BY LEE STABERT/ Sometimes it starts with a bar.
In 2002, John Longacre bought the South Philadelphia Taproom at the corner of 15th & Hicks Streets, envisioning it as a touchstone for an area (East Point Breeze) that had fallen on tough times. Longacre, whose company LPMG bills its philosophy as “morality-based capitalism,” 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.
“When 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,” recalls Longacre. “There 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.”
At that time, the area was considered part of Point Breeze. “I 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,’” explains Longacre. “Point Breeze at the time was all about it. They loved it.”
Next they needed a name. “Newbold was the name of Hicks Street a long, long time ago,” says Longacre. “If 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.”
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.
“We had multiple real estate seminars in the area,” explains Longacre. “I would say, this is why you should put your buyers — particularly first-time homebuyers — in Newbold.” 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, “Nowhere else in the city can you walk outside your door, look at the skyscrapers and buy a house for $75,000 dollars.”
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 16th & Moore, Re-Newbold will be an affordable, sustainably-built collection of townhomes, apartments and retail.
“The neighborhood is coming back,” says Longacre, “but 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.”
(Lee Stabert is a freelance writer and contributor for Flying Kite Media, please visit: http://www.flyingkitemedia.com/.)