The Top 5 Real Estate Stories of 2016

We still don't know what Toll others' proposed mixed-use tower on Jewelers Row will look like, but we do know its facade won't look like this, and that has the city's preservation community up in arms. | Photo: Oscar Beisert

We still don’t know what Toll others’ proposed mixed-use tower on Jewelers Row will look like, but we do know its facade won’t look like this, and that has the city’s preservation community up in arms. | Photo: Oscar Beisert

As we close the book on 2016, let’s take a look back at the year in real estate and development. What were the stories that got people’s attention this year? Here are our picks:

Toll Brothers goes tall on Jewelers Row and sets off a preservation fight.

A few years ago, Toll Brothers, the Horsham-based luxury home builder, decided to enter the urban development game with its City Living division. Urbanist critics loved to fault the builder’s Philadelphia projects for their notable lack of urban features like density and mixed uses. So when the company announced it wanted to build an apartment tower with street-level retail in Philadelphia, everyone cheered, right? Wrong, because the tower would replace three buildings on historic Jewelers Row. The fight to preserve the buildings pitted the preservation community against just about all of the property owners on the 700 block of Sansom Street, who see the apartment tower as giving their businesses a shot in the arm from a ready-made customer base. (Or so it appeared from the testimony delivered to the Philadelphia Historical Commission in September, when it opted to punt on the issue of preserving the endangered buildings. The Jewelers Row merchants who appeared at this month’s Washington Square West Civic Association Zoning Committee meeting sang a different tune altogether.) Toll can build this project by right under the lot’s zoning, but Toll has indicated it wants to work with the community to shape a project everyone could live with. Right now, it looks like that project has yet to emerge. Read more »

Hard Hat Tour: The Bridge

A finished model unit at The Bridge, outfitted with furniture from Millésimé | Ligne Roset. | Photos: Sandy Smith unless otherwise noted

A finished model unit at The Bridge, outfitted with furniture from Millésimé | Ligne Roset. | Photos: Sandy Smith unless otherwise noted

Some of 205 Race Street’s Old City neighbors wanted a building at Second and Race streets that respected the neighborhood’s cornice line.

They got one, only with a tower plunked on top of it.

Others worried about the view of the Ben Franklin Bridge. A hole in that tower preserves it.

And both the neighbors and the developer of the building wish the billboard right next to it would just go away.

Well, you can’t get everything you want. But this imaginative green apartment tower gives a lot to both its future residents and its neighbors, as this tour of work in progress should show. Read more »

Is Construction About to Kick Off at 205 Race in Old City?

The lot at 205 Race as of June 2014 | Google Street View

The lot at 205 Race as of June 2014 | Google Street View

The long and winding road of the 205 Race development in Old City looks as though it’s about to reach an important milestone. You might even call it groundbreaking (pun intended).

After years of planning, controversy and multiple design tweaks, construction permits were recently posted on the site at 2nd and Race, the longtime home of a surface parking lot.

The permits provide a glimpse of what exactly is to come–a 17-story building with parking in the basement level, a retail space on the ground floor and 146 “dwelling units.” We haven’t heard an exact date for the groundbreaking, only that one is currently being planned.

Read more »

Morning Headlines: Saffron Says Not Enough Affordable Subsidized Housing

Photo credit: 205 Race website.

Photo credit: 205 Race website.

As home values start to pick up and Philadelphia enjoys its first significant growth spurt in a long time, a different story unfolds for those on the lower end of the income spectrum.

In her latest “Changing Skyline” column, critic Inga Saffron writes that while the city’s gentrifying neighborhoods push up prices, inclusionary housing tends to fall by the wayside, even when developers promise to include subsidized units in their buildings.

Inclusionary housing, which is basically an “if you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours ” deal, involves developers pricing some of their apartments for below-market rates in favor of receiving zoning bonuses. Some do it, most don’t. As Saffron points out, the number of market-rate residences outweighs affordable housing in the area:

You could probably fit every unit of affordable housing being built in Philadelphia today inside one of the fancy glass skyscrapers going up in University City, and still have a couple of floors left over. That’s not because the new towers are so immense, but because the city produces so little subsidized housing for the poor and working class.

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]

New Renderings of 205 Race Street

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

The 197-foot 205 Race Street apartment tower to be located near the Ben Franklin Bridge has a long and acrimonious history. The developers, Jeffrey Brown and Greg Hill, have owned the site (now a vacant lot) for a decade, and this is their third attempt to develop it. In 2012, a version of the tower was opposed by the (now defunct) Old City Civic Association, which argued that its scale didn’t fit the historic neighborhood.

Inga Saffron weighed in, in favor of the tower, and City Council ended up passing a bill designed to allow it to go through.

Read more »

Morning Headlines: Will Old City Finally Get Its Skyscraper?

Rendering of 205 Race Street Photo credit:

Rendering of 205 Race Street
Photo credit:

First, the Old City Civic Association was less than happy about its height. Then, complicated zoning matters stalled progress, topped off with Keystone Outdoor Advertising getting miffed because the building would block one of their billboards from view. So will this third attempt finally see a conclusion to the planned 205 Race development?

According to PlanPhilly’s Jared Brey, the Historical Commission’s architecture committee will review the latest plans for Brown Hill Development’s mixed-use project this Tuesday.

Plans include “148 rental units, 28 parking spaces, 51 bike parking spaces, and more than 14,000 square feet of commercial space on the ground floor.” Additionally, architect Peter Gluck had addressed KOA’s cries by adjusting the building’s design to keep the billboard in view (it’s even featured in the newest renderings).

And that’s not all:

Read more »

205 Race Street Developers Take Desperate Measures

New York architect Peter Gluck could not have imagined what he was getting himself into when he conceived a design for 205 Race Street, a 16-story mixed use building proposed for a vacant lot. Last summer Gluck came in from New York for the day to talk to the Old City Civic Association (OCCA) about the high-rise, which would have ground-floor retail and 128 rental apartments.

Read more »