Real estate developer and Trolley Car Diner owner Ken Weinstein sent out an email to many, many people (from Pete Hoskins to Terry Gillen) to alert them to a…disagreement he’s having with the IBEW over his construction of a Waldorf School campus on Wayne Avenue in Germantown. Weinstein says the diner has been subject to union protests outside.
The president of Weinstein Properties and Philly Office Retail, Weinstein isn’t a newbie to development; he’s been in the business for 24 years, and currently owns and manages 500,000-plus square feet of commercial space. Additionally, Weinstein has been something of an eatery investor, founding (and selling) the Cresheim Cottage Cafe, and buying up the Trolley Car Diner in Mt. Airy and Trolley Car Cafe in East Falls — the two neighborhoods, along with Germantown, into which he puts most of his energies.
Before we look at the union battle, let's assess Weinstein's latest project: the conversion of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church -- designed by Frank Furness and George Hewitt -- on the 6000 block of Wayne Avenue.
In an open letter to community members, Weinstein said he was investing close to $6 million in this project, with a serious emphasis on preservation. This emphasis is not out of character for Weinstein, whose two LLCs "have renovated and restored more than 200 vacant and deteriorated commercial and residential units in the Philadelphia region," according to his official bio.
"We are saving several Frank Furness designed buildings on this 1.5 acre campus," Weinstein writes in an email to his neighbors. "These buildings were listed by the Preservation Alliance as one of the most endangered historic properties in the Philadelphia region."
Weinstein also explains that he chose to hire a general contractor, McCoubrey/Overholser, over IBEW because McCoubrey/Overholser is based in Mt. Airy and "invests heavily in our community." Again, this is not out of character: Weinstein points out that "a majority of our contractors hired are from the northwest Philadelphia community." (He also takes a jab at IBEW, noting that his contractors -- as opposed to IBEW's -- "are racially diverse.")
Weinstein comes by that keep-it-local sensibility honestly. He's the Chair of the Mt. Airy Business Improvement District and the founder of the Mt. Airy/Chestnut Teacher’s Fund; he was awarded the Business Leader of the Year Award by West Mt. Airy Neighbors in 2004 and received the Edgar Baker Community Service Award by East Mt. Airy Neighbors in 2011. At the diner, there's a poster that lists ways to build community. It includes "BUY FROM LOCAL MERCHANTS." Isn't hiring local contractors buying local?
Weinstein asserts that the protesters were outside the diner Saturday morning distributing flyers with his photo and his cell phone number on them. He wrote:
I do not appreciate this personal attack and I will not stay quiet while they spread lies and misinformation about our projects designed to revitalize our neighborhoods. I will put up my record of revitalizing our region’s urban communities, anytime, against the efforts of IBEW to shut down projects that positively impact our community.
On Sunday, Weinstein sent out another email, which read, in part:
They told me that I am hated in NW Philly and that Johnny Doc is loved! I called them delusional! Based on the amount of support the Diner has received since they arrived on Thursday, I know that is not true!
It's interesting to note that the protesters are outside of the diner rather than the future site of the school. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has some (rather confusing) rules about secondary boycotts that I won't try to interpret myself, lest I go astray. It does seem as though IBEW is within bounds, though, which makes sense. They tend to know what they're doing. I do, however, have a call in to the NLRB for clarification.
I'm also waiting to hear back from Weinstein and an IBEW spokesperson. For now, to read the full text of Weinstein's open letter to neighbors and community, go to The W Rockland Street Project.