Could Youth Hoops Kickstart a Turnaround at Logan Triangle?

Why proponents think this nonprofit basketball facility could spur the revival of one of Philly's most confounding vacant stretches.

Aerial view of the Logan Triangle; a rendering of proposed youth basketball center.

Aerial view of the Logan Triangle; a rendering of the proposed youth basketball center.

The story so far: There’s this 40-acre hole in Logan that as of now continues to drag the neighborhood down with it. Ever since every last house that stood on this patch of land was razed in the early 1990s after a series of explosions revealed the ground underneath was sinking, the people who live around it have yearned for something, anything, to be done to bring it back to life.

Novel experiments have been proposed for the parcel. And the city, which owns the land, also picked up and dusted off a plan the residents had been working on when the organization that sponsored it abruptly shut down. Now, as part of that latter plan, that something is about to happen, and it’s going to start with a bunch of basketball courts. But the expectations are great for these courts — much greater than on a typical recreation facility.

At a December 3rd ceremony that featured a mini-Who’s Who of living Philadelphia basketball legends — including legendary Temple basketball coach Fran Dunphy, Sixers alumnus Aaron McKie and women’s hoops icon Dawn Staley, along with now-Mayor Jim Kenney, officials of The Goldenberg Group, a local developer known for big-box stores but that prides itself on both its diverse portfolio and a commitment to doing good while doing well — announced what will be the first phase of its project to redevelop the 40-acre wasteland that is the Logan Triangle: a new sports and education facility to be run by a relatively new nonprofit, Philadelphia Youth Basketball (PYB).

Rendering of the Logan basketball facility.

Rendering of the Logan basketball facility.

The $25 million facility will include eight indoor basketball courts with a 2,000-seat stadium court, six outdoor courts, an education wing with classrooms and a computer lab, a health and wellness wing with pediatric care facilities, a strength and conditioning room, a rehab facility and a diagnostic center, a healthy foods commissary, a family and community meeting space, an administrative and professional suite, a viewing area and a family picnic area.

In short, this is no mere youth sports program, which is why the Goldenberg Group so quickly latched on to the new nonprofit once its executives became aware of it.

“People are asking why we started with this,” Goldenberg Group principal Jeremy Fogel said. “The answer is because the opportunity came our way. [Philadelphia Youth Basketball president] Kenny Holdsman approached us about a donation, and Ken Goldenberg was so impressed, he said, ‘We’re working on this project in Logan, and this is so impressive, would you like to locate there?'”

What impressed Goldenberg was the program’s highly structured and holistic approach to youth development, a model its founder and president gained experience with at Legacy Youth Tennis and Education (LYTE), an East Falls tennis-training facility that began life under the name Arthur Ashe Youth Tennis and Education. (Legacy, which traces its history to a junior tennis program founded in 1952 by an heir to the Strawbridge & Clothier fortune, changed its name after a 10-year licensing agreement with the New York-based Arthur Ashe Learning Center expired in 2012.)

At Legacy, participants don’t just hone their tennis skills. They receive nutritional advice and counseling, get help with homework, and both participate in community service projects and devise their own community-betterment programs. Besides the East Falls facility, LYTE operates community-based programs that offer the same structured support and character-development emphasis at various sites in the city and suburbs each year; in 2014, the center ran 35 such sites, all but a few of which were in low-income or heavily minority communities.

One of those sites was in Hunting Park, across Roosevelt Boulevard from the Logan Triangle. In an annual report to LYTE supporters, 10-year-old Hunting Park resident Tyan Jenkins explained what he would be doing if Legacy weren’t around: “‘I’d probably just be playing outside my house.’ Why Legacy? ‘It’s better than playing by my house. It’s nice to get off the block. In the neighborhood there are always people I don’t know … there’s just not too much to do.’”

At first glance, PYB seems like a less-than-ideal fit with some of the stated desires of Logan residents. It clearly offers recreational space, which is a high priority for the neighborhood, but most of the facility won’t be open to the community at large except in certain cases.

Fogel, however, pointed out that PYB will actually fill a different community need. “From what we’ve seen and from the prior work on the Logan redevelopment plan, the number one priority the community has identified is youth development,” he said. “PYB will be a way to reach out to local youth and bring them into the center for more than recreation.

“Calling it a basketball facility does it a disservice.”

In other words, PYB will give the Tyan Jenkinses of Logan a positive place to go for both recreation and character development. In fact, PYB is already doing this with a community-based program at Logan’s Jay Cooke Elementary School, where the December 3rd announcement took place. At the announcement, Staley called the program “the very thing I wanted in North Philadelphia when I grew up.”

As Holdsman described how PYB would operate, it was clear that the Ashe/Legacy program is serving as a template of sorts. “Our center will serve thousands of kids in the course of a year, and the majority of these kids will be Philadelphians,” he said. “Many of them will be local kids from Logan and other nearby North Philadelphia neighborhoods. The programs will have prices attached to them that are very affordable and will take into account a family’s ability to pay.”

Holdsman also made it clear that the new facility would offer opportunities for broader and deeper engagement with the community. “Children in the Logan community will be welcomed and encouraged, of course, and will be paying a modest price for most programs. We will also figure out how to do some Logan-focused events to honor the community and celebrate our partnership with the people of Logan.” It’s quite likely that the facility will offer free court time to community groups, just as Legacy does at its East Falls facility, for instance.

Holdsman added that community groups would be able to use the facility’s meeting spaces for activities related to PYB’s mission either for free or for a modest fee, depending on the the group and its mission.

In short, the PYB facility will meet a significant community need and may also address others.

As for some of those other needs, Fogel said his company remains committed to helping fill those as best as it can. “Jobs and job training, recreational space, those are some other needs,” he said. “We’ve been asked about agriculture and urban farming. This project will have a number of acres of open space, and we will try to see what can best fit in it.”

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The LOAM plan as shown in a press release from last year.

That may even be parts of Paul Glover‘s Logan Orchard and Market (LOAM) proposal — which notably calls for a free clinic, lightweight “tiny houses,” gardens and sculpture among other ideas. “Ken has met with Paul Glover personally, and I’ve met with other folks involved in the organization,” Fogel said. “We’re trying to discern whether their concept is something we can fit into the Triangle, or whether there are other areas in the neighborhood where it can be implemented.”

And while Fogel also noted that urban agriculture can form the basis of a local cooperative economy based on the trading of skills or farm products for other items, much as Glover proposes, he also cautioned that whatever comes about has to reflect the desires of Logan residents. “Keep in mind that a lot of people in [Glover’s] organization are not from the Logan community,” he said. “We don’t want to wind up incorporating something that is supposed to be for the benefit of the community into our plan and it turns out that the community doesn’t really want it.”

(There is support for Glover’s ideas among some community residents. At one of the planning meetings, one resident repeatedly wrote “Tiny houses” on charrette boards that sought feedback on elements missing from various plan components, and another Logan resident specifically said urban agriculture was something that should be encouraged at the meeting where Goldenberg Group representatives introduced themselves and their company to the community.)

And while the community may indeed want something like PYB, it will take significant support from outside Logan to bring it about, given the facility’s $25 million price tag. Holdsman said he hoped that his organization could raise that amount within two years. If PYB successfully raises the money, groundbreaking would take place in early 2018 and the facility would open in 2019.

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