Germantown: Andrew Trackman Talks Bettering Businesses And The Community

In 2014, Andrew Trackman (pictured above) became the Executive Director of Germantown United Community Development Corporation (GUCDC), located at 5320 Germantown Ave.

He has been with the organization since it was created in 2012. He grew up in New Jersey, but has lived in Philadelphia since moving here at age 18 to got to school at Temple University, earning a degree in Radio, Television, and Film. Trackman has over 25 years of corporate business experience in communications and marketing in the telecommunications industry. He is now using his business experience to work with residents to help make business succeed, which, he hopes, can in turn grow a tax base that will help to better the community.

Why do you care so much about Germantown?

I spent an awful a lot of time in Germantown because my son’s primary and secondary schooling was here. He went to Greene Street Friends School for preschool through 8th grade and then to Germantown Friends high school for high school. During that time, I was able to learn more about the history of Germantown. It’s just amazing. It’s deep, it’s wide and it encompasses so many different aspects of American history. I have always been fascinated by that, the architecture and the layout of the neighborhood. You know it’s always been a challenged neighborhood, but there is so much resilience here. The people really believe in the place and really love it.

How was GUCDC Created?

Germantown United is a 501c3 non-profit community development corporation. Our mission is to promote and facilitate the revitalization of Germantown and its businesses quarters through a sustainable, creative, and community driven approach through economic development. We are about 7-years-old. We started as an offshoot to a project that the community didn’t believe was appropriate for the neighborhood. The neighborhood actually lost the battle, but they realized they needed to have a CDC to be community driven and be responsive to the community, so that is how we were formed.

The mission statement of GUCDC is “To promote and facilitate the revitalization of Germantown and its business corridors through a sustainable, creative, and community-driven approach to economic development.” Could you explain what exactly this means?

When we mention sustainability in our mission statement, we think not just about how to be environmentally sustainable, but also ecologically sustainable.

We are very much into greening, very much into supporting parks and the benefits that those provide to the residents. We are also talking about how to be a sustainable organization. The creative piece talks about the historic built environment in Germantown as a community and economic asset that we can build upon.

If you look out your window (pictured below), there are four centuries of architecture across the street- 18th, 19th, 20th and 21st. The diversity and culture helps to have a huge arts presence here, there have always been a lot of creative people in Germantown. So how do we foster that and use the arts in the means of a civic engagement of improving the neighborhood itself and attract new residents to come to Germantown as well? Everything we do always has a community driven aspect to it. We do outreach to the community. We spend a lot of time asking questions and listening to what residents have to say.

Why is GUCDC important to you?

We really believe in Germantown, the existing residents and what’s already here is really great, but we ask ourselves, “how can we make it better?” We are not here to gentrify or to change a lot of things, we are here to improve. Germantown has a very high poverty rate, and its lost a lot of employment opportunities over the years through disinvestment, white flight, and the deindustrialization. It’s really suffered from what has happened in the late 20th century so now we are trying to rebuild the community with what the 21st century has to offer us.

How do you connect with the community?

We do a lot of our outreach electronically. We have been in this space for about a year so having a storefront now allows people can come in and see us which provides us more access to the community. We meet with businesses on a regular basis. We have business info sessions and we are also going to start doing annual forums where we are inviting people in to talk about a relevant topic in the neighborhood. We will also being starting a Town Hall Series which will be open to the public. Our first town hall is scheduled for October 25th. In addition to that, we we partner with Historic Germantown for the Second Saturday Festival in the spring. We also help run a weekly farmers market from June to October.

In terms of housing, we started the first time home buyer counseling program to work with the residents here to buy their own homes.

How did you become the Executive Director of GUCDC?

At the time, I had just made a career change and started my own consulting business. I wanted to focus on marketing for businesses and nonprofits. I was always interested in historic preservation, arts and culture, and community development. I’ve always loved Germantown so when I heard about the new CDC being created, I applied to be on the Board of Directors. I became a board member and the then president resigned, I became the interim president, then the permanent president and finally the full-time Executive Director.

What businesses do you currently work with?

The business corridor runs through Germantown Avenue, Cheltenham Avenue, Maplewood Mall, and Greene Street which is approximately 400 businesses. We work with versatile businesses within the corridor.

We provide resources and oversee activities for a variety of businesses. The businesses currently include some retailers, a restaurant and a bar, a medical office, a lot of nonprofits, some churches, a midwifery, auto parts shop, and others.

What businesses do you hope to work with?

There is definitely a need for a sit down restaurant in Germantown. Right now, a lot of the restaurants here are take out, or they are only open for breakfast and lunch. If you want to go out to dinner in Germantown, your options are extremely limited, residents are traveling outside of Germantown to find a restaurant.

We did a market analysis to determine what type of business there was a gap for and restaurants was one of them. However, convincing outside businesses that Germantown is worth investing in has been a challenge. They are coming here and looking at the demographics and thinking ‘oh no’ because of the poverty. A big challenge that we face is changing the narrative of what Germantown is and what it can be.

How do you prevent gentrification from happening in Germantown?

It is hard because there are some things you can’t control. One of the things we do is support the businesses that are here, that’s why we have the business quarter contract. We want them to succeed. If they succeed, they hire locally, and that helps the whole community.

However, it it can be difficult. If someone in the open market buys a property and the numbers work, there’s not a whole lot we can do about it, but we can certainly influence them with things that are more inline on what we think would work for the neighborhood.

One of the things we are doing is starting a community planning initiative. We are working with a number of community groups and we are trying to get funding to do a comprehensive neighborhood plan for Germantown. It will also help drive what can and cannot come in here. That’s what we doing to prevent gentrification.

– Text and images by Kira Runk and Elizabeth Leer

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