Tucked away on a corner of the Garden Court Historic District in West Philadelphia, the Dorrance H. Hamilton Center for Culinary Enterprises celebrated its ribbon cutting today with funders, politicos and neighbors who have waited more than a decade to see the renovation of a vacant Food Rite not so affectionately nicknamed "Food Wrong." The 13,000 square foot space will now act as a kitchen incubator and educational facility for entrepreneurs trying to break into the Philly food scene and will offer three additional storefronts at the commercial node of 48th and Spruce.
Slated to open within the next month, the CCE will offer classes and time slots in three shared kitchens for startup food businesses to hone their craft. The combination of technical assistance, business education and neighborhood economic development builds on the Enterprise Center (TEC)'s history of fostering local entrepreneurial talent and bringing new life to long vacant buildings (TEC's main offices are in the former American Bandstand studio). Perhaps more importantly, this development is representative of Philly's increasing reliance on food as an economic development tool, both in terms of job creation and community revitalization. In the words of Jacobim Mugatu, food is soooo hot right now.
The Center for Culinary Enterprise is banking on Philly's future as a great food city, and with good reason. From the newly minted Mobile Food Association to urban farms, shared kitchen spaces, multiple nascent and established food coops, a rabid Buy Local ethic, and a restaurant industry that employs roughly half the city, Philly has been at the forefront of food trends for a while now with no signs of letting up. While the Health Department and L&I have had to play a little catch-up to figure out how to permit operations like this one, demand for shared kitchen space continues to rise as aspiring food entrepreneurs look for economical ways to build their business before making a bricks-and-mortar investment.
One question that remains to be answered is how successful the CCE will be as a catalyst in the revitalization of its neighborhood. Though the adjacent apartments concentrate residential density in the surrounding blocks, the commercial offerings lag a bit. The cluster of businesses in which the CCE has located is mostly solid, but could certainly use a boost, which it will get in the form of support from the Philadelphia Commerce Department this fall. It's also hard not to notice the hulking, formerly abandoned Croydon looming a block away; the vacant land where the Windermere Court Apartments stood before burning down in January 2010. ; or the former West Philadelphia High School lying dormant with a $6.5 million price tag.
There are promising signs, however, given that the Croydon recently sold to competent developers and the announcement that the Philadelphia Police Headquarters will move to the nearby Provident Mutual Building at 46th and Market. The CCE's own commercial spaces will also add some life to the intersection, with a user in negotiation for the corner restaurant space and two more eateries, including the folks from Desi Village and Chaat House, in the other two spaces. Plus, with SEPTA completing two projects in the area—the MFL reconstruction and Baltimore Ave trolley repairs—the area seems ripe for investment.