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When Neighborhood Weighs In, Wanamaker Project Takes Shape


North Philly residents cheered at a School Reform Commission meeting nearly two years ago, when Bright Hope Baptist Church’s nonprofit development arm won the right to buy the old Wanamaker School.

Bright Hope formed a partnership with the Goldenberg Group, of Blue Bell, to build a $250 million complex on the five-acre site at Cecil B. Moore Avenue and 11th Street.

The school was closed by the Philadelphia School District in 2005.

The new project will include apartments for Temple students, as well as a school for neighborhood children and a job-training and entrepreneurial center for adults.

In May, the City Planning Commission approved initial plans for two high-rise towers, one 20 stories tall and the other 12.

City officials also agreed that developers did not have to provide parking for the approximately 2,700 Temple students expected to live there.

That didn’t sit well with members of the Resolute Alliance in Yorktown, or TRAY.

The group, which in recent years has demonstrated and written letters demanding that city officials enforce zoning laws that restrict renting to students in Yorktown, went into action on the Wanamaker project.

Pam Pendleton-Smith, a TRAY trustee, wrote to City Council members and the executive director of the Planning Commission to complain that she had not had an opportunity to speak when the plans were approved.

She said that she had not been able to attend a community meeting the night before.

“They heard the razzle-dazzle at the community meeting, but I heard the devil in the details the following day at the Planning Commission,” Pendleton-Smith said.

After Goldenberg officials learned of TRAY’s opposition, they met with community leaders one night at Pendleton-Smith’s home.

As a result, the Goldenberg Group and Bright Hope’s Bridge of Hope Community Development Corp. agreed to change the building design. Goldenberg agreed to reduce the height of the 20-story tower to 15 stories.

Colin A. Jones, Goldenberg’s executive vice president, said that the partnership also agreed to provide parking spaces to relieve congestion in the area.

“We’re a developer that prefers to engage with local community groups,” Jones said. “We’ve done it throughout the city.”

“This is a renaissance,” said the Rev. Kevin R. Johnson, Bright Hope’s pastor. “This is a resurrection project. While Wanamaker will not be the same school that it was, it will be something even better.”