The Washington Square West Civic Association is working to install lights along one corridor in the Gayborhood, but must now overcome a funding obstacle before the street can be brightened.
The WSWCA applied for a $50,000 community-development grant from the Delaware River Port Authority to support the project, which would install about 12 lights on 12th Street between Locust and Spruce. But, following the widespread reforms announced earlier this month at DRPA, hopes for that funding are slim.
The association received a $150,000 Department of Community and Economic Development state grant last year and planned to put it toward the project but, by the time the association and the Center City District were ready to move ahead this year, the price for the project had gone up from the initial estimate of $125,000 to nearly $250,000, necessitating the extra funding.
The DRPA has come under fire in recent weeks, in part because of its history of spending revenue from bridge tolls on economic-development projects. In a board meeting earlier this month, however, the DRPA voted to suspend funding projects not directly related to bridges and rail lines, its areas of focus.
“In light of the fact that the board recently voted on Aug. 18 not to spend any economic-development monies, it is highly unlikely, if such a grant request was even in, that it would be approved,” DRPA director of corporate communications Ed Kasuba told PGN this week.
According to an audit released earlier this month, in the past 12 years, the DRPA spent about $485 million on economic-development projects in both Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Just last year, the DRPA board approved $76.3 million in grants to fund such projects.
In 2009, the DRPA funded the demolition of a state prison in Camden, the planned re-opening of a subway station in Philadelphia and the construction of the President’s House memorial near Independence Hall.
Last year the DRPA also funded smaller projects, which did not require board approval, including a $564,000 sponsorship of the Camden Riversharks and $433,000 in advertising.
Judy Applebaum, WSWCA board president, said the association fortunately just received its 501 (c)(3) tax-exempt nonprofit status, which allows members of the public to make tax-deductible contributions to the agency. With its previous 501 (c)(4) designation, such donations were not permitted.
She said the association is seeking donations so it can help meet the shortfall created by the loss of the potential DRPA funding.
Applebaum said that while the association would ultimately like to create better lighting throughout the whole neighborhood, it had to realistically look at the blocks that are the darkest and most dangerous.
“We’re trying to pick the blocks where the need is greatest,” she said. “Not that there isn’t a need in the entire neighborhood, because there is, but we’ve had limited monies so we have to pick and choose where we do what we do. We know that every street deserves this, but we had to identify the streets where we think this could do the most good.”
Applebaum said the lighting would be particularly helpful in this block of 12th Street, which is home to the recently purchased five-story Odd Fellows building, empty for several years now.
“This is a block that right now is very overgrown, very dark at night and, especially with the Odd Fellows building still in progress, if you walk around at night, you can see that there are a lot of people who hang out on that block at night,” she said. “If somebody is hanging out and up to something, they’re not going to do that under a bright light; they’ll conduct their business someplace where it’s dark. I’m not naive enough to say that this will make [crime] go away, but it does change the tenor of the block.”