Plaza to replace school

After a delay, work has begun on a housing complex near Main Campus. The demolition of a former Philadelphia School Building on the southeast side of Main Campus is underway, paving way for a development

After a delay, work has begun on a housing complex near Main Campus.

The demolition of a former Philadelphia School Building on the southeast side of Main Campus is underway, paving way for a development project years in the making. But the start of the project has cost both time and money.

The John Wanamaker Middle School near 12th Street and Cecil B. Moore Avenue is being torn down as the Bright Hope Baptist Church, located across the avenue, and the Goldenberg Group follow through with plans for student-geared apartments, a community center and a charter school.

Although the plans were announced in mid-2009, and construction was originally expected to begin the following spring, the Rev. Kevin Johnson of the church credited a less-than-favorable economy for holding up the project’s start.

In May, Gov. Tom Corbett approved a $6 million grant for the project, under the Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program.

Johnson explained that the development will come in three phases: an 800-bed dormitory facility with retail shops, a tower for a charter school and another tower for additional housing units.

The dormitory, the project’s current focus, is what Johnson called an “economic engine,” generating revenue and supplying jobs for community members.

“Bright Hope would not be a part of a project that would not benefit the African American community,” Johnson said.

Student housing, he said, will also alleviate the community by offering students an alternative to living in houses–the topic of tensions that has found its way to City Council discussions during the past few months.

Johnson said money generated from rent will go back into Bridge of Hope Community Development Corporation, a CDC of Bright Hope that he is president of.

The charter school, Johnson said, will likely begin with kindergarten through first grade, and eventually became a kindergarten through 12th grade school. He said that, by focusing on the housing facility first, money can be generated to support the charter school.

“When the economy tanks, who hurts? Nonprofits,” Johnson said. “There’s a need for student housing. That’s a continual economic engine that can feed and go into the school for support.”

The John Wanamaker Middle School, which remained standing until construction began, served students until 2005, when it was closed, despite some community opposition.

Temple, which managed the school through its Office of Partnership Schools, had planned on transitioning the school into a small high school, according to the Public School Notebook. Ultimately, the Philadelphia School District decided to close its doors permanently.

In 2007, the church and Goldenberg Group beat Temple in acquiring the land.

Johnson said that Bright Hope originally planned to partner with Temple but, on the date that bids for the land were due, the university backed out, opting for its own bid.

“We were originally supposed to develop that property together,” Johnson said. “The deal fell apart on the day the bids were due. As my grandmother would say, ‘never put your eggs in one basket.’”

“We are engaged, referring to Temple, but not married,” Johnson added.

Assistant Vice President of University Communications Ray Betzner said he was not familiar  with all of the details of the bidding process, but said Temple wishes the church “the best of luck.”

Bridge of Hope CDC and the Goldenberg Group put its partnered bid at the last minute, Johnson said, and was success in its acquisition.

The church and the Goldenberg Group purchased the land in August 2008 for more than $10.7 million, according to the Office of Property Assessment.

While Temple students will be the targeted group for the housing project, the university is not involved with the project.

“Right now, we are doing this exclusive of Temple,” Johnson said. “But if they decide to partner with us, we’d welcome it.”

Betzner said the university’s focus is on its 20/20 plan, and its South Gateway project, which calls for the largest student housing facility in Temple’s history.

Kierra Bussey and Angelo Fichera can be reached at news@temple-news.com.

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