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News > Context Summer 2023 > Up Close: Community Roots, Generational Impact

Up Close: Community Roots, Generational Impact

Proposed facade of the mixed use, New Africa Cultural Center & Museum
Proposed facade of the mixed use, New Africa Cultural Center & Museum

By Naim Mitchell And Abdul-Rahim Muhammad  

ICPIC is an African American Muslim cultural organization that was founded 29 years ago as a progressive non-profit dedicated to preserving cultural heritage in Philadelphia. While they have a citywide presence, their primary catchment is the Belmont neighborhood in West Philadelphia, where they are a leader in planning the revitalization of the community and are charged with the creation and branding of the New Freedom District.  

The Belmont section of Philadelphia is a community facing challenges due to high unemployment (23%), poverty (55% of households are under the poverty limit), and land vacancy (24.6%). It is one of Philadelphia's federally designated Promise Zone and Opportunity Zone areas, a low-income urban community with a rich cultural history. Blighted, unused property is a major challenge for the 4200 block of Lancaster Avenue specifically. Despite these concerns and marginalized conditions, Belmont residents have supported the revitalization efforts by organizing and deploying resources to maintain the essence upon which the community's foundation was built. ICPIC saw an opportunity to help organize and connect this historically underserved community to improve the quality of life for residents. They have spent several years acquiring multiple parcels on the 4200 block of Lancaster Avenue with the plan to expand its cultural center and bring neighborhood-friendly retail and quality affordable housing to the Lancaster Avenue corridor. The vitality of a commercial corridor is central to any neighborhood’s long-term health and ICPIC is committed to transforming Lancaster Avenue into a vibrant, economically competitive retail corridor enhancing small businesses and West Philadelphia residents.  

To help expand their capacity and realize this plan, ICPIC selected Mosaic Development Partners JV to serve as their development partner in the lead real estate project for the New Freedom District. It will be a mixed-use, mixed-income project, anchored by the new home of the New Africa Cultural Center and Museum. Mosaic Development Partners, JV LLC is a boutique, minority-certified real estate development company founded in 2008, by Gregory Reaves and Leslie Smallwood-Lewis. Mosaic develops projects that bring positive change and produce impact throughout the region while creating an environment of diversity, sustainable development, and social equity. “This partnership is pivotal for the community. With the development of this project and bringing ICPIC’s vision to fruition, many families will have quality affordable housing, education, meals, and jobs created in their neighborhood.” The identity and heritage of this community is something to be preserved for generations to come. They believe that for communities like Belmont to flourish it takes a collective effort to achieve advancement and progress.  

Mosaic and ICPIC plan to construct two new structures flanking both sides of Lancaster Avenue to anchor the center of the New Freedom District. The vacant lots acquired on the odd side of Lancaster Ave have been consolidated into one assembled parcel to construct a new five-story multi-use facility. The 3,400 SF first-floor commercial space will be an expanded home to the New Africa Center/Muslim American Museum & Archive. The upper four floors will be developed into 35 residential units ranging from studios to two-bedroom apartments. The vacant lots on the even side of Lancaster Ave will be consolidated into one assembled parcel to construct a new four-story mixed-used building. The 1st floor will have three small retail spaces for lease and the upper floors will house seven apartment units. These two mixed-used buildings will stabilize the 4200 block of Lancaster Avenue and provide a new mix of businesses and apartments along the Lancaster Avenue corridor. The target population will be largely driven by income level with over 80% of the units being affordable to residents at 50% AMI or less. The remainder will be market rate. Mosaic and ICPIC have worked diligently to obtain local and state grants to help make the project viable and affordable under local guidelines.  

The impact of this project expands beyond just a new development as it will strengthen the local community by revitalizing and activating the commercial corridor. The retail will attract consumers by foot, car, and nearby public transportation. Housing will provide greater density, quality, safety, and affordability to an area where 48% of renters are spending more than 30% of their income on housing expenses. Affordable housing has been a long-standing problem in the city of Philadelphia, but with zoning-related legislation such as the mixed-income housing bonus bill and the inclusionary zoning bill, Mosaic and others now can develop larger builds with greater density in designated zones to account for the need for affordable housing. 

With the help and guidance from Mosaic Development Partners JV, ICPIC’s dream project will soon become a reality. It will celebrate and honor the rich history and legacy of local community ancestors and bring quality affordable housing to a neighborhood in great need, revitalizing and activating the commercial corridor. This joint venture is fueled by the love of community and their desire to see how organizations such as ICPIC can continue to make an impact in people’s lives.  

Naim brings more than 10 years of experience in Real Estate to the firm. Naim has also held community-based positions on local planning and zoning boards. During his time in college, he derived his passion in real estate by evaluating how cities can be transformed through development and how it connects to job creation and quality of life. In joining the Mosaic team, Naim found that his values aligned with the core values of Mosaic.  

Over 30 years of educational and cultural programming to inform and preserve the heritage of West Philadelphia's Islamic community as well as advancing the revitalization of Lancaster Ave and its corridor. Mr. Muhammad has spent his life's work building and re-investing into his community. He has established programs of education, HIV testing, professional development, outreach and community meals. Many people refer to him as the Mayor of Lancaster Ave given his love for the community and the people of it. (New Freedom District) 

The proposed facade of the mixed-use, New Africa Cultural Center and Museum in the 4200 block of Lancaster Avenue.  

A mixed-used town home project on the opposite block face as the proposed cultural center. 

Diagrams: Courtesy of Moody Nolan 

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