I read about this week’s Do-Gooder Company in a Philadelphia Inquirer article written by Larry Platt. The headline read School Reform Finds a Home and I expected it to be a typical article about education reform – charter schools, longer school days, university partnerships. But, what I found was a really interesting business venture by two Philadelphia area developers (Gabe Canuso and Greg Hill) and a Baltimore-based developer Donald Manekin. The project is Oxford Mills and it is this week’s Do-Gooder Company.
Oxford Mills bills itself on its website as an “urban oasis for teachers, nonprofits and other Philadelphia area residents.” The mixed-use residential and commercial development will offer 114 one and two bedroom residences which will be offered to teachers at a discount of $200-$400, depending on the floor plan. There will also be over 36,000 square feet of office spaced geared towards education-oriented nonprofits and startups. As an incentive to nonprofits, the developers are offering reduced rents and amenities such as shared conference space, shared kitchen facilities and free parking. Their vision is to create a vibrant community of educators and innovators that fosters collaboration and strengthens reform efforts. Already, Teach For America has signed on to move their Philadelphia headquarters to this space and they expect that many of their teachers will live in the development as well.
Of course, these guys are still in it to make a profit, but have found a business plan that allows them to turn a profit while still offering. The model is to refurbish old factories in fringe neighborhoods, which, allows them to qualify for historic landmark and new market tax credits. These tax credits are what enable the developers to offer reduced rent options for teachers and non-profits. Donald Manekin has two such developments in Baltimore and sought to partner with local developers to launch the model in Philadelphia. Reports out of Baltimore are positive and the developments have had a positive impact on the surrounding neighborhoods.
Will Oxford Mills have a similar positive impact on the South Kensington neighborhood in which it resides? Only time will answer that question, but this kind of socially responsible development deserves a shout out. And, if the Baltimore models are any indicator, Philadelphia teachers interested in an apartment should act quickly. Both Baltimore sites have extensive waiting lists for apartments.