Orinoka Civic House to Break Ground in October

The former Orinoka Mills site in Kensington will be reborn as a mixed-use residential building and the headquarters the community development corporation.

The new Orinoka Civic House | via NKCDC

The new Orinoka Civic House | via NKCDC

The New Kensington Development Corporation (NKCDC) announced today that their ambitious revitalization project at the former Orinoka Mills, a dilapidated 19th century textile mill site at East Somerset and Ruth streets (map), will officially break ground at a ceremony on October 27 at 11 a.m.–rain or shine.

Due to its location near one of the city’s most notorious drug corners–Somerset and Kensington avenues– and its blighted condition, the Orinoka Civic House has been billed as a game changer for the surrounding area and has been in the planning stages for some time now.

“The mill is a dangerous eyesore,” said Sandy Salzman, Executive Director of NKCDC, said in a release. “It has served as a cover for illegal activity.”

“This project will continue the positive momentum in Kensington,” Salzman continued. “We are excited about the lasting effect Orinoka Civic House will have on the community.”

Orinoka Mills | Google Street View

Orinoka Mills | Google Street View

Originally announced in June 2014, the zoning board approved the development plan in November of that same year. It’s that same location, just a block from the Somerset Station on the Market Frankford Line, that makes it a tantalizing development opportunity. Original costs for the construction were estimated to be $16.2 million and the plans include 51 affordable residential units, a retail space and also house NKCDC’s headquarters.

As per the release, the Civic House is the first large captial investment in NKCDC’s North of Lehigh Revitalization Plan. Neighborhood residents identified rehabilitation of the mill as a linchpin to improving the community.

According to a report in PlanPhilly, the affordable units will be a mix of 1- and 2-bedroom apartments for residents earning between 20 percent and 60 percent of the Area Median Income ($14,000 to $33,000 per year for an individual). A coffee shop was also being sought for the retail space.

“Replacing blight with a community asset is key to neighborhood transformation,” said Deborah McColloch, Director of the Office of Housing and Community Development, said in the press release. “Our investment in Orinoka Civic House is part of the City’s strategy to revitalize the neighborhood.”

*This article has been updated with a rendering and quotes from Deborah McColloch and Sandy Salzman