Apr 26, 2023 - News

Groups begin talks on Bellwether District community benefits

A rendering of the forthcoming Bellwether District in South Philadelphia. Courtesy of Hilco Redevelopment Partners

The developer of the Bellwether District project has kicked off negotiations with neighborhood groups over guaranteed benefits for the community.

What’s happening: Hilco Redevelopment Partners and more than two dozen community development coalitions, business associations and others in South and Southwest Philly began drafting a community benefit agreement (CBA) yesterday.

Why it matters: These community-negotiated contracts establish long-term commitments for developers to provide things like jobs or affordable housing.

Context: The multi-billion-dollar Bellwether District will span 1,300 acres along the Schuylkill River.

  • Located on the grounds of a former refinery, the project's centerpiece is a massive life science campus.

Between the lines: Most large-scale developments require zoning variances, which hinge on support from City Council members, who have significant sway over land issues in their district. And lawmakers typically want a CBA in place before they back big projects.

Details: Groups taking part in the closed-door talks include South Philadelphia Business Association, Grays Ferry Community Council, and Eastwick United Methodist Church, Hilco spokesperson Amelia Chassé Alcivar tells Axios.

  • The developer entered into the CBA talks voluntarily.

The intrigue: The melting pot of interests could draw out negotiations as groups push for their own priorities.

What they’re saying: Jobs and educational investments for young people are expected to be among the community’s top concerns, says Albert Littlepage, president of the Point Breeze Community Development Coalition, who’s taking part in the talks.

Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson, who represents the area, wants a CBA to secure:

  • a school-to-career pipeline for the skilled trades
  • environmental remediation of the site
  • and economic development opportunities for businesses.

Chassé Alcivar says Hilco aims to work with the community to address the legacy of living near a refinery.

  • "We want to be a partner in moving the entire community — our site and beyond — to a more sustainable future," she said.

What’s next: Hilco expects to broker a deal by early 2024. Construction is expected to begin in the coming months.


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