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Main streets are where people go to shop, eat out, conduct their business, and meet their neighbors. In large, older cities such as Philadelphia, main streets are found in nearly every neighborhood. Main streets, also called commercial corridors, are being used as a neighborhood revitalization strategy in Philadelphia.
Mark Edwards, program director of the Philadelphia Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), explained that “the performance of a commercial corridor is inextricably connected to the health and vitality of the surrounding neighborhood and the neighborhood’s ability to reach its full potential.” Community leaders have been working collaboratively to improve Philadelphia’s shopping districts and to improve the surrounding neighborhoods.
The William Penn Foundation (WPF) has supported commercial corridor efforts, including the revitalization of Girard Avenue, LISC’s commercial corridor initiative, and corridor studies, for more than five years. Geraldine Wang, director of the environment and communities program at WPF, noted that corridors provide a gateway to the city and are an important part of the foundation’s overall regional and community development strategy. “Commercial, cultural, and recreational corridors,” Wang said, “are our town commons and arterials — highly visible public spaces that connect neighborhoods, residents, and visitors.”
In 2002, LISC began a commercial corridor initiative in Philadelphia to improve distressed corridors and their surrounding neighborhoods. LISC adopted the Main Street approach, a comprehensive community-driven strategy first developed by the National Trust for Historic Preservation to revitalize older business districts. The Main Street approach incorporates four principles: organization, promotion, design, and economic restructuring. LISC added a fifth component, cleanliness and safety, to its strategy.
Under the LISC initiative, eight community development corporations (CDCs) received $1.5 million in funding over three years, mainly to hire commercial corridor managers. Edwards noted that the initial $1.5 million in funding leveraged over $19 million in investment. LISC continues to fund corridor managers and uses WPF, State Farm Insurance, and national LISC funds to make grants and loans to improve business façades, the streetscape, and nearby residences.
An architect’s rendering shows part of a 17-block, multiphase, transit-oriented revitalization project along 60th Street in West Philadelphia. The Partnership CDC has marketed the commercial corridor, helped businesses and residents to obtain resources, and is working with a private developer on renovations.
The City of Philadelphia supports commercial corridor improvement efforts through the Philadelphia Department of Commerce and, most recently, through the Neighborhood Transformation Initiative (NTI). Andrew Frishkoff, director of neighborhood economic development for NTI, said, “NTI is assisting commercial corridors as it assisted residential neighborhoods – working with partners to address blight and to allow corridors to realize their potential as neighborhood centers.” Frishkoff indicated that NTI has focused on providing funding to “neighborhood corridors” or key pedestrian-transit corridors throughout the city.1 NTI is providing nearly $2 million in grants to CDCs for commercial corridor work.
NTI also developed the ReStore Philadelphia Corridors program, which includes a five-part strategy that focuses on planning and data analysis for strengthening corridors; aligning and leveraging community economic development resources; making neighborhood corridors more welcoming places; developing a system to attract and retain businesses on corridors; and supporting corridor management organizations.
A $150 million bond ordinance approved by the Philadelphia City Council will provide $65 million in capital funding for corridors through ReStore Philadelphia Corridors.
The state of Pennsylvania’s Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) provides funding for commercial corridor revitalization through its Main Street program. Ed Geiger, director of the center of community development in DCED, noted that “commercial corridors are the heart of the community where people come together. If we want to restore older communities, create vibrant downtown areas, and improve the quality of life for residents, we need to support commercial corridor initiatives.” The state funds six Philadelphia-area CDCs through its Main Street program.2
Meanwhile, the Community Design Collaborative, a nonprofit that provides preliminary design assistance to other nonprofits on a pro bono basis, has chosen commercial corridors as the focus of the first phase of Infill Philadelphia, an initiative promoting innovative design strategies for urban infill development. The collaborative, in conjunction with LISC, is exploring how design can play a key role in commercial corridor revitalization. In addition, Econsult Corporation is completing a corridor study to analyze the impact of corridor investment on other corridors and neighborhoods.
For information, contact Mark Edwards of LISC at (215) 923-3801 or firstname.lastname@example.org; Geraldine Wang of William Penn Foundation at (215) 988-1830 or email@example.com; Andrew Frishkoff of NTI at (215) 683-2026 or firstname.lastname@example.org; Ed Geiger of DCED (717) 787-5327 or email@example.com; or Carryn Maslowski of Community Design Collaborative at (215) 587-9290 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Information on Pennsylvania’s Main Street program is available at www.newpa.com/programDetail.aspx?id=79.