PlanPhilly

Maplewood Mall redesign selections expected in early April amid online local-hire debate

Ten months after the city announced a $2.2 million capital-improvement project for Germantown's Maplewood Mall, a selection is expected early next month on the lead design and engineering firms for the makeover.

The Maplewood project began with events and meetings that invited ideas and opinions from the business owners and residents of the neighborhood.

However, the selection process for companies and subcontractors that would implement the project also led to Facebook debates (many on the private "Living In Germantown: All Together" page) over the importance of local hires.

Nine proposals submitted

Matt Wysong, the Northwest community planner for the City Planning Commission, said nine proposals were submitted by the Jan. 31 deadline for the Maplewood project. Interviews were conducted at the end of February and the applicants were reduced to a short list of four firms.

None of the nine lead firms was from Germantown, though several larger firms were from Philadelphia. Other proposals came from New York, Wilmington, Del. and elsewhere in the region.

Many subcontractors included in the proposals — including landscape architects, utility coordination and lighting firms — were Philadelphia-area companies.

One proposal included an artist from Germantown, Wysong said, and she was the only person from the neighborhood included in the submission process.

"This will be a very complex process," said Wysong, who did not comment on the social-media debate.

"We have a whole host of underground utilities," he continuted. "Our main focus is hiring a team that can coordinate all of that in the aggressive timeframe we have. That's not to say we're not paying attention to where the companies are from, but we need a firm that can get it done, because it's tough."

Timing moving forward

Wysong said the city hopes to announce the Maplewood team in early April, with the execution of the contract to begin shortly thereafter.

The project is intended to usher in a "new era" for Maplewood Mall, Eighth District City Councilwoman Cindy Bass has said.

Her office will work with existing businesses to find funding for improvements to building facades and create a new energy in the hidden enclave of storefronts between busy Germantown Avenue and Greene Street.

The two- and three-story buildings were mostly erected in the late 19th to early 20th centuries, and are occupied now by daycare centers, cafes, hair salons, a music store, a Masonic lodge, podiatrist's office, law center, Gtown Radio and other businesses.

About a third of the buildings along the narrow, gray-brick street are vacant, and many more of the structures are in disrepair.

Germantown United input

Andy Trackman, president of the Germantown United Community Development Corp., said his organization has been involved in recent stakeholder meetings, and business and property owners and neighbors have been engaged in the revitalization discussion since last June.

He said the selection of the candidates for the project focused on companies the stakeholders and city "felt most comfortable with. The people who really count are OK with everything" in the selection process, Trackman said. "But, this is Germantown, and everyone has two opinions."

Germantown United has been working to gather input from the community at meetings and block parties.

The CDC is also working with the neighborhood to plan decorative lighting, outdoor programming and public events in the mall.

"You can redo the street, but people come to do what's there," Trackman said. "We're helping the businesses have more of a reason to attract visitors and patrons."

The residents he has talked with are "happy and satisfied with the process," he said. "The proof will be in the reconstruction. They're all a little nervous. The street will be torn up for a year. A street that residents have known for decades will be changed."

NewsWorks has partnered with independent news gatherer PlanPhilly to provide regular, in-depth, timely coverage of planning, zoning and development news. Contact Alan Jaffe at .


About the author

Alan Jaffe, Historic preservation reporter

ajaffe@planphilly.com

B.A., Temple University

Alan Jaffe writes about historic preservation issues for PlanPhilly and focuses on often overlooked built landscapes in his column, “Look Up!” He
was a writer and editor in the newspaper industry for nearly 30 years, including eight at the Philadelphia Inquirer and nine at the South Jersey Courier-Post. He is currently the director of communications for the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society. He is also an antiques writer and collector and the author of “J. Chein & Co.: A Collector’s Guide to an American Toymaker.”


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