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Frankford Needs a Supermarket

There has been some talk about the Thriftway closing next year.  Rite Aid Has owned the property for several years and has opted to exercise its right to not renew the lease.  They plan to demolish the existing structure and build a new Rite Aid.  This will leave Frankford without a supermarket.

That is a big story in Frankford but it is only part of a larger picture.  The area around the FTC (Frankford Transportation Center) has been identified as the place most likely to attract developers.  They are the people who build things like shopping centers and housing.  The CDC has walked through the neighborhood with some of these guys and they all say the FTC is the place to start.  The CDC does not invest money to get these things done; they get developers interested in doing them.  That is part of their job.

So when news that SEPTA was going to do a construction project in the 5100 block of Frankford Avenue it sounded like an opportunity.  The project is to build a backup control center and also a break room for SEPTA FTC employees.  It would all on that empty space between Frankfod Ave. and Griscon between Pratt and Dyre.

Meetings were held, discussions between SEPTA and the CDC took place and some form of understanding that the community’s need for a supermarket at that location would be included in the project.

At the Frankford Business and Professional Association meeting on June 23, a SEPTA representative revealed that they are about to break ground on the project and there is no provision for space for a supermarket.

Kim Washington, The Executive Director of the CDC, went into action.  The SEPTA board was having a public meeting on Thursday, June 25th.  With only 2 days’ notice, she got 35 residents who agreed to attend the meeting with her. They met at the CDC office on Griscom Street all wearing pink shirts with the words “Stop Executing very Poor Thoughtless Action”.

The meeting began at 3PM and at 3:30 it was adjourned.  Washington rose to object saying she had to address the board.  She spoke for about 6 minutes which you will find at this link.

What followed was an hour long discussion between Francis Kelly, Assistant General Manager of Public & Government Affairs and Kim Washington, Gary McLaughlin, Jennifer Powell-Folks and Nashid Edwards speaking for Frankford.  The Frankford folks did a great job of making their case.IMG_1591

SEPTA says they cannot change their plans because they have already awarded contracts, Federal funding is approved for this location and project and any change could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to make.

Frankford argues that SEPTA is in this situation because of its own mistakes and should do the right thing to correct them.

SEPTA asks if the Rite Aid site is big enough for a Rite Aid and a supermarket.  It is big enough for the buildings but would not have room for parking.

SEPTA asks if the property on 5100 block of Griscom (presently employee parking between Griscom and Penn).  The property is but the streets are residential and not big enough for tractor trailer delivery.

Frankford proposes that the project be redesigned to make it a 2 story building with a supermarket on the ground floor and SEPTA use of the second floor.  SEPTA says this would be a major redesign that would cost a lot of money.

Frankford proposes that the SEPTA building go over on the lot with the new Rite Aid.  There is enough room for those two buildings.  SEPTA says the funding is for the building to go where it is planned to go and changing it will cost a fortune.

The lack of communication with the Frankford community is the real heart of the matter.  A SEPTA representative attends the Frankford Business and Professional Association meetings routinely but SEPTA maintains that they met their obligation of notifying the community by advising Philadelphia City Council and posting public notices in the newspapers about the project.  That does not sound like a solid community partnership.

While you might expect that from a corporation in the private sector, SEPTA is a public agency.

There was no resolution at the meeting but they did commit to meet again.  Further news will be forthcoming.

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Focus on Frankford: Gary McLaughlin

When he rose to speak at the Frankford Civic meeting back in April, I did not have the video camera turned on because I was not expecting much from the soft spoken guy sitting over in the corner.  The issue was the zoning variance application for a take-out fried chicken store at the corner of Griscom Street and Oxford Avenue.  McLaughlin opposed the variance and made it clear he was going to do everything in his power to stop it.  He expressed what the crowd of neighbors at that meeting was thinking and helped rouse them to further action.  Neighbors organized and with the help of many parties, the application for the store was withdrawn.

He grew up in North Philly and moved to Frankford and the 4700 block of Griscom Street in 1996.  He was among the first to purchase one of the homes newly rehabbed by the Frankford CDC.  He wanted to own his own home and it was a good price.  He was familiar with Frankford from shopping gary mclaughlinexcursions in his youth and remembered it well.

When he announced to family and friends that he was moving to Frankford, they thought he was crazy.  But as a recent graduate of St. Joe’s University with a BS in Sociology and embarking on a Master’s degree program in gerontology, he was thinking economy.  For the next few years, he worked full time and continued with school and got his MA in 2008.  Since then he has worked as a career services coordinator, career transitions specialist,  job developer, financial counselor, social worker and worked extensively with at-risk youth.

Today, a scant 6 months after that first Frankford Civic Association meeting, McLaughlin is the President of the Frankford Community Development Corporation and active in several other community groups.  He credits Sandra Barry, his neighbor and block captain, with trying to get him involved in community affairs for quite a long time but he was always too busy trying to make a living and get ahead.  That was until fried chicken threatened to destabilize what was then an up and down situation on their block.

For years the block has seen the ebb and flow of drug sales and the violence that comes with that way of life.  However, residents refused to accept the status quo and have set an example of how it can be combated by working with the police.  It is still an ongoing process but the quality of life is getting better.

He was recruited to the board of the CDC shortly after meeting Jason Dawkins, at the zoning hearing for the take-out store.  The CDC was in a period of transition at that time and Dawkins was looking for new board members.  McLaughlin saw that the only way forward was activism at a greater level than before and took a seat on the board.  From there he was elected President and has now had some time to think about the way forward for Frankford.

Forging partnerships with other community organizations, creating volunteer opportunities to get things done, asking residents what they believe is needed in Frankford are all on the horizon for the CDC.

McLaughlin wants people to know that he is not a politician but  “Anything that I can do to improve the life of somebody else, I’m definitely going to do”.  On a personal note, although he loves his two rescue dogs Zoe and Pepper, he wants to have a family at some point in the future.  He is working to make sure there is a better Frankford for them.