Ryan Briggs Ryan Briggs is a staff writer and connoisseur of City Hall intrigue, business dealings, neighborhood gossip and local lore. Ryan has studied, worked and resided in Philadelphia since 2004, covering politics and development issues for Hidden City, Next City and Metropolis, amongst other fine publications.
Point Breeze has struggled to cope with problems handled in some neighborhoods by CDCs and other non-profits, like illegal dumping.
Point Breeze developer Ori Feibush is planning to open a privately funded community center in a building he owns at 20th and Federal streets. The center would assume some duties normally delegated to community development corporations and business improvement districts, like street cleaning, assistance with 311 complaints, installing trash cans and lighting, and dispensing grants to local businesses for façade improvement and security cameras.
To this end, Feibush has poached former Francisville Neighborhood Development Corporation manager Barbara Kelley, who left that organization in April to lead operations at the new center at 1155 S. 20th St., a former check cashing business.
"She did unbelievable work in Francisville and was doing a ton of stuff to get Ridge Avenue and other commercial corridors revitalized and moving in the right direction," he said in a phone interview today, emphasizing that his center would focus on building commercial activity on Point Breeze Avenue. "Point Breeze has lacked, for many, many, many years, leadership and direction and access to otherwise available resources."
The move is, at the very least, a shot across the bow of organizations like South Philadelphia HOMES (SPH), nonprofits formed to handle neighborhood improvement and economic development duties with grants from the city and philanthropic groups. Feibush said his center was intended to "support" existing community development in the neighborhood, although his comment seems like a nod to SPH's own organizational difficulties. He himself has had well-documented disputes with city leadership and City Councilman Kenyatta Johnson.
Not coincidentally, Feibush announced earlier in the year that he plans to challenge Johnson for the 2nd District Council seat in 2015, begging the question of whether the center and its activities are designed to drum up votes and political influence. Historically, City Council members have relied on handling constituent services, similar to what will be offered at the new community center, to win favor from the electorate.
"My life's aspirations, my professional aspirations, my business aspirations are to make the neighborhood in which I do a lot of business just a little better than when I found it," he said. "If, down the road, my political aspirations dovetail into that, so be it."
Feibush said that the community center would have no role in affecting the local zoning processes, the source of many disputes with the neighbors and SPH head Claudia Sherrod. But Feibush acknowledged that he has made donations to SPH, one of which a source said amounted to $5,000. Interestingly, Feibush commented that he had already begun supporting the commercial corridor in an unusual way by "paying real estate taxes for half the businesses [on Point Breeze Avenue], trying to keep them afloat."
UPDATE: Feibush later added that he was, in fact, paying taxes for exactly five businesses on Point Breeze Avenue that he does not own, not half, and disputed that he gave $5,000 to SPH, saying the amount was less than that.
Johnson's office has not responded to requests for comment.
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