OPINION: Developer Ken Weinstein says “I am done…”

Developer Ken Weinstein of Philly Office Retail sent this mass email about his redevelopment proposal for the Germantown YWCA that was rejected by the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority in January 2015. The email, published with permission, was written in response to a letter in the Independent Voice which is also included at the end.

Ken writes:

To those who care deeply about Germantown:

I am writing to respond to a letter to the editor that recently appeared in the so called, “Independent Voice” newspaper. I am done serving as a punching bag by those who say they are committed to Germantown but offer no practical solutions to the blight and poverty that permeates our community.

Connie Winters feels “certain that there is potential for development of the Y for residential units that are market rate” and that she has “direct experience in renovating and operating an historic building in almost the same location of the Y.”

I am tired of hearing that there are ways to save the historic YWCA building by offering market rate housing. If a developer, like Connie Winters, is out there who has a real, practical proposal to save the Y without using low income tax credits, show us now. It is put up or shut up time.

The YWCA is facing a wrecking ball. Don’t wait a minute longer!

When Mission First, Center in the Park and I responded to the Redevelopment Authority’s Request for Proposals, we did so to offer one alternative on how to save the YWCA and bring a needed resource, low income senior housing, to Germantown. I never expected Germantowners to accept our proposal without much questioning and discussion but I also never expected to be criticized by people who claim to have better ideas that work without putting them forward.

I told Councilwoman Bass last week that we are no longer pursuing our development proposal in order to give her some room to get proposals from the two other developers who are supposedly interested. But time is running short and if other proposals exist, now is the time to put them forward.

Thanks for listening and considering,

The text of this letter published in The Independent Voice by Connie Winters was also included in Ken’s email.

Dear Councilwoman Bass: In 1988 I purchased a building at 5807 Germantown Avenue” At the time the original storefront had been divided into two storefronts. One was occupied by a bookie and the other side was empty. The upper floors, which had originally housed the family who operated the store, were vacant. I have now owned the building for 27 years. There are four residential units and one storefront. The facade was reconstructed to replica the original. All of the residential[ units are occupied by unsubsidized tenants. The storefront is a flower store that has been a tenant for nine years. During the course of my ownership the building next to mine at 5809 GermantownAvenue collapsed. The City demolished the building at the City’s expense. I had attempted to purchase the building and renovate it many times but the owners were uncooperative. When the building collapsed in 2003 I went to Donna Miller and told her that I wanted to PURCHASE the then vacant lot to use as offstreet parking for my tenants. While in a meeting in her office she phoned the then State Representative John Myers and asked him if she should “let” me have the property. He said “NO”. She told me to take it to sheriff’s ‘s Sale. Sometime after that I visited the Demolition Dept. and found that the cost of demolition to the City had been about $40,000. The City should have placed a lien against the property to recoup the cost of demolition BUT IT NEVER DID. I also visited the legal department and discovered through an unwitting young man that the taxes on the property were up to date and had been paid through the Councilwoman’s office, So it was impossible to bring the property to Sheriff’s Sale because there were no liens against it for taxes or demolition. Some time later the property was GIVEN to the church at 5911 Germantown Avenue. Now both the lot and the Church property are off the tax roles and do not contribute to the property tax base of the City. And I do not have off street parking for my tenants which directly effects the rents I can get for my apartments at 5807 Germantown. In spite of all this, I have hung in and still own and operate the building. I have done this by continuing to improve what I offer potential renters in terms of the quality of the units and the responsiveness of my maintenance staff. So how does this relate to the YWCA at 5820-22 Germantown Avenue? I feel certain that there is potential for development of the Y for residential units that are market rate. If the Y were to be developed according to the Ken Weinstein proposal with subsidized Senior Housing Units it would only add to the overwhelming amount of subsidized units in Germantown. We do not need more subsidized units in our neighborhood. We need a balanced neighborhood both in terms of income and ownership. If the Y were developed as large, loft style apartments and the Federal Historic Tax Credit were used, the apartments could be sold after five years as condominiums. They would then be occupied by owners who would have a vested interest in our community. The Y building overlooks Vernon Park, a beautiful green space. I understand that there is off street parking which greatly increases the marketability of apartments. I hope that you will carefully consider my input in this matter. I have direct experience in renovating and operating an historic building in almost the same location of the Y. If you would like to contact me I will be happy to discuss this matter in more depth with you. I can be contacted at 214-432-8765. Connie Winters Owner of Historic Germantown Properties Philadelphia, Pa. 19144


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