GUEST COLUMN: "Where They Once Made Beer..."
A guest column from AAM Pennsylvania Field Coordinator Mark Musho...
In Philadelphia last week there were a lot of “R” words being thrown around: remediation, reclamation, regentrification, and revitalization, just to name a few.
That is probably because this Philadelphia was hosting the 14th National Brownfields Conference at the Pennsylvania Convention Center-- “the largest, most comprehensive conference in the nation focused on cleaning up and redeveloping abandoned, underutilized, and potentially contaminated properties."
The conference attracted more than 6,000 registrants and hundreds of exhibitors across a three-day period. Centering on brownfield development, the conference offered visits to Philadelphia's University City, the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge, the Camden Waterfront, the Philadelphia Navy Yard, and Wilmington’s Riverfront Development.
These tours provided a first-hand glimpse of brownfield success stories in the Philadelphia area. The walking tour I chose was through the Northern Liberties neighborhood of Philadelphia where state-of-the-art business and housing are taking place in a once nearly abandoned industrial neighborhood (revitalization).
In recent years, Northern Liberties has become a major enclave of young professionals, students, artists, and design professionals. Large improvement and rebuilding projects have also been undertaken recently, causing a large jump in property values. The neighborhood's proximity to Center City has made it one of the most desirable locations, both for commercial and residential real estate. The housing is primarily made up of rowhouses and lofts, although new development in recent times has brought apartment and condominium complexes (regentrification).
The highlight of the tour for me was a walkthrough of the Piazza at Schmidts. This sight once was the location Schmidts Brewery. Poised on the boundary between Northern Liberties and Kensington, this sprawling 15-acre site was home to Schmidt's, Philadelphia's largest and most famous brewery, established in 1860 and closing down in 1987 after over 125 years. The Schmidt's closure, many believed, signaled the end of Philadelphia's industrial era. In 2000, a developer purchased the complex at sheriff's auction for $2 million dollars. The huge empty lot lay dormant for years as several plans for redeveloping the site were proposed, then protested, and eventually stalled.
After years of delays and battles between residents and the developers, the Piazza at Schmidt's, a mixed-use complex, opened in May of 2009 (reclamation).
One of the businesses holding space at the complex is Defined Clarity, an interactive software design company. Co-founders Bruce Marable and Alex King were college friends who created a company to fill a niche market in software. A tour of their space reveals many of the old brewery structure and ambience being incorporated into a high-tech modern work space. The company is just one of many occupying space at the Piazza.
The cofounders had eyed this place for a while when trying to decide where to set up shop. They were forced to wait patiently while the building was retrofitted, including removal of any possible pollutants or contaminants (remediation).
All in all what the Northern Liberties has meant to the city of Philadelphia is another “R” word; rejuvenation of a once Brownfield site in this northeast neighborhood.
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