New push to revitalize Lancaster Avenue in West Philadelphia

Plan for Lancaster Avenue in West Philadelphia

May 21, 2013 3:02:03 PM PDT
There is a new push to give a portion of West Philadelphia's Lancaster Avenue a makeover.

The once booming area of the avenue's lower end is now a blighted stretch of road.

But, in an announcement on Tuesday, supporters of a revitalization plan said that after 60 years of population and economic decline they are on their way to making it a thriving arts and cultural destination.

"Deep investment in a commercial corridor really helps to strengthen neighborhoods. It provides job, it provides retail options and, more importantly, it provides a kind of safety and security," said Farah Jimenez of the People's Emergency Center.

Boosters plan to use historic Hawthorne Hall as the anchor for the rebirth. The ornate structure is being rehabbed now, as the planners got a $750,000 dollar grant from Wells Fargo as seed money to generate more investment.

But, lifelong residents of the surrounding neighborhoods fear that light at the end of the tunnel is an on-coming train.

"People who don't own their homes and they've been living there for years, they'll get put out," said Maurice Brown of West Philadelphia. "They'll come up with a way to get you out and get richer people back in here because its close to Center City."

Many locals acknowledge the need for more businesses and jobs, but past experience tells them gentrification means putting the poor on the skids.

"What about the people that are here, that are here on a fixed income, that can't afford it? They'll have to go somewhere," said local merchant Wayman Seals.

"It's possible to have a thriving commercial corridor and a healthy mixed-income residential community," Jimenez said.

Sponsors also hope to get Philadelphia District Attorney's Office to sell them the former abortion clinic of convicted murderer Kermit Gosnell, hoping to the negative symbol into something positive for the community.