Germantown Town Hall. (GIH/Rasheed Ajamu)

The Germantown Town Hall building has stood vacant for the last 25 years, but new plans hope to see the property rehabbed for reuse in the coming years. 

Monday night, 8th District councilmember Cindy Bass hosted a virtual community meeting for neighbors to learn more about possible plans to move forward. At least 100 people attended the meeting.

Councilmember Bass started by thanking the neighborhood for attending this meeting and noted while she was organizing the meeting, the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation (PIDC), which owns the property, will pick the developer. Bass also stated that any questions answered were submitted from registered meeting participants.

Bass then introduced the possible developer for the town hall building, Anthony Fullard. Fullard is the president of the West Powelton Development Company, responsible for many development projects in West Philadelphia, including the redevelopment of the Osage Avenue Homes destroyed in the 1985 M.O.V.E. bombings. He was part of the team rebuilding them again when the city acknowledged initial renovations were shoddy.

Fullard, born and raised in Philadelphia, says he’s been in the neighborhood for more than 30 years and has 35 years of construction experience. He says his team has deliverables from the PIDC that they are working on to be considered for the project. Some of those preliminary items include:

  • A building assessment to report on the conditions of the property,
  • A commercial corridor market assessment on Germantown Avenue so that if the project becomes viable, there will be a potential commercial component that the corridor will be able to support,
  • A historical assessment to make sure anything that happens in the building meets the historical credentials and assessment that has already been laid out,
  • An environmental and site engineering assessment to test the viability of the building, and
  • Community engagement meeting, which this meeting falls under.

Fullard says he focuses on helping Black and Brown communities build new construction for mixed-income housing, both market-rate and affordable pricing. Fullard sees the neighborhood’s appeal, saying a “renaissance” is happening that makes the neighborhood more attractive.

Fullard gave the floor to Daryn Edwards, Principal at Cicada Architecture and Planning, to present the proposed plan for the three-story town hall building. The proposed project would include the following:

  • First floor
    • The dome is a two-story event space with a back-of-house space
    • Commercial spaces on the first floor
    • Residential apartments (1 bedroom)
  • Second floor
    • The two-story event space
    • Short-term residential spaces/Airbnb
    • Long-term residential units (1 bedroom)
  • Third Floor
    • All 1-bedroom residential units.
  • Roof
    • Possible outdoor event space
    • Bell tower to remain to keep the historic feel

Immediately after Edwards presented the plans, Councilmember Bass began reading the participant-submitted questions, which she says her team sorted through to remove duplicates. Those questions, along with Fullard’s answers summarized, are listed below:

Have you or your company completed any new construction projects from the ground up? If so, what, where, and when?

West Powelton Development Corporation is working on this project with other firms like Cicada Architecture & Planning & Columbus Construction, who he recommends all neighbors look up their credentials. Fullard says he has worked on various projects, including new houses right off East Hortter Street (in Mt. Airy), the dental school at the University of Pennsylvania, and the Marriott at 12th and Market.

What experience do you or your firm have with historic building restoration and preservation?
They are working with Columbus Construction, who Fullard says will bring the expertise of historical restoration, along with other consultant firms.

Who chose the developer? And what were the determining factors in choosing the developer?

A developer still needs to be selected. However, they are following the steps mentioned earlier to be in the running. They put down a refundable deposit, which is required to put in an application.

What is the overall funding structure for this project? Is it public funds, private funds, and will tax abatements be involved, etc.?

While the funding structure has yet to be ascertained, Fullard says they will be pursuing public funding and are looking to see if they can attract private funding.

They are also interested in tax abatement, which Fullard says would probably only be a historic tax credit.

What percentage and number of residential units in this project will be designated as low-income housing? Not asking how many units are designated as affordable housing, which has a clear and specific definition.

They will bring in a partner to handle affordable and low-income vouchers. They will assign 50% of units to affordable and low-income housing.
What was the purchase price?

He is unsure now, but they did put down a deposit.

Will the police station be moving to accommodate the developer’s plans? If so, to where and what provisions are being made for the police vehicles at the station?

There are three possible plans surrounding the police station. The first is to include the station in the scope of the development scheme within the town hall. The second would be to work with the police station to find a better and more prominent location. The final option would be to work around the police station.

Will the building include parking and green spaces for the tenants? 

For the town hall alone, they would utilize the parking lot that the police use to park their vehicles, as it is a part of the property. As for parking for tenants, they would like to do a podium build with a garage underneath to accommodate additional parking. If they can do the maximum development they seek, there would be 120 parking spaces.

Fullard did not comment on green space.

Will the builders use non-toxic building materials? Energy saving heating and electricity?

There will be no toxic materials, by law. Fullard says they hope to construct an ENERGY STAR building, meaning energy efficient.

What benefits (like property tax abatement, etc.) is the developer receiving from this deal? What benefits is the community receiving from this development?

At this time, they have no answers about abatements. Fullard points back to the event space for community use. He hopes they can also bring community members virtual access to information and “common services” that folks would usually get from City Hall. These services and information are unclear.

Why does the development of apartments precede the development of the town hall?

There are costs associated with the structure; therefore, the building must make revenue first to sustain the rest of the project.

Will this development project assure construction and permanent operations jobs for local residents?

Yes. Fullard says he will contact neighborhood RCOs, elected officials, and other community partners to spread the word about opportunities for residents. They are also looking for local contractors. He adds that if the development is successful, there will be procurement opportunities for different businesses.

Will the apartment projects include 10% affordable housing units?

50% affordable and 50% market rate.

Could the historic building house something other than apartments? Germantown is inundated with new apartment buildings.

The building will be mixed-use. Refer to the plans above.

We have little family entertainment in the neighborhood; I would like to see the town hall used as a family entertainment center, batting and golf cages, arcades, small movie theaters, etc.

While there is no solid plan for family entertainment, Fullard says they are looking for ways to incorporate it. 

Where is the 39-unit apartment building going to be built with a police station directly behind [town] hall? 

Refer to question seven for this answer.

Will police services be disrupted during construction?

In short, no. They will coordinate with the police to ensure this.

What is your setback off the backyards along the houses facing Harvey Street?

There are no setbacks for Harvey Street. As for Haines Street, that may be six to eight feet off the curb towards the face of the existing building.

What is your contingency to make sure there is no hazardous material spilled on the ground from the fuel tank servicing the police station?

It’s a requirement that soil testing happens before any construction can occur. There are engineering firms and geo-tech environmental firms they would contract to do this.

Will this project be union labor?

“This project would probably fall under the prevailing wage guidelines,” Fullard says. “Which is comparable to union wages.”

Which local contractors from the 19144 zip code are you hiring?

They will work with elected officials and RCOs to see what contractors they know of.

Can we see revenue projections from the 39-unit rental property that showed the income needed also properly to restore the town hall? Is this “thoughtful gentrification?”

Fullard chuckled at the gentrification comment stating he wouldn’t be able to live in the neighborhood if there was gentrification. Right now, they don’t have projections.

How much will the town hall cost to rehab? He cannot seek financing tax credits or public financing without knowing the costs.

$10-12 million.

Councilmember Bass took the last few minutes to acknowledge that some registered participants couldn’t be admitted but that the recording would be made available by Wednesday night for full transparency. She also says that her office will post the questions on her social media channels. 

Another meeting is planned for March, but a specific date has yet to be set.