$24 Million Loan Arranged for Redevelopment of Former West Philadelphia High School

The former West Philadelphia High School | via Colliers

The former West Philadelphia High School | via Colliers

The redevelopment of the former West Philadelphia High School into an apartment building has been talked about for some time–the better part of four years–but there has been little to no movement on the project. It looks as though that could soon change.

Colliers International announced today that the company has arranged a $24 million loan for “the acquisition and redevelopment” of the shuttered school building at 47th and Walnut.

Strong Place Partners (SSP), a Brooklyn-based development company, had sought to turn the shuttered school building into a mixed-use property consisting of 298 loft-style apartments with ground floor retail. The firm first presented their plans back in 2012, and expected the building to be move-in ready by 2016.

Though the Office of Property Assessment still shows the School District of Philadelphia as the owner of the building, it lists WPHS Venture Partners LLC as the mailing address; its Brooklyn street address leads to a company called Heights Advisors. Their website describes the project at 4700 Walnut as a “gut rehabilitation,” and states construction will commence in 2017.  Representatives from Heights Advisors were not immediately available for comment.

So what’s been the hold up?

“The borrower wanted to purchase and reposition the former school located in West Philadelphia near University City,” said Kristopher Wood of Colliers International Capital Markets in a release, who along with CICM’s John Banas arranged the loan. “Getting a construction loan was challenging because this was the first development the New York developer had done in Philadelphia, and many thought the location was not ready for 298 new apartments.”

A lot has changed in four years, to say the least. Developers are betting big that University City will continue its ascension onto the national scene as a force for eds, meds, and technology, and they’ve been lining up multiple apartment projects to accommodate the influx of young professionals.

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Brandywine Realty Trust Unloads 58 Properties in Near $400 Million Deal

Brandywine Realty Trust expects to close on the sale of Cira Square this month | Google Street View

Brandywine Realty Trust expects to close on the sale of Cira Square this month | Google Street View

Brandywine Realty Trust has sold a large portfolio of properties to an affiliate of Och Ziff Capital Management Group LCC, according to a company release.

The complex deal–worth $398.1 million–includes nearly 4 million square feet of rentable space over 58 “non-core holdings” in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Virginia. It marks the completion of what Brandywine called a “multi-year portfolio repositioning strategy” totaling $1.1 billion.

“The 2015 and early 2016 dispositions provide significant liquidity and results in a portfolio much more focused on urban and town center properties,” said Gerard Sweeney, president and CEO of Brandywine realty Trust, in the statement. “In addition, these transactions significantly increase our financial capacity, reduce debt and provide ample liquidity for our development pipeline.”

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New Plan for the SS United States: Have it Sail Again

Restored SS United States - rendering

Rendering of the restored SS United States from Crystal Cruises

The SS United States may sail again after all.

At a press conference today in Manhattan, SS United States Conservancy director Susan Gibbs and Crystal Cruise president Edie Rodriguez announced a proposed $700-plus million restoration and modernization of the SS United States, after which the 990-foot long ship will return to active cruise service. The news was first reported by The New York Times this morning.

There were not concrete details today. Rodriguez said all the decisions on the ship’s future would be ironed out in the feasibility study. There is no decision on where the ship will be docked, though Gibbs said she’d like it to be New York. Either way, the ship is likely headed out of Philadelphia.

“I’d like to thank the City of Philadelphia for so warmly hosting the SS United States,” Gibbs said. “Together, we beat the odds. And together, we refused to give up.” Read more »

Bart Blatstein Seeks Variance for 32-Story Tower, Retail at Broad and Washington

Broad and Washington | Google Maps

Broad and Washington | Google Maps

We all know Bart Blatstein has big plans for the northeast corner of Broad and Washington, but when are we going to see some action at the lot that spans a full city block? The answer is that it could actually be soon. Fingers crossed, of course.

Blatstein is seeking zoning variances to construct one 32-story tower that consists of 944 apartments, 11 retail spaces, 882 parking spots, 357 bike parking spaces, and what the appeal refers to as 80 units of “visitor accommodations” (potentially a hotel or extended stay apartment scenario) on floors one through nine.

