From galleries to condo glitz, the changing face of S. Philly

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The farmers' market at the on Passyunk Avenue and Tasker Street reopens May 23.

YO, ADRIAN. Meet SoPhi.

The new gal is right now just a twinkle in the eye of South Philly neighborhood visionaries like Geoff DiMasi, vice president of the Passyunk Square Civic Association (PSCA), and graduate city-planning students at the University of Pennsylvania, who drew up the SoPhi concept for PSCA as a class project last spring.

Their plans for SoPhi (see her at www.passyunk.org) envision a unified residential, retail, and restaurant district - plus office space for creative types - that centers on Washington Avenue and ties in the neighboring 9th Street Italian Market and businesses on Passyunk Avenue.

The SoPhi blueprint is largely a blue-sky, what-if proposal, with dream-on elements like a greenway and tony streetlamps on Washington Avenue, illuminating tony galleries and shops. (Yo, Adrian. That's tony with a lower-case "t".)

But if you spend any time in the neighborhood, you can see pieces of a revitalized South Philadelphia coming together. The Italian Market veggies are newly fresh and varied, with gourmet steals like cilantro for 75 cents a big bunch. The lower precincts of Passyunk Avenue are greening up with new planters and street trees, and the upper precincts are initiating a Second Friday event to coordinate art openings at the makeshift galleries (one's in a Laundromat) that have been popping up along the blocks around Pat's and Geno's.

Most astonishingly, Washington Avenue, best known for its salt-of-the-earth Mexican and Vietnamese restaurants, now has a glitzy condo development, the Lofts at Bella Vista, with rooftop "villas" priced at $1.2 million.

The Daily News spent some quality time on and around SoPhi's commercial streets. (Which is to say, we didn't just double-park at Pat's to wolf down a cheesesteak, which isn't to say we weren't tempted.) In this section, we highlight some places to go and things to eat, other than cheesesteaks, mixed with neighborhood lore.

May is a good month to become reacquainted with this newly vibrant part of town:

* On Saturday, there's the East Passyunk Crossing Spring Thing, a flea market and community fair, in the parking lot at Neumann-Goretti High School.

* Starting May 16 and continuing through October, the Mural Arts program will offer its popular South Philly murals trolley tour the third Wednesday and Saturday of each month (see www.mural arts.org/tours for details).

* The Fountain Farmers' Market at Passyunk Avenue and Tasker Street will reopen for the season on May 23 and continue every Wednesday from 3 to 7 p.m. through October.

* And the big kahuna street fair - the Sorrento Cheese 9th Street Italian Market Festival - takes place May 19 and 20.

Be advised that parking can be a nightmare for the Italian festival. Adrian, may she rest in peace, would probably take SEPTA's 23 bus, which travels frequently down 12th Street and up 11th. *

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