Some of the details are yet to be worked out, but the planned acquisition of the 32-acre site of the former Liddonfield Housing Project in Philadelphia’s Upper Holmesburg section will go a long way toward easing overcrowding at the main campus of Holy Family University, located 1.4 miles north in Torresdale.
On July 20, Estelle Richman, the sole member of the Philadelphia Housing Authority Board, approved a resolution of the sale of the property to private developer ABS, which is working with the university. ABS itself is a joint venture of three firms, AP Construction, BSI Construction and Synterra.
The proposed sale price is $4.2 million with an addition of $1 million in Holy Family scholarships over 10 years to PHA residents.
“PHA is excited to take this first step and begin negotiating the details with the developer,” Richman said.
The former homes on the Liddonfield property were originally built as military housing during World War II, but turned into public housing postwar. After the housing project was demolished several years ago a number of plans were put forth for use of the property, most of which met community resistance, especially if they involved public housing.
The current plan, as put together by BSI’s John Parsons, working with Holy Family President Sister Francesca Onley, C.S.F.N., and with the blessing of area politicians, satisfies the PHA because it includes at least 60 units of senior housing, which is acceptable to the community. Also, planned athletic fields will be open to community use.
Holy Family University, the only college with its main campus in heavily populated Northeast Philadelphia, was founded in 1954 by the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth as Holy Family College on the grounds of Nazareth Academy. Since then it has grown to 3,184 undergraduate and graduate students with 40 majors. It does have satellite campuses in Newtown and Woodhaven in Bucks County, but the real need has been space on or near the main campus.
“This project is going to establish the future of the neighborhood and the university,” Sister Francesca said at a July 23 news conference at the Liddonfield site. The idea of the scholarships was appealing, she noted, because in the past a number of students from the Liddonfield Housing Project attended Holy Family, and became successful.
“One gift Holy Family can bring is the gift of mission,” Sister Francesca said. “Our congregation is dedicated to service to the family.”
Parsons, who first approached Sister Francesca with the proposal, is himself a product of Catholic education and a member of St. Bede the Venerable Parish in Holland. He envisions the tract being developed for among other things, student housing, some administrative offices, the senior housing in partnership with the Holy Redeemer Health System, and athletic fields.
All this will take time, but very first will be the athletic field, which is an immediate need for Holy Family.
“This is going to be a tremendous opportunity for the university to grow and expand,” said associate athletic director Robin Arnold. “Our number-one priority is a softball field.”
“I’m excited,” said Rachael Alligood, one of a number of softball players at the news conference. “Finally we will have a home.”
Also in attendance were many of the members of the Upper Holmesburg Civic Assocation.
“It’s a win-win,” said Crystal Eiswart, the group’s communications director. Public interest and private interest came together on this.”