The plan has gone through a few iterations over the past two years. The original incarnation didn’t have a residential component, instead it was project similar to Blatstein’s work on Columbus Boulevard: a bunch of big box stores.

The apartment tower aspect was added soon thereafter, as the plan called to build one 800-unit tower over some retail. It then morphed into a dual-tower mega project that included over 1,600 apartments over 200,000-square-feet of retail and an amenity deck. Though certainly not finalized, this ZBA appeal looks to be closer to Blatstein’s first residential trick, with the possibility of a hotel now added as an intriguing wrinkle.

Blatstein could not be reached for comment on the new plans, so there’s no telling if that second tower could be built in the future.

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Post Brothers Pop the Goldtex Building, Rittenhouse Hill on the Market

goldtex-square-400

Goldtex

It looks like Post Brothers is poised to make yet another splash on the Philly real estate scene, only this time it’s through potentially selling two apartment buildings consisting of nearly 800 high-end units.

The Philly-based development company has placed two of their most recognizable properties on the market: Rittenhouse Hill in Germantown and the Goldtex building. For the latter, the news come just two years after successfully rehabbing (not without controversy) the defunct warehouse building into a glistening, 163-unit luxury apartment complex at 11th and Wood Street in Callowhill.

The move could prove to pay off quite handsomely for the company. A recent report from Commercial Real Estate Direct suggests Rittenhouse Hill, with its 626-units spread over two buildings, could move for $150 million–or $240,000 per unit.

Given its prime Center City location, Goldtex could fetch a far greater bounty. The building boasts a fancy roof deck with pool and skyline views, a fitness center, Brick & Mortar restaurant, and, in the not-too-distant future, a direct connection to the Rail Park. It also became the first apartment building in Philadelphia to be awarded LEED Gold Certification for its energy-efficiency and overall design.

Rittenhouse Hill ain’t too shabby, either, especially after a $52 million overhaul of the property brought in a modern look, an infinity edge swimming pool and hot tub, bocce courts, tot lot and dog run/washing station.

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The Beacon to Bring 100 Apartments, Roof Deck and an Under Armour to Walnut Street

The Beacon at 16th and Walnut | Rendering via Pearl Properties and DAS Architects

The Beacon at 16th and Walnut | Rendering via Pearl Properties and DAS Architects

Work is well underway on a major mixed-use project at the corner of 16th and Walnut. As you might recall, Pearl Properties is bringing a 10,000-square-foot Under Armour location to the bustling corner, and we now know what will top the store best known for exuberantly decorated uniforms and athletic gear.

Over the weekend, crews shut down the 1500 block of Walnut Street to install a tall tower crane on the slender site at 1527 Walnut Street, which formerly housed a Lululemon store.

The design from DAS Architects shows a 12-story apartment building–which Pearl has dubbed “The Beacon”– built over top of the Brown Brothers Harriman Co. building at 1529-33 Walnut Street.

James Pearlstein, of Pearl Properties, called the new building “our most ambitious project to date,” and said the it should be completed in 2017.

“The Beacon is designed to highlight Philadelphia’s “old and new,” combining the modern finishes of a newly constructed high-rise while preserving and incorporating the timeless architecture of the six story corner masonry building,” added Pearlstein.

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South Kensington OKs Techadelphia Zoning Variance

1525 North American Street

The “Techadelphia” project cleared an important hurdle last night when South Kensington residents voted to support its developer’s request for a zoning variance. Rendering | Harman Deutsch Architecture

Developer Sean Frankel’s request for a zoning variance for his proposed “Techadelphia” mixed-use live/work tech startup hub was approved this week by South Kensington residents who attended the South Kensington Community Partners zoning meeting.

The variance allows Frankel Management Company, the lead developer on the project that includes partner Streamline Solutions, to include residential structures on land zoned exclusively for industrial use. The residences, he explained, are crucial to making his vision of a free co-working space for young tech entrepreneurs work.

“We got overwhelming support. The vote was 27 to 3 in favor of our project,” Frankel said. Building size and parking were the reasons the three who voted against the request did so, he added.

