For decades after its factories and manufacturers moved out, Fishtown struggled to find the businesses to bring its economy back. Today, thanks to about a dozen new projects, Fishtown’s revitalization is moving forward.
The community’s leading organization, the New Kensington Community Development Corp., created a master plan for the neighborhood, specifically along Frankford Avenue between Girard and Lehigh avenues. The nonprofit organization works within the borders of Fishtown, Kensington and Port Richmond.
Henry Pyatt, the organization’s commercial corridor developer, said the plan builds on Fishtown’s strong characteristics.
“We’ve got a lot going on,” Pyatt said. “It’s a fun neighborhood to be in. As we’ve worked to rehab buildings and create new businesses and art studios, we’ve created this vibrate place where there’s lots of stuff going on.”
At one point, Fishtown was a bustling urban neighborhood, rooted in industries like shad fishing, textiles and even sporting goods. But over the years, as jobs dried up, many of the neighborhood’s residents moved out of the city. Now, Pyatt said, cities are becoming more attractive than suburban areas.
“We have space and we’re close to a lot of things, like Center City, and people want to live in a dense, urban neighborhood with people that care about and neighbors they can appreciate,” Pyatt said.
With the financial support of the city’s Corridor Management Program, which provides grants to fund improvement plans in low to moderate-income census tracks, Pyatt and the development corporation created a blueprint for the future of Frankford Avenue and Fishtown.
“Our goal was to come up with a revitalization plan that allows people to be more economically self-sufficient and creates a community that’s more inviting and welcoming,” Pyatt said.
As the commercial corridor developer, Pyatt serves as a liaison who draws new businesses and developers into the history-rich community.
“My department, economic development, is kind of like a matchmaker,” Pyatt said. “One side of the relationship is a bunch of people and the other side of the relationship is this neighborhood, and we’re finding a place for them here.”
When it comes to finding new businesses or developers for the area, the development corporation focuses on a basic framework, which gives it an opportunity to successfully multiply and expand its improvement plans in other areas of Fishtown.
“The plan describes uses for different spaces,” Pyatt said.” “We’re looking to convert mixed-use buildings along Frankford Avenue and also high-density spaces near transit and on corners.”
The next step for Pyatt and the proposed developer or business owner is to find a plan that works for both parties.
“We try to help developers find properties that are suitable to their project and find a location that’s both complementary to their project and our neighborhood plan,” Pyatt said.
The goal of finding projects suitable for both parties has become easier for the development organization, thanks to a recent change.
“We’ve turned the corner now where we can support restaurants, which is really exciting,” Pyatt said.
One of the newest restaurants to open for business in Fishtown is The Pickled Heron, 2218 Frankford Ave. With a plate price of $12 to $25, Pyatt said the new French bistro is a game changer for Fishtown.
“That’s a big deal for us,” he said. “Until they opened, 30-40 years prior to that, there was no such thing as that kind of place.”
Daniela D’Ambrosio and Todd Braley are co-owners and co-chefs of The Pickled Heron. The restaurant, which has been operational for nine weeks, is one of about a dozen new projects slated in the community.
“Everything is happening at once and this is kind of in the middle of it,” D’Ambrosio said.
While their bistro is new to the area, D’Ambrosio and Braley have lived in Fishtown for seven years. During that time, they noticed the neighborhood was lacking any dining options outside of the typical burger joint.
“There are some great bars here, with great food, but it was missing the type of stuff you can find in Center City,” D’Ambrosio said. “After many years, we decided the neighborhood was ready for it and, we decided, why not do it for ourselves.”
The short walk between home and the restaurant were definitely incentives to open along Frankford Avenue, but the new business owners were also enticed by the financial incentives and support from the New Kensington CDC.
“It’s an untapped location right now, so rents are low,” D’Ambrosio said. “The NKCDC, the community organization, has been great in helping us with all kinds of programs the city has to offer.”
One of those programs the new restaurateurs were able to take advantage of was the City’s Storefront Improvement Program. The program helped defray the costs of refurbishing the bistro’s facade.
“For a small business just opening up, every little bit helps,” D’Ambrosio said.
Through the support of the New Kensington CDC and city redevelopment programs, new businesses, like the Pickled Heron, are contributing to the facelift of Frankford Avenue in Fishtown.