The Story of Eastern Tower Community Center
The story of Eastern Tower is inseparable from the story of Chinatown. In the 1970s and 1980s, Chinatown’s growth was hemmed in by several large urban renewal projects, including the high-volume Vine Street Expressway. As the community continued to grow, so did the need for community space in a densely built neighborhood. PCDC, which was founded out of the Vine Street movement, began to plan for a community center. However, financial feasibility studies showed that the building would need to earn its own keep.
In the 1990s, as property values increased, affordable housing became scarce, while the area north of Vine Street fell into disuse. Since then, as Chinatown has continued to grow into a regional hub for Asian life and culture, the need for social services, recreation and housing space has increased. PCDC went back to the drawing board to incorporate these additional needs, and found that a mix of private uses could successfully subsidize the community space.
Assembling the Team
In 2011, PCDC signed a co-developer agreement with JNA Inc., a real estate consulting and financing company with experience in large-scale, mixed-use projects and institutional local partnerships. They assembled a project team together. Along the road, PCDC has found partners and support to develop the largest, self-sustaining community development project in Philadelphia. Multi-year support from the Wells Fargo Regional Foundation and a 10-year partnership with Tenet Hahnemann University Hospital through the city’s CDC Tax Credit Program enabled PCDC to carry out its mission while going through predevelopment.
An Ambitious Vision
Faced with multiple community needs and the need for a financially solvent space, PCDC created an ambitious vision of a multi-use community space. This space would fit many users: it would provide a home base for recreation, youth and senior programming, a center of health, family and education services, and a hub for social and cultural events. It would provide an influx of quality housing to meet the demand from retirees looking for a place to grow old, immigrants looking for a place to call home and professionals working in Center City. Finally, it would institute a critical mass of businesses and residents to spark revitalization and job creation on a blighted corridor, and a lodestar for international investment.
From day one, Eastern Tower Community Center will meet the needs of a community which has transcended the traditional place-based definition of a community and become a hub for a widespread Asian immigrant population. PCDC has spent much of its history ensuring Chinatown’s survival. It now looks towards ensuring its success.