Developer Needs Zoning Relief For Mixed-Use Project On 4th and Fairmount

Photo credit: Google Street View

Photo credit: Google Street View

Developer David Perlman wants to transform the site of the former Trans Atlantic Company warehouse and nearby buildings into residences, PlanPhilly’s Jared Brey reports. Last we heard, developer Greg Hill had his eye on the building at 4th and Fairmount and planned to adaptively reuse the property, according to Sandy Smith.

Now, Perlman has presented his plans before the Zoning Board of Adjustment and asked for zoning relief for the proposed 55-unit project that will still involve “the demolition of a few buildings and the adaptive reuse of others.” Residents brought up potential parking issues, much like last time, but it was the question of commercial space that took precedence this time around:

The major issue between the developer and the Northern Liberties Neighborhood Association—and “major” is probably an overstatement—is about the amount of commercial space included in the project. The original plans called for no commercial space, but after conversations with NLNA, Perlman says he agreed to include 1,000 square feet of commercial space in one unit facing Fairmount.

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Morning Headlines: Saffron Crashes the Dilworth Praise Party

Renderings are beginning to meet reality.

Maybe she liked the renderings better?

The torrent of accolades for the city’s newest public (well, “public,” but more on that in a second) park continued through the weekend … right until Inga Saffron’s review dropped on Sunday.

Saffron begins innocuously enough, praising the cafe and popular spray fountain. Things start to turn when she italicizes the word “park.” Uh oh. Then the death blow:

But the vast granite prairie is still very much a plaza, with all the weaknesses the word implies.

To be clear, Saffron had no love for the park’s predecessor. And she does concede that the CCD has made some major improvements:

There is no doubt that this important civic space, once a smelly, run-down municipal embarrassment in the heart of Philadelphia, has been greatly improved by the Center City District’s Paul Levy, who marshaled a dream team of Philadelphia’s most renowned designers and engineers. The amenities, from the food vendor to the picnic lawn, are reason enough to applaud.

But what follows is a thorough catalog of the park’s deficiencies. Most of all, she seems offended by the amount of hardscape. The park misses the mark when it comes to balancing its position as Philadelphia’s “communal family room” while maintaining enough pomp for the city’s “civic stage,” Saffron says.

Yes, there is real magic when the fountain’s jets of water shoot into action, but inactivated, the granite landscape is dry and stiff. The new Dilworth is a suit in a jeans-and-T-shirt world.

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Here’s What People Are Saying About Dilworth Plaza

Renderings are beginning to meet reality.

Renderings are beginning to meet reality.

As you surely know by now, Dilworth Plaza turned into Dilworth Park yesterday. Every media outlet in town turned up for the party, and while they all basically said the same thing (spoiler: they really, really like it), there is something to be said for the sheer volume of coverage.

The Daily News’s Jenny DeHuff might have summed the crowd up best:

Planned for months, yesterday’s ribbon-cutting was a lovefest of who’s who at the local, state and federal levels, as well as the minds and bodies that brought the project to fruition.

At The Inquirer, Chris Hepp and Paul Nussbaum do a great job of reminding us all that this public space has been heavily financed through private dollars.

The project evolved into what [Center City District President Paul] Levy called a “model private-public partnership.”

That partnership is evident in the funding. Major contributors include the state ($16.35 million), the Center City District ($15 million), the Federal Transit Administration ($15 million), the city ($5.75 million), and SEPTA ($4.3 million). The William Penn Foundation provided $1.2 million.

They also captured this rather unfortunate quote from the first visitor through SEPTA’s fancy new turnstiles.

The first customer through the new turnstiles – equipped to handle both existing passes and future “smart cards” – was Lou Hoffer, 30, of Center City.

“It’s fancy,” said Hoffer. “It feels like New York.”

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Morning Headlines: Conshohocken Development Aimed At Younger Residents?

Modern office spaces continue to pop up here and there throughout the city, enticing young professionals who favor shared, open areas at work. However, as Jon Hurdle observes in a New York Times article this morning, Philadelphia isn’t the only place trying to lure in millennials with quotidian urban-living attractions.

Developers in Conshohocken are having a go at it too.

Proving to be prime real estate for developers who see it as having all the right elements for bringing in residents/workers in the 20-to-30-something age range, Conshohocken’s “office hub” reputation appears to be sealed as they seek to develop more of the area. Case in point, a list of new projects, three of which would be on the riverfront:

Four buildings totaling 1.25 million square feet are proposed, in what would be the first big additions to the town’s commercial real estate since the recession.

They are 400 West Elm, a 340,000-square-foot, 10-story structure on a wooded site; Seven Tower Bridge, covering 260,000 square feet on 10 floors; Millennium Four, a 300,000-square-foot project; and One Conshohocken, covering 350,000 square feet. The first three would be built on riverside sites.

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10 Best and Worst Markets for Flipping

RealtyTrac took a look at housing markets with 50 or more flips in the second quarter of 2014 to assess which market was getting the best return on investment (ROI) for the flips. No. 1? Pittsburgh, PA, where on average, the flipper bought a home at a 51 percent discount (below the estimated market value, that is) and resold it at a 4 percent premium above the estimated market value. That’s a 106 percent ROI. Nice job, yins!

