The Blumberg Apartments, located in the Sharswood neighborhood of North Philadelphia, were built between July 1965 and March 1969. They consisted of two 18-story family high rise towers, one 13-story senior high and 15 low rise buildings. The redevelopment includes substantial demolition, construction of new units, commercial and educational opportunities and developing and enhancing community resources.
Role of Michael
As head of design and development for PHA for many years, Michael Johns was critical to the ambitious planning and design effort for this project, as well as related negotiations. Working with PHA’s President & CEO, Kelvin Jeremiah, he was responsible for much of the development of PHA’s overall multi-faceted plan.
Michael coordinated with the architect of record (AOR) for initial pre-development planning and design activities for PHA’s new Headquarters and the first residential phase. He oversaw coordination of in-house staff with the AOR for community engagements related to design and planning during the (HUD) Choice Planning Grant application process and was spokesman for PHA with city agencies, shepherding the two abovementioned projects through the regulatory processes.
Michael worked to engage Habitat for Humanity to co-partner with PHA to develop twenty homeownership units. He also initiated PHA’s negotiations with the school district for the acquisition of the long-vacant Vaux high school building (rehabbed as part of the revitalization initiative) and Reynolds elementary school building (to be converted to a senior building) located in the target area. As part of the groundwork for the overall revitalization, he managed PHA’s staff responsibilities regarding the condemnation of close to 1,000 individual parcels, 90% of which included vacant land and vacant buildings, as well as vacant or failing commercial properties along the nearby Ridge Avenue commercial corridor.
Michael led negotiations with supermarket owners to attract them to the target area and led a team of consultants to develop comprehensive design standards for the neighborhood, to respect its quintessential character, historic restoration and preservation, and allow for new design ideas. He developed a relationship with the commercial corridor’s business association, to develop an approach for reinvestment in the corridor, and helped identify two commercial development firms to assist in the effort.
Michael played a major role in PHA’s re-envisioning and embarking upon the revitalization of the Blumberg/Sharswood neighborhood, with a target area covering one-quarter square mile. This vision was recognized in late November 2013, when PHA, one of only nine awardees nationwide, was awarded a Choice Neighborhoods Initiative (CNI) Planning Grant by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
The multi-year plan includes the revitalization and economic redevelopment of the Sharswood neighborhood, especially the Ridge Avenue commercial corridor, and includes PHA relocating and consolidating its offices on Ridge Avenue in a brand new $45 million LEED certified facility. When all phases of the redevelopment are complete, this $500 million transformation plan will yield approximately 1,203 new housing units. This total includes 683 affordable rental units, 100 market rate rentals, 320 affordable homeownership units, and 100 market rate homeownership units.
The new headquarters building will open in mid-December and house over 400 PHA employees with approximately 500,000 square feet of commercial and retail space along the Ridge Avenue commercial corridor; redevelopment of the corridor includes a supermarket. A shuttered high school was converted into a community building that now contains a dynamic and innovative new high school and a community medical center staffed by personnel from Temple University, with plans to add dental services from the university. Planning is also underway to redevelop a shuttered elementary school into a senior building.
The impact of this project is immense; this is an unprecedentedly ambitious neighborhood transformation plan that can change lives and enhance the community. Businesses will benefit from the 400+ employees and hundreds of individuals that will come to the PHA Headquarters on a daily basis. The new high school will substantially increase educational levels. The supermarket will eliminate a food desert and offer residents healthy food choices and jobs. The redevelopment itself will increase property values and tax revenues. This is a revitalization and transformation plan that is enormous in scope and potential, for the people, businesses and the community served, and for Philadelphia.