extends south an additional block to Poplar Street).

The overlap has not led to a turf war. The organizations have worked together for nearly a decade on various projects on the avenue.

But due to a lack of capacity and funding, the Greater Brewerytown CDC has taken a backseat to the Fairmount CDC on major community development projects in Brewerytown and on Girard Avenue. A recent effort to provide streetscape improvements along the corridor, for example, is being spearheaded by the Fairmount CDC.

This is an arrangement made out of necessity, but also pragmatism. Both organizations want the community to improve, regardless of who does it, but a sense of ownership is also at stake, especially for the more embattled Greater Brewerytown CDC.

“We feel that Girard Avenue is our corridor — the corridor for Greater Brewerytown. We will work with people, but it’s not Fairmount’s corridor. It’s not Francisville’s Corridor,” said Charles Holliday, a lead volunteer at the Greater Brewerytown CDC.

“In saying that, we welcome the [Fairmount CDC]. We’ll work with them, and since our boundaries cross, they are most welcome, but we want some autonomy,” he added.

By becoming more visible in the community and securing stable funding, Holliday said, the CDC hopes to reclaim its status as the primary stakeholder in Brewerytown and on Girard Avenue.

Not Going Anywhere

The offices of the Greater Brewerytown Community Development Corporation are two blocks north of Girard Avenue on 30th Street, in the heart of Brewerytown. Nearby residents come in and out, looking for help getting in touch with city officials or using the computer center in the back.

Halliday, 62, is a long-time Brewerytown resident and one of two full-time volunteers that run the CDC. His office is covered with pictures of civil rights leaders and black and white aerial photos of the neighborhood in the 1930s, back when it was still dominated by a massive complex of beer breweries.

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Halliday, a former lobbyist, handles communication for the CDC, and lately he has been trying to bolster the organization’s visibility and make it clear that, despite rumors to the contrary, the CDC is alive and well.

“We’re not rich, but we operate. We’re still here. We’re not going anywhere,” he said.

The CDC’s funding and role in the community has fluctuated, leading to some confusion over its status. Even among other CDC professionals there has been a misconception that Greater Brewerytown CDC is closed down or temporarily inactive.

“As far as I’m aware, Greater Brewerytown CDC is dormant,” said Beth McConnell, policy director at the Philadelphia Association of Community Development Corporations (PACDC), which has 43 member CDCs.

The CDC is in operation, just on a more limited basis. Holliday said its current programs include different kinds of small-scale neighborhood assistance, such as replacing a broken refrigerator for a resident or helping with minor home repairs. It funds this work through a mix of revenue-generating activities such as renting out its offices for parties, charging for access to its printer and doing some landscaping for developments on Girard Avenue.

Holliday said that these activities are a way of “keeping the lights on” while the organization seeks more stable funding.

The organization was in a very different position less than five years ago. In 2010, it received $400,000 grant from the Wachovia Regional Foundation (now Wells Fargo Regional Foundation) to lead a neighborhood planning process to update the Brewerytown Neighborhood Plan, according to Holliday. The initial plan was created in 2006 by the Brewerytown CDC — an earlier incarnation of the organization which experienced its own internal problems.

“We feel that Girard Avenue is our corridor — the corridor for Greater Brewerytown. We will work with people, but it’s not Fairmount’s corridor. It’s not Francisville’s Corridor,” Holliday said.

IMG_2630

Charles Holliday in front of offices of Greater Brewerytown CDC

Despite receiving the grant, the CDC had to scale down operations due to “personnel problems,” Holliday said.

“There should have been more cohesion,” internally, he said, declining to provide more details on the record.

Holliday ended up leaving the organization for a year before returning in 2012. He and the organization’s founder, James Carter, now run the organization by themselves.

The Fairmount CDC was also heavily involved in the neighborhood plan, which is when it began to take a more active role in the community.

“The Fairmount CDC provided a lot of the capacity building and technical support for the [Greater Brewerytown CDC],” said Shahid Rana, executive director of the Fairmount CDC. “It was almost like a sister CDC.”

Rana explained that money designated for the implementation of the neighborhood plan flowed through the Fairmount CDC, with a portion going to the Greater Brewerytown CDC.

“Over the years, after the money ran out, we were still here on Girard Avenue, still providing some of those services,” Rana said.

It now manages some of the street cleaning on Girard Avenue between College Avenue and 30th Street — the heart of the commercial corridor. It also provides assistance to small businesses and is the point of contact for an ongoing streetscape improvement project on West Girard Avenue.

“It came down to capacity,” Rana said. “There was always a CDC here that was functioning.”

“There was always a staff person here. There was always an office in the Fairmount community. I don’t think that necessarily that infrastructure was in place just yet in Brewerytown,” he added.

If the Greater Brewerytown CDC did have the infrastructure, Fairmount CDC would leave services on the Girard Avenue to them, according to Rana.

Sharing Girard 

Holliday said he appreciates and wants to work with the Fairmount CDC. He also embraces recent developments in Brewerytown, such as a commitment from the real estate company MM Partners to invest $60 million in the neighborhood over the next two years. MM Partners has brought a number of new retail locations and market-rate housing to the area.

At the same time, Holliday said he wants to make sure the changes on the avenue help long-time residents as well, in particular, the people living north of Girard Avenue.

“It’s not just about Girard Avenue. We have a population over here — low-income, medium-income, high-income that nobody pays attention to,” Holliday said.

“We’d love everybody to come here,” he added. “I’ve been here for years and have always wanted this to be a neighborhood that everybody came to, not a place that everybody was scared to come to.”

It remains to be seen, however, if the Greater Brewerytown CDC will have a serious role in the future of Brewerytown and Girard Avenue. Holliday stressed that the CDC will be amping up some of its revenue-generating activities in the near future, and potentially getting into affordable housing development. But with a rocky past and minimal capacity, the path from “keeping the lights on” to becoming the primary CDC presence in Brewerytown is unclear.

Photos via Alex Vuocolo

Project

Philadelphia Association of Community Development Corporations

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