University City District Breaks Ground On Trolley Portal Gardens

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Originally published by University City Review


University City District Breaks Ground On Trolley Portal Gardens

Mayor Jim Kenney,Rep. James Roebuck, Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell and other friends and offi cials. Photo by Ryan Collerd
By Haywood Brewster
Wed, Dec 07, 2016
Construction on the $4.5 million dollar project to transform the 40th Street Trolley Portal will begin January 2017

Mayor James Kenney, University City District President Matthew Bergheiser, and other dignitaries broke ground today on Trolley Portal Gardens, the future site of a public space and restaurant at the 40th Street Trolley Portal. A public-private partnership between UCD, SEPTA, the City of Philadelphia, and neighborhood stakeholders will transform the space from a less than welcoming place into a vibrant and social space featuring beautiful landscaping, movable seating, and a new restaurant called Trolley Car Station. 

Trolley Portal Gardens will be a proper gateway for West Philadelphia trolley passengers and a welcoming new public space for neighbors. The Trolley Car Station will be a commercial anchor for the Baltimore Avenue corridor, creating jobs and generating tax revenues to benefit city residents. Stormwater that previously ran untreated into the Schuylkill will be properly managed through cutting edge techniques.

UCD, with input from SEPTA, created a site design emphasizing safety and comfort for the estimated

5,000 riders who board or exit trolleys at the Portal each day. The site improvements are slated to improve pedestrian circulation, replacing impervious surfaces with lush wildflower meadow-like mounds planted with native plant species and cultivars chosen for their ability to attract butterflies and other pollinators. The mounds will be partially bounded by seat walls, creating a comfortable place to sit while waiting for the trolleys, and will be low enough to not impede sightlines. The overall aesthetic improvements will enhance the commutes of the nearly 60,000 riders who pass through the Portal each day. When complete, the site will be maintained by University City District’s Green City Works, a full service landscaping social venture. Green City Works’ employees are West Philadelphia residents who have graduated from UCD’s West Philadelphia Skills Initiative, and earn a living wage with full benefits caring for spaces in and around University City.

Trolley Portal Gardens builds upon UCD’s track record of enhancing underutilized assets for the benefit of the local economy and residents. In order to transform the public space, UCD raised $2.1 million from community residents; foundations including the William Penn Foundation, the Drumcliff Foundation, and the PECO Green Region Open Space Program; private supporters; the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania; and the City of Philadelphia. The restaurant has been privately financed. UCD developed the plans for Trolley Portal Gardens with significant input from local community groups and neighbors, including a Trolley Portal Advisory Committee comprised of architecture, engineering, and construction professionals, and neighbors from the immediate vicinity.

“The Portal Gardens project is another great example of the collaboration possible between the public and private sectors here in Philadelphia,” said Philadelphia Mayor James Kenney. “University City District worked for years with the City, SEPTA, state agencies and, most importantly, community members to make this important project a reality.”

Ken Weinstein, owner of Trolley Car Diner in Mt. Airy and Trolley Car Cafe in East Falls, will develop and operate the 200-seat, two story Trolley Car Station featuring outdoor dining, traditional booth seating and 23 U-shaped counter seats. The new restaurant will be an eastern anchor on the fast-growing Baltimore Avenue business corridor, where tens of thousands of neighbors, commuters, university students and staff, and employees of the nearby VA Medical Center and Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia converge.

“University City is the perfect home for our third Trolley Car restaurant because we do more than serve good food with friendly service, we also serve the community,” said Weinstein. “Trolley Car Station will bring its popular Helping Hands Program to the neighborhood while offering quality, affordable comfort food, on line ordering, mix and match six packs, Nelson’s ice cream and food to go.”

“We are so excited to realize our dream of upgrading an unsightly collection of concrete into a magnificent public space for thousands of neighbors, commuters, and local employees,” said UCD president Matt Bergheiser. “This project would not have been possible without the collaboration of the neighborhood, and it never could have happened without the support of our elected officials, particularly Governor Wolf, Mayor Kenney, Councilwoman Blackwell, Senators Hughes and Williams, and Representative Jim Roebuck.”

To ensure that construction starts in early 2017, UCD sought bids this summer based on construction documents prepared by Andropogon Associates and Group G. After accepting bids, UCD selected the locally based general contractor firm Domus. Domus, known for its wide-ranging experience with both new construction and renovation work, expects to begin construction this upcoming January. They will work closely with SEPTA to avoid any disruptions in trolley service, and aim to complete the project by August 2017.

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