BY LEE STABERT/Â Sometimes it starts with a bar.
In 2002, John Longacre bought the South Philadelphia Taproom at the corner of 15thÂ & Hicks Streets, envisioning it as a touchstone for an area (East Point Breeze) that had fallen on tough times.Â Longacre, whose company LPMG bills its philosophy as â€œmorality-based capitalism,â€ saw a tremendous amount of potential in the neighborhood, defined as Broad to 18th Street and Tasker to Wolf, all it needed was a push in the form of a new identity.
â€œWhen I started looking at that neighborhood, about 10 years ago, I couldn’t figure out why this section of the city was such a disaster,â€ recalls Longacre. Â â€œThere were cars on the sidewalk, trash was everywhere. It was just a mess. After buying a few houses and doing some renovations, and then buying the [South Philadelphia] Taproom, I started to realize that the reason why it was like that was because there was no civic engagement. There was no community groups and the population was very transient.â€
At that time, the area was considered part of Point Breeze. Â â€œI went to the powers that be in Point Breeze and said, ‘We’re looking to carve off a little section down here to give it some identity and trying to get some development sparks going,’â€ explains Longacre.Â â€œPoint Breeze at the time was all about it. They loved it.â€
Next they needed a name.Â â€œNewbold was the name of Hicks Street a long, long time ago,” says Longacre.Â â€œIf you look at the buildings, some of the larger ones have a limestone block that says ‘Newbold Street.’ I thought it was a great name because it had ties to the area and the connotations ‘new’ and ‘bold,’ which was something we were trying to do. It just seemed to work.â€
Once a name had been chosen, Longacre spearheaded the founding of a 501(c)(3) non-profit community development corporation and, as an offshoot, the Newbold Civic Association. The next step was to get Realtors in on the new name.
â€œWe had multiple real estate seminars in the area,â€ explains Longacre. “I would say, this is why you should put your buyers — particularly first-time homebuyers — in Newbold.â€ Those reasons include proximity to Center City, proximity to the subway and multiple commercial corridors, great housing stock, a dense population and value. As Longacre puts it, Â â€œNowhere else in the city can you walk outside your door, look at the skyscrapers and buy a house for $75,000 dollars.â€
The new name and a fresh identity gave Realtors and buyers a reason to take a second look. Now, South Philly Taproom has been joined by Ultimo Coffee across the street, and Longacre has embarked on Re-Newbold, an ambitious development project on the site of the long-abandoned Drexel School. A joint project with Postgreen at 16thÂ & Moore, Re-Newbold will be an affordable, sustainably-built collection of townhomes, apartments and retail.
â€œThe neighborhood is coming back,â€ says Longacre, Â â€œbut it’s gonna take another 10 years before it really looks like it did back in the day. I promise all these old timers that stuck it out, some of our older neighbors who have been here for 60 years, just give it a few more years and the neighborhood will be like it was when you were a kid. You’re gonna have businesses on every corner and great neighbors.â€
(Lee StabertÂ is a freelance writer and contributor for Flying Kite Media, please visit: http://www.flyingkitemedia.com/.)