Around the Block 

Crosstown businesses host block party for the up-and-coming neighborhood.

The massive, 1.4-million-square-foot Sears Crosstown building remains empty as it awaits a $15 million commitment from the city to help fund its redevelopment, but smaller, once-vacant storefronts are coming to life.

On Friday, October 18th, the Crosstown Block Party will serve as an introduction to the new businesses that have taken up residence in the shadow of the Sears building as well as a reintroduction of the remodeled Cleveland Street Flea Market. The party is free to the public and runs from 5 to 10 p.m.

Participating in the block party are the Hi-Tone, Visible Community Music School, the Amurica photo booth, artist Yvonne Bobo's studio, Crosstown Arts, and the Church Health Center. All except for the Church Health Center are located in the strip of previously vacant Crosstown Shoppes across the street from the Sears building. The Church Health Center is a founding partner in the redevelopment plan for the Sears building.

"We thought that it would be cool to have a night when everyone is open so that people can get to know what will be going on in Crosstown," said Crosstown Arts managing director Chris Miner.

On the north end of the Crosstown strip is the Cleveland Street Flea Market. In addition to celebrating the market's 15th anniversary this Friday, Crosstown Arts will unveil plans for the space, which it agreed to manage this past March. During the block party, the flea market will feature pop-up shops selling local art, vintage clothing, and furniture.

"Our [future] plan is to clear out a space in the flea market for our after-school program so that the market can serve as the centerpiece of the neighborhood," Miner said.

The free after-school program, "Storybooth," is designed for children ages 10 to 18. In addition to tutoring, the program will offer classes at various Crosstown businesses, such as photography classes at the Amurica studio or music lessons at the Visible School space.

"It's just another example of how we want all the spaces in Crosstown to have as much interactivity as possible," Miner said. "Kids in our after-school program can come in the flea market, the parents can get something to eat in the [flea market] café, and a sibling can be next door doing special projects with Visible Music School. The overlap is intentional."

One of the newest additions to Crosstown is the Amurica studio, a permanent location for the funhouse-style photo booth that makes appearances at special events around town. Amurica co-founder Leah Keys said she is thrilled to be part of the Crosstown community.

"Up until now we've done the majority of our work out of the trailer and our home. We're obviously really excited about the grand opening of our studio, and we're eager to get involved with the community," Keys said.

As for the fate of the Sears building's redevelopment, the project came two steps closer last week to the goal of transforming the building into a "vertical urban village" of medical, retail, and residential space. The Center City Revenue Finance Commission approved a 20-year, payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreement, and the Land Use Control Board approved the planned development. A request of $15 million from the city for infrastructure and blight remediation work is still pending.

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