These Kensington developers are taking a cue from revitalization efforts in Germantown
September 9, 2016
A young homeless man in raggedy garb and flip flops is standing in the middle of the street at the intersection of Castor and Kensington avenues. The man is perfectly visible through the glass doors of development firm Shift Capital.
Inside, a group of social impact real estate developers are scheming ways to get people in his situation the help they need. Shift Capital principals Brian Murray and Matthew Grande are two of those social impact developers.
“Brian was on a bus tour in Vancouver with his family when the tour guide said, ‘This is the part of town people go when they need help.’ They have a whole social services corridor,” said Grande. “It would make sense if we could do something similar.”
Kensington’s notorious problems — drug use, homelessness, unemployment — are so obvious because they’re out on display. Shift Capital and its community partners New Kensington Community Development Corporation (NKCDC) and Impact Services, Grande said, have an opportunity to consolidate resources in one place, making it easier for residents in need to find help.
It’s just one facet of Shift Capital’s multi-pronged revitalization strategy. Just don’t expect their work to look like development you might see in Northern Liberties or Point Breeze, said Grande. This is community-driven real estate.
“We don’t want to level anything. There’s are a lot of great structures here from row homes to commercial buildings that just need some TLC,” he said. “How do we do this in such a way where we’re not forcing anyone out, but instead providing them with a better place to live?”
Shift Capital owns 1.3 million square feet of commercial and industrial complexes, 15 mixed-use properties and 100 residential spaces that cater to social entrepreneurs and artisans — “visionaries,” Grande calls them — that the firm hopes will activate innovation in the neighborhood. Most of that activity will take place on Kensington Avenue, which Shift Capital hopes to build out into a commercial corridor akin to Fishtown’s Frankford Avenue and South Philly’s Passyunk Avenue.
Creating jobs is exactly what Shift Capital aims to do. Healthy food market Snap Kitchen, for instance, has already hired 80 people since moving into Shift’s MaKen Studios, 60 percent of whom Grande said either walk or take public transportation to get to work. Shift Capital also owns a number of vacant lots where Grande said he’d like Urban Creators‘ cofounder Alex Epstein to scale the nonprofit’s urban farming program.
But how soon can Shift get more businesses into Kensington — with, of course, the blessing of the local community?
If you build it, Grande said, they will come. Shift just needs to build more.
That’s why the firm, along with its community partners (who have recently taken to calling themselves the Heart of Kensington Committee) put representatives through social impact developer Ken Weinstein‘s popular Jumpstart Germantown program last year. As of last week, the group has begun piloting Jumpstart Kensington, an initiative that will offer mentoring opportunities for aspiring local impact developers.
“When we first sat down with [Weinstein], we said we wanted to carbon copy Jumpstart Germantown in Kensington, and he was all for it,” said Grande. “The formula is pretty simple: education, mentorship, a resource network and short-term financing.”
Jumpstart Germantown has grown to have cohorts of 30 to 40 people per quarter. The Kensington copy is beginning with five (one being community activist Jamie Moffett).
Here’s the interesting tidbit: Grande, a South Philly resident who has known Murray since the 5th grade, hadn’t been to Kensington until reconnecting with Murray two years ago. How could he care so much about the neighborhood?
“It’s getting those people who live in what they consider to be Philadelphia to come out here,” he said. “As great as things look in and around City Hall, you’re 15 minutes away from this. And those people who do come out — they get it.”