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SS United States Saved? “Major Redevelopment Deal” to Be Announced in February

USS United States | Photo by Arthur Etchells

USS United States | Photo by Arthur Etchells

It looks as though the long-held calls of S.O.S for the SS United States have finally paid off, as the SS United States Conservancy has signed an option agreement with an unknown development partner for the redevelopment of the iconic ship, according to a media advisory issued by the Conservancy.

Plans will be made known at a press conference in New York City at the Manhattan Cruise Terminal’s Pier 88 on February 4th. “An exciting future for the ship will be revealed that envisions the SS United States again as an iconic symbol of America the world over,” reads the release. “An artist rendering of the redeveloped ocean liner will also be unveiled.”

The announcement means that it looks as though “America’s Flagship” will not float its way to the scrap heap, which, due to the burdensome cost to maintain the ship, was becoming an all-too-real possibility for the imposing vessel docked near the IKEA in South Philadelphia.

Recently, there have been glimmers of hope that one-time luxury liner could be saved, with the Conservancy even stating it “had never been closer to saving the SS United States, nor close to losing her.”

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Two Senior Housing Properties to be Preserved and Renovated

Philip Murray House

Philip Murray House | Vitus Group

A developer is making its first inroads into the city of Philadelphia, as Vitus Group has announced that it has agreed to a contract for preservation and renovation of two senior housing complexes.

The properties, Four Freedoms House in Germantown and Philip Murray House in West Oak Lane, will make up 590 units of affordable senior housing. The renovations are expected to take 12 months and be completed in December.

The Seattle-based Vitus Group has developed 95 properties in 18 states, and focuses on creating housing that emphasizes active living spaces at affordable rates. To ensure that, 500 of the units in the two properties are going to be saved for those with incomes at or below 30 percent of the area median income, and the rest will be for those at 60 percent or below.

“I think when you own and develop the place where people live, particularly in low-income communities, you have an opportunity, and perhaps even an obligation, to look further to what you do to improve the lives of residents beyond just owning housing,” Stephen Whyte, the managing director and founder of Vitus Group, told Property.

Vitus also stresses wellness and active lifestyles in its developments. According to the statement announcing the contract, the group plans to “bring active design amenities to the properties.”

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Manufacturing Philadelphia Tech Jobs: A New “Factory” to Rise on American Street

1525 North American Street

Streamline’s “jobs factory” pays homage to American Street’s past – and, the developers hope, its future. Rendering | Harman Deutsch Architecture

[Updated Jan. 27, 5:30 p.m. to indicate that a vote has yet to take place.]

South Kensington (or Old Kensington, to some) has historically been part of the city’s industrial heart, but lately developers responding to the residential boom in neighboring Northern Liberties and Fishtown have been giving those old industrial buildings heart transplants such as the one the current home of Spencer Industries on Mascher Street is about to get.

The city, it appears, hasn’t abandoned the notion that South Kensington can still be home to industry completely, though. American Street, an extra-wide north-south thoroughfare between Second and Third streets that still has a freight railroad line running down its middle (long abandoned, alas), is still mostly zoned industrial, and there’s still a Keystone Opportunity Zone designation intended to lure job-creating businesses running the length of the street in Kensington.

Yet most of these industrial-zoned lots remain vacant, like the one Streamline Solutions, a local development firm that specializes in residential projects, purchased on the east side of American Street, extending from Jefferson Street almost all the way to Oxford Street. Surrounding the lot are mostly residential structures, including a row of houses on the block’s Oxford Street side that clearly predate its I-2 zoning.

This would seem to be a great place to build new residences. But the lot’s zoned industrial, which means a variance would be required to build any residential structure.

Which led Streamline co-CEO Sean Frankel to propose a novel solution to the problem: Build townhomes on the back half of the lot and a “factory” of a different sort on the front.

“I spoke with our architects, and they said it was zoned for industrial and manufacturing,” he said. “I asked them if there was anything else we could do on the site.”

And that’s when Frankel had his epiphany: “I said, ‘We’re going to manufacture tech jobs.'”

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