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Philadelphia Designated as a Promise Zone, Drexel Plays Key Role

January 09, 2014

The City of Philadelphia was one of three cities and a total of five areas selected for a Promise Zone designation, a federal initiative to accelerate revitalization efforts in targeted areas. The Promise Zone initiative is led by the White House with support from federal agencies, including the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Department of Education and U.S. Department of Justice.

The new Promise Zone initiative, first described by the president in his 2013 State of the Union Address, marshals a range of resources to meet the challenge of revitalizing some of the nation’s most persistently poverty-stricken communities. The West Philadelphia Promise Zone is one of five across the nation designated this year, with 15 more to follow over the next four years.

“Being selected as a Promise Zone is an important step in the transformation process for a neighborhood struggling with high poverty, high crime, high vacancy, low educational attainment and low employment rates,” said Mayor Michael A. Nutter. “Being a Promise Zone will enable the City to align existing resources and apply for new federal funding – building on efforts already at work – through a multi-faceted, focused approach. I want to thank President Obama and his Administration for this recognition and the opportunities it will provide.”

This is the result of a proposal prepared by Drexel, The Mayor’s Office of Community Empowerment and Opportunity (CEO), Mantua's Mt Vernon Manor and PEC.

“I am thrilled that the Promise Zone designation will provide federal agency support in helping us implement Shared Prosperity, our plan to fight poverty, and for this opportunity to assist residents of several West Philadelphia neighborhoods,” said Eva Gladstein, executive director of CEO.

The Promise Zones designation provides a package of tools to help local leaders accelerate efforts to revitalize their communities. The designation:

  • Creates a partnership between the federal government and local leaders who are addressing multiple community revitalization challenges with on-the-ground technical assistance to help navigate federal programs and regulations;
  • Provides preference points on other federal grants and funding opportunities; and
  • Will, if enacted by Congress, provide employer tax incentives to create jobs for Zone residents and attract private capital to places without much previous investment.

CEO, the City’s community action agency, will serve as the lead agency throughout the Promise Zone process. Drexel’s will play a key role in the education effort. 

“Drexel is a committed partner with the City, Mt Vernon Manor and PEC in this important work,” said Drexel President John A. Fry. “We are proud to bring the full weight of our academic and institutional resources to support this West Philadelphia neighborhood."

The City’s selected Promise Zone is a nearly two-square mile area in West Philadelphia. Bordered by the Schuylkill River on the east, Girard Avenue on the north, 48th Street to the west and Sansom Street to the south, the Promise Zone is home to 35,315 residents. 

“The Administration has created a wonderful opportunity for communities like Mantua to be revitalized, such as increasingly affordable housing and improving safety. Now with the Promise Zone designation, we will be able to bring more resources to our community to address a comprehensive range of issues,” said Michael Thorpe, chairman of the board, Mt Vernon Manor.

The Philadelphia Promise Zone plans to use the area’s assets, including its proximity to transportation, strong anchor institutions, the Lancaster Avenue commercial corridor, Fairmount Park and the Philadelphia Zoo, to support the creation of jobs, increase economic activity, improve educational opportunities, reduce violent crime, and leverage private investment in a defined geographic area of high need. The proposal will leverage more than $575 million in funding and anticipates future public and private investment of $250 million.

Implementation and supporting partners include Drexel, Mt. Vernon Manor, Philadelphia LISC, People’s Emergency Center, Philadelphia School District, Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority, the City’s Commerce Department, Philadelphia Housing Authority, Office of Housing and Community Development and others. Fairmount Ventures and the Mayor’s Office of Grants supported the grant’s development.

The White House intends to designate 20 Promise Zones across the country by the end of 2016.