Fishtown may have built itself up to be one of Philadelphia’s most desirable neighborhoods to live and work in over the last decade, but not even the 19125 ZIP code can escape a few blighted properties here and there. At least for now.
That’s because with the help of state Rep. Mary Isaacson (D-175th dist.) and state Sen. Nikil Saval (D-1st dist.), the Fishtown Kensington Area Business Improvement District has acquired a $14,000 grant to combat blight in the area.
In a phone interview, FKABID Executive Director Marc Collazzo cited 401-05 E. Girard Ave., the former site of the Philadelphia Brotherhood Rescue Mission, as just one example of blight in the area.
“The Brotherhood Mission is defunct so there’s no organization to fix it up or sell it,” said Collazzo. “And you have residents and businesses attached to it.”
There are holes in the building’s roof that are causing leaks to the other businesses and constant issues with people breaking into that property, according to Collazzo.
“Someone pulled the boards off and broke in,” said Collazzo. “[The city’s L&I department had to] pay someone to go out and nail that up.”
Other blighted properties listed on the BID’s grant application include 2402-06 Frankford Ave. and 2320-22 Trenton Ave., both of which are vacant lots often overrun with weeds and parked cars.
More specifically, the money will go to a nonprofit called Scioli Turco, which specializes in turning blighted properties into usable, productive ones that contribute to the neighborhood.
“Their only mission is to take blighted vacant properties and turn them into productive use,” said Collazzo.
Scioli Turco helps rehabilitate properties by virtue of Act 135, a law that was passed by former state Rep. John Taylor. Essentially, Act 135 allows nonprofits like Scioli Turco to take control of blighted properties, fix them and sell them.
According to Collazzo, who as Taylor’s former chief of staff helped write Act 135, the property owner has to appear in court and “show the means and ability to fix the property up.” If that doesn’t happen, the court can appoint nonprofits like Scioli Turco to bring the property back up to code. When the property is eventually sold, the owner gets the profit minus repair costs and Scioli Turco’s fees.
Collazzo said the BID is “investigating” whether the property at 401-05 E. Girard is something it could own.
“We could bring in revenue for business, 7 to 10 living units and a job training center where we’re ensuring that there is a thriving job force for this corridor,” said Collazzo.
But first, the whole ordeal has to be approved in court.
“The BID has already filed a civil action in the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County,” said Collazzo.
According to Collazzo, 401-05 E. Girard has multiple liens, which hinders the building’s ability to be sold as is.
If the property is rehabilitated, all liens and taxes would have to be paid. Then the city can be made whole, said Collazzo, depending on how much the property sells for.
Some people may be surprised to hear that Fishtown has a problem with blight. While it’s true the neighborhood certainly isn’t in anywhere near as bad of a shape as some problematic areas around the city are in, blight can permeate just about anywhere – especially in dense urban cities.
“Blight is not simply that you live in this war zone,” said Collazzo. “It could be one property that could be sitting there for five years. Sometimes an owner passes away and there’s no estate set up for the property.”
Sometimes, “someone is just sitting on it waiting for where the market needs to be,” said Collazzo. “This forces action.”
Isaacson said that she’s “excited” to help financially support the BID’s attempt to rid the neighborhood of blight.
“I am very excited to help bring this money home to the business district as well as Fishtown and Kensington neighbors to both address quality-of-living issues and make investments and improvements on a block-by-block basis,” she said.
Saval echoed Isaacson’s sentiment.
“Our public spaces are the hearts of our communities,” Saval said. “This grant is important for the health and vitality of the district and its residents, and I’m proud to join Rep. Isaacson in offering support and congratulations.”
The grant was awarded by the Commonwealth Financing Authority, which is an independent agency of the state Department of Community and Economic Development that administers Pennsylvania’s economic stimulus packages.