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A Philadelphia Story: How the Church Invests in Communities

A Philadelphia Story: How the Church Invests in Communities

Birthplace of the Constitution, home of Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell and other precious relics of Americana — Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, has long been a bastion of freedom and democracy. In keeping with the ideals of liberty and love that so embody this city, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints recently built a temple in the City of Brotherly Love.

President Henry B. Eyring, second counselor in the Church’s First Presidency, said, “So much of what we have in the temple is reminiscent of the rooms in which the Constitution was signed, and the Declaration of Independence.”

As in other areas around the world where Latter-day Saints live, work and worship, the Church makes every effort to be a good neighbor and contribute to those communities in positive ways. Philadelphia is a prime example.

“The temple, in itself, was a welcome addition to the city,” said Darrell L. Clarke, president of the Philadelphia City Council. “But then it was said there would be an additional development that would stimulate the local economy. I mean, this was awesome.”

The Church researched what else was needed in the area. City planners and leaders agreed that a mixed-use residential tower would enhance revitalization efforts in the area known as Center City.

The Alexander tower took two and a half years to complete, employing local tradesmen in the construction. “This area was barren a few years ago. This was like a big parking lot, I remember,“ recalled, Dave Forte, a local iron worker. “And it’s cool to see how fast and how efficient these high-rises can go up. It’s a beautiful thing for Philadelphia.”

Local iron worker foreman Jason Rosetta said his crew gets a lot done in a day. “My day starts at 4:30 in the morning. We take the hoist. The rebar comes off the trailer at six o‘clock in the morning. By 11 o’clock we’re pouring the slab. The concrete gets hard — we start the sheer walls. I was six foot when this job started. I’m five foot five now. It’s a pretty rough job,” laughed Rosetta.

“There’s a lot of pride in what we do,” said Stephen Ciallella, lead superintendent of the Alexander building project. “But the biggest fulfillment is when you’re all done and you see the building open. It’s nice to see that and look back at it all the time and see what you’ve built and what you’ve had a part of.”

The Church’s director over construction and special projects, Jared Doxey, said the design of the 34-story apartment building is reminiscent of Philadelphia’s early heritage. “I think the fact that we have really mimicked a lot of the historic features of old neighborhoods in Philadelphia — feels like a beautiful, old residential building that you would’ve seen 60, 80, a hundred years ago,” said Doxey, “and it fits so nicely in this neighborhood.”

Jennifer Tapner, executive director of the Watermark at Logan Square senior living center, next the temple, believes the new addition is a plus for the area. “I do see the apartment building as an absolute enhancement,” said Tapner. “It’s going to have more business people living here, growing people to live in Philadelphia instead of just commuting back and forth, and really having an investment into the community overall.”

The Alexander is located near museums, parks and the Philadelphia Pennsylvania Temple. The tower features skyline views, retail space, residential living with a variety of floor plans, street level townhomes, a community club room, a rooftop deck and a spacious courtyard.

“I think they’ve done a good job,” said Ciallella. “They’ve tried to make it blend with the city. They’ve done research with the different types of details on the building; they’ve reached out to the community — I think they’ve done everything the right way.”

“And we are assured that we’ve got a beautiful neighborhood around the temple,” added Doxey.

Since the Church’s temple, meetinghouse and Alexander Apartments project, more developers are investing in an area once considered blighted by city planners.“It’s sent a signal in that area that (a) people want to live there, (b) there’s activity going on,” said Paul Levy, president of the Center City District. “And I think that will have a very positive effect over the next three to four years.”

“All the things associated with new construction — construction jobs, long-term jobs — I felt that this was like icing on the cake,” added Clarke.

Museum of the American Revolution

Along with brick and mortar, investments in communities happen in other ways too. An example: the Church is a staunch advocate for preserving history and celebrated with the rest of Philadelphia at the grand opening of the Museum of the American Revolution in 2017 — as one of its partners.

The museum explores the dramatic story of the American Revolution through a collection of Revolutionary-era weapons, personal items, documents, works of art and, most impressively, George Washington’s battlefield tent, the only surviving tent from that era.

“We’ve been very fortunate that donors from across the country have given to make this museum a reality,” said Michael Quinn, president and CEO of the Museum of the American Revolution. “And we’re especially grateful to the LDS Church for its important support at really a very early stage when the museum was still in that ‘dream stage.’”

Furthering that partnership, the Church’s genealogical organization, FamilySearch International, and the museum recently debuted an immersive discovery experience dubbed Revolution Place.

“One important thing that the gift from the LDS Church has brought us is a partnership with FamilySearch,” said Quinn. “And as a result, we are creating a very innovative discovery room here in the museum that will use hands-on activities and genealogy as a way to introduce people to the history of America.”“We feel like a person can interact in a historical context with history, that it helps it to come alive,” said the vice president of FamilySearch, Diana Loosle.

“And that helps us to connect in a deeper way to our own past.”

In another example of preserving history, the Church recently provided digital imaging equipment to the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Founded in 1824, the society is one of the oldest in the country and is home to some 600,000 printed items and more than 21 million manuscripts. Through the efforts of senior missionary couples over several years, nearly one and a half million genealogical records were digitized for the historical society.

“Having the temple here has enhanced and created a much broader understanding of the activity and the work that’s done by the Latter-day Saints in the city and in the region,” said Clarke. “And it has been a very positive relationship.”

The Philadelphia Pennsylvania Temple and meetinghouse, the Alexander apartment complex and the Museum of the American Revolution, along with digital records preservation, are just a few examples of how The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints invests in communities where its members reside.

“The Church’s decision to put the temple there, to put housing there, not only filled in a gap; it gave confidence to other people in the area that other things are happening here,” said Levy.

“I hear a lot of feedback about how gorgeous it is, how this area has been really enhanced,” added Tapner. “As a born and raised Philadelphian, I’m personally very happy, and as a businessperson, it’s been nothing but great.”

Father Dennis Gill is rector and pastor of the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and just across from the Philadelphia Pennsylvania Temple. “I see lots of positive things ahead for us as neighbors,” said Father Gill, “so closely aligned here in this neighborhood of Center City.”

Watch a video on this story and more stories like this covering the global Church in World Report on mormonnewsroom.org, Friday, October 5. You can also watch World Report on:

•    BYUtv: Saturday, October 6, 1:00 p.m. MDT
•    KSL: Saturday, October 6, 4:00 p.m. MDT
•    Church Satellite System: Saturday, October 6, 12:00 & 4 p.m. MDT; Sunday, October 7, 8:00 a.m. & 12:00 p.m. MDT. General conference weekend broadcasts will air in all parts of the world. 

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