2020 Year in Review
What a year, huh?
I don't think anyone will be sad to see 2020 go! What a year this has been. I can almost see it in the rearview mirror.
But despite all the drama and trauma of the past year, CCRA had one of our most productive years. Membership and donations are up, and Zoom meetings have increased attendance at all of our regular meetings--zoning, executive committee, board, and committees. (Although our neighborhood is known for its walkability, it is amazing how a walk to the kitchen table to attend a meeting makes life so much easier!) If you see an area below which piques your interest, please jump in, and ask to join a committee. Travis Oliver, our Operations Manager, is available to help you find a group that will appeal to your interest area.
I will be brief, as the 2020 committee reports tell the story of creativity, grit, and innovation needed to keep our neighborhood healthy, strong, and growing. I want to express my heartfelt thanks to our board members and to the many other CCRA members who have volunteered so much time, talent, and treasure in service to this community this year, and wish us all a happy, healthy and safe 2021!
-Gratefully, Maggie Mund, President
Since the early weeks of 2020 (yes, pre-pandemic, if you can remember having had such weeks), I have been considering CCRA's Bylaws for possible amendment. In agreeing to chair this endeavor, I knew I'd have to review applicable Pennsylvania law and read up on best practices for the good governance of nonprofit organizations. A big job. Fortunately, I am assisted with top-notch committee members, namely Jeff Braff, Matt Schreck, Rick Speizman, and our tireless President, Maggie Mund. The Committee's goal is to present a set of Bylaws that will be user-friendly and clear, internally consistent, prudent, and legally sufficient. The revised Bylaws should also reflect the way CCRA either is currently operating or might better, in some respects, run in the future. Our committee’s proposals will be presented first to the board and ultimately, if the board agrees, to the membership for a vote at the next annual meeting. While many of our proposals will not be substantive, others will significantly affect membership, policy, and day-to-day functioning.
Experts on nonprofit and corporate governance advise careful review and updating of governance documents on a more frequent basis than most small nonprofits, like ours, generally care to do. That's understandable. The task takes a lot of time, care, and energy without producing any immediate pay-off to advance the organization's mission. But it's a necessary task and worth the commitment we have made to do it well. Stay tuned next spring when proposed Bylaw amendments arrive at your virtual doorstep; then, you can let us know how successfully the challenge has been met.
- Elena A. Cappella, CCRA Board Member, Chair of Ad Hoc Committee on the Bylaws
Want to keep up with what's happening in the neighborhood? The City? The ebb and flow of the pandemic, openings, and closings, staycation ideas? CCRA has expanded our communication platforms to keep you informed about the things that matter the most around town. Check out (and "like" or "follow") our FB page, Instagram, Twitter feed, and our real-time blog. See our book talk about what to do in Philly now on our YouTube Channel.
If you missed your copy of this week's E-news, get it here. And for more in-depth coverage of who is making things happen and exploring the people, places, and things that make our neighborhood special, get the latest copy of the Center City Quarterly here. If you have a cause or a story to share in the Quarterly, please get in touch with Nancy Coleman, our editor.
- Barbara Halpern, Vice President, Community Outreach and Chair, Communications Committee.
Since we could not have our planned, in-person development events this fiscal year (Fall Casino Night and Spring House and Garden Tour), the committee turned to online fundraising. Our budgeted shortfall was about $30,000, which we needed to raise.
The first event was an enhanced year-end solicitation for which we obtained commitments for $10,000 in matching gifts. We combined this with an auction for a vacation at a luxury resort in Namibia, which was donated to CCRA. The result is that the year-end solicitation will exceed the goal we set for it.
In the spring, we will conduct an online auction for a week (in 2022) at three wonderful villas in Europe (which have also been donated to CCRA). We are quite optimistic that this event will produce significant revenue. We should exceed the projected budget shortfall with room to use our resources towards much-needed community benefits.
I want to thank everyone on the Development Committee for a successful and creative effort to see CCRA through the most challenging time we have ever faced. We are looking forward to in-person activities in the next fiscal year.
-Rick Gross, Executive Vice President, Chair, Development Committee
For CCRA, as for many other nonprofit organizations, the year 2020 proved challenging, to say the least. While the pandemic forced us to cancel our two major fundraisers, we are very thankful that our members, sponsors, and business partners continued to support CCRA during these trying times. Most notably, our Spring and Winter Sidewalk Cleaning appeals raised approximately $35,000, which we have used to maintain this vital program that helps keep our neighborhood clean. Thank you for supporting CCRA, and we look forward to, hopefully, resuming our in-person fundraising events in 2021.
- Matthew Schreck, Treasurer
Over the past year, the Historic Designation Task Force has worked with Oscar Beisert, a historic preservation specialist, to write the nominations for five buildings to be placed on Philadelphia's Register of Historic Places. These buildings are recognized by the federal government (and the IRS) for their historical significance. While they are in the Center City West Commercial Historic District, they are not protected from demolition because they are not on Philadelphia's Register. Their protection is our goal. (Remember the fate of Jeweler's Row?) Once accepted onto the Register, the Philadelphia Historical Commission would be able to deny an application for demolition. Building owners would be required to consult with PHC staff before making changes to building exteriors, diminishing the possibility of loss of historic character from our neighborhood shopping district, which happens to be the City's most celebrated commercial corridor.
