One in a continuing series spotlighting the real estate market in this region's communities.
Wayne Junction is not a neighborhood - it's a busy transportation hub that straddles the borders of Nicetown and Germantown. "The Junction," as it is known, handles five Regional Rail lines, one trackless trolley, and two bus routes, all serving 190,500 passengers a year.
But what's happening there could have an enduring and positive impact on the two neighborhoods, and the rest of North and Northwest Philadelphia.
SEPTA is spending $33 million on a sweeping renovation that includes a $22.5 million restoration of the vintage 1901 station, refurbishing of the headhouse, platforms, passenger tunnels, and stairways, and installation of elevators and other work to comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act, says Natalia Bobak, SEPTA senior program manager.
The work will be completed in May 2015, Bobak says.
A typical station renovation takes about two years, "but because of the convergence of all those lines, we wanted to make sure that we did not affect service, since [public-transit] use is now at record highs," says deputy general manager Jeff Knueppel.
The money SEPTA is spending represents "an unprecedented level of public investment in those neighborhoods," says Matt Wysong, the city Planning Commission's community planner for Northwest Philadelphia.
That investment meshes with the efforts of Nicetown Community Development Corp., Kenny Gamble's Universal Cos., and Community Builders Inc., which are visible to thousands of commuters from the windows of the passing trains.
The completed Nicetown Court I, at 4330-4350 Germantown Ave., is 37 mixed-income rental units and first-floor commercial space, including a Temple University Hospital family-practice center, says Rhonda Johnson, who handles community relations for SEPTA.
The 50-unit Nicetown Court II, under construction at 4428 and 4470 Germantown Ave., also has street-level retail for commuters and residents.
Nicetown has been fertile ground for innovation for three decades. And despite the economic downturn, a May 2012 study on neighborhood development cited investment of $180 million there in recent years, including the Nicetown Court projects and Wayne Junction.
For its part, Germantown has been one of the more stable of the city's real estate markets for the last 20 years, says Paul Walsh, a partner in Elfant Wissahickon Realty who grew up a half-mile from Wayne Junction and sells and renovates houses there.
"There is a tremendous variety of houses in Germantown and Nicetown surrounding Wayne Junction," Walsh says, adding that average sale prices are $80,000 to $100,000. Prices can climb to $200,000, especially for the big three-story singles that share the landscape with twins and rowhouses.
A single in Southwest Germantown recently sold in the upper $300,000s, he says, although location and condition determine the prices people will pay.
Though Walsh can't classify today's buyers as "urban pioneers," many are in their late 20s and 30s with small families and are attracted to a variety of housing stock.
Southwest Germantown resident Emaleigh Doley, a blogger and neighborhood advocate, says the Wayne Junction project is raising the interest of the private market in older buildings for office space, and she anticipates that will benefit the residential market in the long run.
Doley says she would like to see efforts by the Nicetown CDC carried over to her neighborhood, "but there is no leadership in Southwest Germantown looking to create that kind of economic bubble here."
Although he has been investing in the neighborhood for years, "when I heard about SEPTA's plans, I jumped at the chance to acquire more," says Mount Airy developer Ken Weinstein, a partner in Phillyofficeretail.com, which finds space for nonprofits. This is in both Germantown and the recently created Wayne Junction Industrial National Historic District, which offers tax credits of 20 percent, "if we go that route."
Wayne Junction was "the hole in the doughnut" of revitalization for adjacent neighborhoods, says Wysong. "Filling in that void will help stitch the neighborhoods together in a more functional way."
Studies over the years have shown that proximity to public transportation enhances property values.
The latest research, presented March 21 by the American Public Transportation Association and the National Association of Realtors, shows that during the last recession, residential property values performed 41.6 percent better on average if they were near public transportation with high-frequency service.
So far, there are many positive signs in Wayne Junction, but, as Wysong notes, "private investment is lagging behind the public."
"We need risk-takers to come in," he adds, saying Weinstein's efforts thus far make him a "potential pioneer."
Prices are as big a draw as potential, with Weinstein buying the old Max Levy Autograph Co. on Roberts Avenue for $150,000 and the six-acre Germantown Settlement Charter School site going for $500,000. Two of the six buildings at the school are leased. Weinstein also is spending $200,000 on improvements.
The Levy site, vacated a decade ago when the firm moved to the Northeast, has required $80,000 in environmental cleanup. There has been talk of turning the building into artists' lofts, but Weinstein says there are no firm plans for it or the Charles Schaeffer School, two blocks north of Wayne Junction, which he bought for $150,000.
"Once Wayne Junction is finished," he says, "it opens up the world."
Town By Town: Wayne Junction, By the Numbers
Population: 5,000 (2010)*
Median income: $32,283 (2009)
Area: 0.50 square miles
Homes for sale: 10
Settlements in the last three months: 22
Average days on market: 110
Median sale price (single-family homes): $47,500
Median sale price (all homes): $47,500
Housing stock: Rowhouses, singles and twins, all pre-World War II industrial buildings convertible to lofts, plus new mixed income multifamily rentals.
School district: Philadelphia
*Extrapolated from census tracts
SOURCES: U.S. Census Bureau; Zillow.com; Movoto.com; City-data.com
Contact Alan J. Heavens
at 215-854-2472, firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow @alheavens at Twitter.