Progress moving in

The hole left in the neighborhood after the city imploded the four towers of Martin Luther King Plaza in 1999 is quickly evaporating.

In its place are rows of new townhouses, in various stages of construction.

According to the Philadelphia Housing Authority, the first phase of redeveloping the site — construction of 49 rental units — is on schedule to be completed by the end of the year. Filling the homes with residents might not be far off, said PHA spokesperson Dana Wormer.

"We are still working with former residents in determining who would come back," she said.

The old MLK Plaza towers were built in 1960. The public-housing community continually deteriorated over time and became a hotbed for crime. In October 1999, the city ordered the site demolished.

Since then, several local and federal agencies have invested money in the project, as has nonprofit developer Universal Companies. The total redevelopment at MLK will consist of 247 units, including 109 townhouses priced for sale to low- to moderate-income families, and 138 rental units.

The total cost of the project is estimated at $92 million.

Southeast of the MLK site, homes in the area of the Jefferson Square development continue to be demolished, but construction has been delayed.

"We would have been in the ground if not for the cost of building the homes," said First District Councilman Frank DiCicco, who initiated redevelopment in the area between Washington Avenue and Dickinson Street from Fourth to Sixth streets in 1996. "We are still trying to work with the building trades guys to see if we can come up with a reasonable rate."

He estimated it would cost $156,000 to rebuild new homes in the area, plus land acquisition costs and title fees. New homes will be sold for $110,000.

"We are in a much better position to recapture at least a good portion of the money, but we are still working to get those construction costs down to reduce those costs," he said.

Jefferson Square will consist of 70-80 twin houses with side and rear yards and garages. Another 25 rowhouses will be built on the block surrounding the twins; they will house families that moved to make way for the new twin homes. These homes will be built on vacant lots in between existing rowhouses still occupied.

The goal of the project is to create a 100-percent homeownership neighborhood offering a variety of housing choices for people of different economic levels. The hope is this will stabilize the area.

DiCicco projects construction on the homes will begin in the spring, and there is a chance a model unit will be built before that. In the meantime, he will ask Council and the mayor to add 25 properties in the area to the list of those acquired during the first phase of the Neighborhood Transformation Initiative.

Most of the residents in those homes have agreed to a buyout, DiCicco said.

Council members have been asked to prepare a list of properties the city should acquire through NTI, the mayor’s anti-blight effort. DiCicco will submit 110 properties from the southern portion of his district. Most are in the Jefferson Square area and the blocks around Snyder Avenue west of Pennsport, he said.

"We are trying to concentrate on those areas that will have the greatest impact on stabilization of the surrounding community and future growth," he said.