The five buildings are:
1. 1513 Walnut Street (Brooks Brothers)
2. 1615 Walnut Street (New Balance Shoes)
3. 1716 Chestnut Street (Gran Café Aquila)
4. 1923 Chestnut Street (Trek Bicycle)
5. 2006 Chestnut Street (One Tippling Place)
The approval process includes review by the Historical Commission staff, notification to owners, and public meetings with the Historic Designation Committee and the Historical Commission. 1513 Walnut Street has been accepted onto the Historic Register, and the other four buildings are in various stages of review. There are a surprising number of other significant historic buildings in Rittenhouse Row that are currently without protection from demolition. Our work continues but depends on the generosity of CCRA members. If you would like to support our efforts, please contact the Task Force Chair at email@example.com. And for an enlightening read about our recently elevated member of Rittenhouse Row, here is a link to the nomination for 1513 Walnut Street.
-Tim Kerner, Chair
Although Covid-19 restrictions limited activities for the last year, our plans include providing information and tools for property owners and people who appreciate the historic character of our neighborhood so that anyone can do the sort of things that preserve the ambiance of the Rittenhouse and Fitler Square neighborhoods. While major activities and plans have been temporarily postponed, committee members have monitored development, new construction, proposed demolitions, designations, and other events by reviewing the Historical Commission's agendas and attending Zoom meetings.
Members of the HPC also have served as members of CCRA's Major Development Task Forces to offer a preservation perspective to new development projects, many of which include historically recognized buildings. Members also served as CCRA representatives in a federal historic preservation review process (called a 106 review) for new development on Chestnut Street.
In each of the CCRA Quarterly Review newsletters, members wrote articles providing our membership with information about CCRA actions in promoting historic preservation resources; members may learn more about historic preservation and information about current preservation activities. Committee members also addressed individual member's concerns and provided assistance and support for members with historic preservation challenges in their neighborhoods or who were interested in knowing more about preservation or the City's historic preservation activities and efforts.
-Phillipa Campbell, Chair
In response to numerous resident complaints about the deteriorating quality of street life in Center City, CCRA, in partnership with other local stakeholders, worked diligently to organize the Center City community to speak with one voice. We are encouraging the City government to do more to address our residents' concerns. Based on these efforts, we have organized a large and diverse group of residents, commercial landlords and tenants, hoteliers, and businesses in Center City West, from Arch to Locust and from Broad to 19th Streets to advocate together for solutions to issues of aggressive panhandling, vandalism and other threatening street behavior impacting our community. We are optimistic that with the support of this large and organized group, the City will be responsive to our concerns. If you would like to learn more about this initiative, please contact CCRA.
-Matt Fontana, Co-Chair
What a year we have had for some exciting and different member opportunities!
Did you know we launched a NEW membership program complete with new levels and benefits earlier this year? Did you get to join us at the sold-out Meet, Eat & Greet gathering at DiBruno's Alimentari (pre-COVID) or our recent virtual book event, "100 Things to do in Philadelphia Before You Die"? How about our three adorable photo challenges on social media that provided a much welcome distraction during these crazy days? See the best photos of 2020 on our Facebook page here!
Do you know a NEW resident of Center City West? They are eligible for a 6 month free membership! Have you received a new member warm welcome from a CCRA Board member? We have begun a stewardship program to say thanks and get acquainted. And, have you frequented our expanded local Merchant Partners offering members discounts or deals yet? So much is going on and more to come!
-Michele Ettinger, Chair
Kudos to Board Member Elena Cappella for all her hard work on the new 22nd Street bike lane installed this year. This is a wonderful lane, located on the street's left side and well supplied with delineator posts. It is a major northbound route through Center City, and bicyclists heavily use it.
And kudos to Board Member Harvey Ostroff, who has made significant progress in improving the trash situation on Walnut Street between 20th and 23rd, utilizing detailed 311 reports, with photographs and descriptions of the nature of the infraction (putting out trash on the wrong day seems to be common in this area).
The other major trash issue is the City's failure to enforce the 2016 dumpster ordinance, which prohibits placing new dumpsters on the sidewalk in Center City. Things are not going well here. After a months-long effort by a multi-committee group, CCRA got some sidewalk dumpsters removed from a restaurant near Fitler Square. And CCRA representatives met with City officials in January to prompt the City to generally enforce the law. We met with goodwill but, as the pandemic arrived, progress came to a halt. We continue to check in but don't expect any progress until the emergency is well behind us.
Another disappointment is also related to the pandemic. Early on, CCRA joined with other community groups to urge the City to close more streets to motor vehicles and make the space available for recreation and non-motorized transportation. We started with the idea of repurposing the outer lanes of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway to relieve pressure on the Schuylkill Banks. Then we joined a citywide initiative called Recovery Streets. Despite our best efforts and a considerable amount of preparatory planning on the part of several City departments, in the end the City took no action.
The largest change to the streets in CCRA's area this year has been the arrival of outdoor dining, with diners sitting at tables in repurposed parking lanes and travel lanes. CCRA has been following these developments carefully. We particularly want to ensure that residents have adequate access to the buildings behind the outdoor dining spaces. To date, we have not needed to intervene.
CCRA has cooperated with the City on many issues affecting the streets and continues to do so. This year, CCRA wrote a letter of support for the planned dedicated bus lanes on Market Street and John F. Kennedy Boulevard. This follows our earlier support for the "loading zone pilot" on Chestnut Street, which materially improved Chestnut's traffic flow by expanding the availability of loading spaces in the parking lane. After a review this year, the pilot became permanent.
In 2021 we will be working with the Office of Transportation, Infrastructure, and Sustainability (OTIS) and the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC) on a study seeking to improve transit and bicycle movement along 19th and 20th Streets, between Market and Spring Garden Streets. There are also preliminary plans to work with OTIS to enhance the integration of new buildings and open space.
-Bill West, Co-Chair, CCRA Streets Committee