John Fry to Powelton Village: We’re in Your Corner

Detail from image of UCHS from

What would the residents of Powelton Village like to see Drexel University do with the University City High School site? Top of the list: create a new K-8 public school to augment the highly regarded Samuel Powel School.

What would be the last thing they want to see on the site? More student housing.

What is Drexel University’s top development priority for the UCHS property? Build a new, university-assisted K-8 public school. What won’t it put on the site? New dorms.

Neither Drexel University President John Fry nor the civic leaders, architects and planners who organized a March 5 planning workshop at 38th Street and Lancaster Avenue had spoken to each other before the event, but comments Fry made in a post-workshop interview made it seem as though he had read their minds.

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Is Architectural Consistency Overrated?

University City High School. Photo via Wikimedia.

University City High School. Photo via Wikimedia.

One of the big concerns many residents of neighborhoods undergoing major change have is preserving the character of their neighborhood. Usually, such discussions focus on the architecture of an area, especially an area where the homes are of a uniform style and have lasted long enough.

Many Philadelphia neighborhoods like Powelton Village are filled with distinctive 19th-century Victorian and neoclassical homes. Some residents of such neighborhoods want to make sure that 19th-century ambience survives intact.

Not everyone agrees with this view, however.

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Philadelphia Rental Market Poised for Takeoff

millennialsThe prospects for new multifamily construction in Philly look good in the long run, a panel of insiders say – but there are some matters that need to be addressed for the market to truly blossom. The millennial generation (pictured at left) is getting tired of living with its parents and is ready to strike out on its own. Developers and investors are now giving them the apartments to rent here, and are ready to supply even more if the jobs they need materialize.

That was the rough consensus of the panelists who spoke on the state of the Philadelphia rental property market at the RealShare Philadelphia conference at the Union League Feb. 27.

Things are picking up on the multifamily front, said panel moderator Jerald M. Goodman, partner at Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP. In fact, he said, “Multifamily is hot.”

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Funding Secured, SEPTA Plans to Rebuild City Hall Station; Part of a Long List of Improvements

Septa regional rail train

In the long, hard slog to secure stable funding for transportation statewide, SEPTA stressed that without it, its system would die a slow, painful death.

So, having now been through that near-death experience, SEPTA’s five-year capital budget proposal wisely avoids talk of new routes or extensions, save for one that was already in the pipeline when the funding crisis hit. Instead, at public open houses Feb. 26, SEPTA presented a five-year capital program that addresses each of the items that would have caused that slow death.

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NoLibs Civic Still Concerned About TLA Movie Theater

tla warehouse cinema rendering

A rendering presented to the Northern Liberties Neighbors Association. Photo by Sandy Smith.

This much is clear after the proposed Warehouse Cinema’s second trip before the Northern Liberties Neighbors Association (NLNA) Zoning Committee on Feb. 24: While the committee and its neighbors generally like the idea, they’re not going to let it sail through without ironclad assurances about two things.

One, that it will be a place where people go to see movies with food and drink on the side and not a bar and restaurant where people can catch a flick.

Two, that the crowds and noise won’t spill over onto nearby streets — or even the desolate block of North Sixth Street this project will enliven.

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Builder Callahan Ward’s Latest Project Gets a Lukewarm Reception

Photo: Sandy Smith

Photo: Sandy Smith

Generally speaking, the Northern Liberties Neighbors Association (NLNA) Zoning Committee has a good working relationship with Callahan Ward Companies, one of the neighborhood’s more active builders. The firm has a reputation for being attentive to neighbors’ concerns when building new homes, and company rep Nino Cutrufello generally likes the end products of the often highly detailed critiques the NLNA’s Zoning and Urban Design committees give projects up for review.

That doesn’t mean that what Callahan Ward wants, it gets. Its latest proposal for new residential construction in NoLibs is a case in point.

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Philly’s Octavius Catto Was the Hero of America’s First Civil Rights Movement


Octavius Catto | Image courtesy Temple University Press

Tomorrow, Saturday, Feb. 22, is the birthday of a great American who raised his voice against tyranny and oppression and led a people into a new dawn of freedom.

Of course, we’re talking about Octavius V. Catto, one of the unsung heroes of the first Civil Rights Movement — the one that had a civil war in its middle.

He is unsung no more, though, for 2014 is shaping up to be his year. On his birthday, a jubilee of spirituals and praise at Mother Bethel A.M.E. Church in Society Hill, the nation’s oldest historically black church, kicks off a six-month long festival celebrating Catto’s life and legacy organized by the Mann Music Center and culminating in a July concert at the Mann that will feature a new orchestral work, “The Passion of Octavius Catto,” composed by Philadelphia native Uri Caine and performed by The Philadelphia Orchestra.

And this spring, a committee headed by Councilman James Kenney will announce that it has raised the funds needed to erect a statue of Catto outside City Hall. The announcement will mark the successful conclusion of a campaign launched in 2007 with the support of Jack Straw, the retired head of the Abraham Lincoln Foundation at the Union League of Philadelphia, and other prominent citizens.

What accounts for this sudden explosion of interest in Catto? Actually, it’s not sudden — it’s the fruit of seeds planted more than a decade ago by a number of individuals.

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New Condos in Northern Liberties

933 N. Front St.

Well, sure. Development couldn’t hurt. Photo: Google Street View.

Variances have been granted, permits issued, and foundations poured for a new seven-unit townhome condo development at 933-37 N. Front St. in Northern Liberties, a stone’s throw from the Delaware riverfront.

But nothing’s gone up on those foundations yet, because the project architect, JKR Partners, sought to make a change to the design that required another round of zoning review.

In a previous review, the Northern Liberties Neighbors Association (NLNA) had given the go-ahead to a design that terraces the homes so the structures slope down towards the river, just as the lot they sit on does. The townhomes, which will rise to a height of 60 feet, will have garages on their street floors and three stories above. The homes will have rear decks on the second and third floors and roof decks accessed via pilot houses.

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Northern Liberties Housing Rises Up in Wake of Warehouse Fire

front street townhouses

Photo: Sandy Smith

Even in cold, snowy weather, we can find construction workers digging away on projects across the city. We managed to catch a backhoe in action yesterday at a new townhouse development at 1118-30 N. Front St. in Northern Liberties.

This project, the first of two slated to go on the site, will add 26 three-story townhouses to the housing mix in the neighborhood.  The lot is the site of a vacant warehouse that caught fire in the summer of 2012. The building, which was owned by a subsidiary of Bart Blatstein’s Tower Investments, was razed in the wake of the fire.

The lot changed hands the following summer in a nominal transaction that transferred ownership to another limited partnership for $2, according to public records.

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PHOTOS: Carpenter Square, Halfway There, Seeks Restaurant


In just about every respect, the Carpenter Square development at 17th and Carpenter streets in Graduate Hospital stands out from the mostly smaller-scale infill developments that continue to pop up around the neighborhood. It’s frankly modern in a neighborhood where traditional design still dominates; it includes a number of sustainable design features like green roofs and passive heating and cooling, features that, while not unheard of in the neighborhood, are still relatively uncommon; and it is designed to energize the corner it hugs with a building that combines residences, commercial space and a public plaza.

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