Welcoming Philadelphia’s first winery
NKCDC is excited to announce that Mural City Cellars, a boutique East Kensington winery launched by Francesca Galarus and Nicholas Ducos last year, will be the next tenant to occupy our empty lot at 2211-17 Frankford Avenue.
Through an unconventional, community-centered process that included an open call for proposals to use of the space, a public meet and greet with three finalists at the Frankford Avenue location, and two weeks of collecting in-person and online feedback from neighbors, Mural City emerged as the clear neighborhood favorite.
“We were really pleased by the strong response,” said Nicole Westerman, NKCDC’s Director of Real Estate and Economic Development who spearheaded the unusual approach. “We gave the community an opportunity to participate, they took it seriously, and they told us what they thought.”
“And we got to taste delicious wine, beer and bagels on a perfect Saturday in April,” she said.
The other candidates were Fishtown District, which proposed a recurring small business market similar to one it has hosted on Front Street, and Tired Hands Brewing Company, which offered an expanded vision for the beer garden they had previously operated at the Frankford Avenue site. Tired Hands’ lease expired in 2021.
An unconventional process
NKCDC believes that communities are strongest when residents are in control of planning, implementing, and evaluating what happens in their neighborhood. City leaders and outside developers come and go, but we see community members making sustainable choices for themselves because they have to live with the outcome.
Being a community-based nonprofit, we decided to model the kind of community engagement we would like to see from city government and private developers. In March, NKCDC issued a request for proposals (RFP) for temporary use of the Frankford Avenue property that would be beneficial for neighborhood residents and consistent with NKCDC’s mission and work. We promoted the RFP on social media and our website, and we received lots of suggestions, from making the lot into a pocket park with benches and more trees, to setting up a parcel-holding service to deter package theft.
We also received a half-dozen proposals. After follow-up conversations in which some applicants withdrew or were directed to NKCDC’s garden space at Frankford and Berks, three applications were put on a community feedback form.
The feedback period culminated in an event at the Frankford Avenue space. On a beautiful spring Saturday, more than 150 residents stopped by to meet the three applicants and chat about their proposals. By close of voting the following Monday, over 2,100 people had registered their opinion in person or online.
Mural City Cellars won the contest outright with 44 percent of the community in favor. Separately, Mural City also came out on top in an assessment by NKCDC’s economic development department, using a rubric for evaluating potential partners and vendors that NKCDC’s Equity Team has been developing over the past 18 months.
Tired Hands came in close second with 42 percent of community support. The input forms collected many positive comments for both Mural City and Tired Hands, although Tired Hands also drew many negative comments. Multiple people asked that the space be used to support all three organizations.
Mural City Cellars works with small grape growers within 300 miles of Philadelphia and produces wines a few blocks from the Frankford lot, in a garage at 2011 Amber Street that also serves as their tasting room. Currently they sell wine by the bottle or glass on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, but patrons can also pay to be members to receive two bottles a month, discounts, and invitations to special events.
The business donates 15 percent of its membership income to Mural Arts Philadelphia and neighborhood projects. In addition, the winemakers support other local businesses, including artisans, restaurants and breweries. At the April meet and greet, they were giving away tomato pie from Liberty Kitchen and displaying a bottle of Strivers’ Row spiced whiskey. This week, Mural City announced that they will partner with Fishtown District to host some events at the Frankford Avenue space.