Not surprisingly, the worst market for flips is San Francisco, where the second-quarter 2014 average gross ROI was -9 percent. That hurts my stomach.

The overall average for all the markets in the analysis? An 8 percent discount then a 6 percent premium.

Though Philadelphia falls neither on the Best or Worst list, York-Hanover is also on the Best list, a few slots below Pittsburgh. See the lists below.

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Long-Shuttered Department Store Will Finally Reopen

Castor and Cottman

Photo (and gallery below) by the author.

In 2003, the JCPenney on the corner of Castor and Cottman in Northeast Philadelphia shut its doors. I was in seventh grade at the time and, suffice to say, didn’t really think much beyond Wonder what they’ll put there next … oh my god, I hope it’s, like, a restaurant or something. What ended up going there was … nothing.

Wait, what?

Naïve? Yeah, probably. But up until that point whatever vacant buildings were in the area had been there for so long that they were just part of the streetscape. The norm. This closing was something else. Because here’s what happened: the neighborhood felt more dead than usual.

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At Last, Everyone and Everything in Accord at Goldtex

Photo by Liz Spikol.

Photo by Liz Spikol.

Less than a year ago, the news out of the Post Brothers’ Goldtex building was drama, controversy and inflatable rats. Which is why Inga Saffron, in today’s Inquirer, is expressing genuine surprise that not only have the former adversaries moved beyond attacking each other, but that the building itself seems to be – dare we say it – an example of good design.

In Saffron-ese:

The surprise is that the renovated factory emerged from the debacle with its architectural integrity intact.

“There must be something in the water,” she writes, explaining that both Electricians Local 98 boss John Dougherty and developer Michael Pestronk both expressed some regret over the affair.

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Morning Headlines: Is Bridesburg Really Getting A Waterfront Park?

Well here’s something to smile about! A waterfront park with access to Orthodox Street is coming to Bridesburg, a neighborhood which for too long has missed out on the possibilities offered along the nearby Delaware River bank. The news comes from a joint effort between PlanPhilly’s Jared Brey and Hidden City’s Bradley Maule to examine and report on new developments alongside the North Delaware Riverfront.

Apparently, the Department of Parks and Recreation and the Delaware River City Corporation (DRCC) have “nine acres of new waterfront parkland,” which it plans to develop despite there being no financial backing or design just yet. Tom Branigan, director of DRCC, told PlanPhilly that funding would most likely come from city and grant funds.

The land was previously under the hand of the Philadelphia Authority for Industrial Development (PAID) who emphasized its industrial use (it’s the site of the Philadelphia Coke Co.) when trying to attract buyers, but which, ultimately, resulted in unhappy residents. From PlanPhilly:

“Bridesburg has been cut off from the river for I don’t know how long, probably more than 100 years,” said Tom Branigan, director of DRCC, in an interview with PlanPhilly. “They’ve been looking for park space with access to the river for some time.”

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Morning Headlines: NIMBY Drama Stirs Up Between Residents and Swarthmore College

Photo credit: Fritz Ward via Flickr.

Photo credit: Fritz Ward via Flickr.

Three things are set to happen once construction ends on the new development Swarthmore College has commissioned: First, more books will be available; second, the borough will get its first liquor license; third, Route 320 (Chester Road) will see a shift in traffic flow. Two of these are unwelcome changes for some Swarthmore residents.

As the Inquirer’s Laura McCrystal reports, an inn, bookstore, and roundabout are going to to be constructed in the area, the latter development starting this week. Hopes for the roundabout, which is planned for the intersection of Chester Road and Rutgers Avenue, include it “improv[ing] a dangerous intersection and connect[ing] the college to its community.”

However, opponents of the roundabout see it a different way: Read more »

Commission Approves Digital Signage on Market Street

A new rendering of 205 Race Street, courtesy of the developers.

The city’s Historical Commission has given the go-ahead to three landscape-changing projects in the area: signage for the Market Street side of the former Strawbridge & Clothier, the 205 Race Street development, and an addition to the former Warner Brothers Film Distribution Center.

In terms of 801 Market Street, PlanPhilly reports the Commission voted in favor of  “exterior marquee, awnings, banner signs, and lighting on the Market Street façade of the western half of the former Strawbridge & Clothier department store building.”

The lengthy going-back-to-the-drawing-board cycle for 205 Race has ended with the Commission’s approval of its most recent design. Construction on the mixed-use property, which will include 15,000 square feet of ground-floor retail and basement parking, is one step closer to reality.

The tower addition for the former Warner Bros. building on 13th and Florist also passed muster, following the Architectural Committee’s July recommendation for its approval — provided developers hew to five conditions. From PlanPhilly:

1. Details of the panel system, glazing, canopy, parapet wall, garage door, and fence are submitted;
2. Color samples of cladding materials for the addition in relation to the historic materials are submitted;
3. It is confirmed that the roof of the historic building will not be occupied;
4. Designs of any railings to installed on the roof of the historic building for occupancy are submitted; and,
5. The locations and configurations of all HVAC equipment are submitted.

• Historical Commission approves Warner Bros. building redo; 205 Race St. construction and 801 Market signage [PlanPhilly]

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