Council Committee Approves Zoning Changes For Royal Theater Redevelopment

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Hopefully, that annoying Lorde song isn’t playing in your head now like it is in mine, but big news regarding the Royal Theater’s redevelopment was reported by CBS Philly a little bit ago: A City Council committee has approved requested zoning changes that would allow developer Carl Dranoff to demolish the building (but keep its exterior) and replace it with a mixed-use building.

Peter Kelsen, Dranoff’s attorney, was at the hearing and had this to say:

“The Royal Theater development promises to be a game-changing development on South Street,” Kelsen said.  “We will create an adaptive reuse of this historic property, which will reinvigorate this important block of South Street.”

Meanwhile, some locals expressed disappointment because of the potential height and parking issues the Royal’s proposed replacement would create:  Read more »

The Royal Theater Is Getting Closer to a Proposed Redevelopment Project

Royal-Theater-mural-with-2-female-african-american-singers

There’s still a long way to go, but Carl Dranoff’s redevelopment plans for the Royal Theater are forging ahead.

Dranoff, if you recall, has been seeking legislative rezoning in order to demolish the historic property and build a new mixed-use structure in its place: a 50-foot tall building with 45 “high-end” rental units, 7,600 square feet of commercial space and a green roof. The Royal’s exterior would be the only original feature kept on Dranoff’s new building.

Now, PlanPhilly’s Jared Brey reports that Councilman Kenyatta Johnson has introduced a bill that would allow Dranoff to build his proposed project with additional density along 15th, 16th, South, and Kater streets.

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Morning Headlines: Redevelopment Plans for the Royal Theater

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It took about a year, but developer Carl Dranoff and JDavis Architects unveiled plans for the vacant Royal Theater at a South of South Neighborhood Association meeting last week. PlanPhilly has the details this morning.

Kenny Gamble’s Universal Companies purchased the historic building in 2000 but it has been mightily neglected since then. Dranoff partnered with Universal last year when the group announced plans for a mixed-use building to replace the theater. Details on the proposed building were fuzzy until last week’s meeting. Thanks to PlanPhilly, we now know the proposal includes the following provisions.

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Might Something Else Be Afoot at the Royal?

symphony houseJudging from the presence not only of Kenny Gamble, founder and CEO of Universal Companies, but also of his negotiating team at Tuesday’s formal unveiling of Dranoff Properties’ SLS International Hotel and Residences project, the record exec-turned-community developer and the master developer continue to maintain a strong working relationship. The two have long been partners in real estate deals, including Symphony House (left), Southstar Lofts and 777 South Broad. And now Gamble has agreed to sell two lots he owns at Broad and Spruce streets to Dranoff in order to make his project possible.

When we asked Gamble about the status of the Royal Theater, which remains uncertain amidst both a conservatorship challenge and a still-pending petition to demolish most of the structure, his response suggested that Dranoff may have ideas for the space. Though Dranoff has said he is only acting as an advisor to Gamble’s Universal Companies on the Royal, it seems possible that he may be considering more involvement.

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Ori Feibush on Universal Companies: “We Want to Give Them the Latitude They Need”

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Photo by Smallbones via Wikimedia Commons

One of the complexities of the development of the Royal Theater is a legal process that compels Universal Companies, the current owner of the historic South Street theater, to do something with the property or let it go to conservatorship.

Neighborhood resident Juan Levy filed an Act 135 petition that would mark the property as blighted should Universal do nothing to develop it. In that case, a court-appointed conservator would take possession of the Royal in order to rehabilitate it and then sell it, but with a profit limited to 10 percent.

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Universal Defends Its Record at Charged Meeting About Royal Theater

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After last night’s public meeting at the Bainbridge Club on the redevelopment of the Royal Theater, three things are certain:

1. Barring some miracle, the Royal will not survive whole.

2. Many residents would like owner Universal Companies to at least honor the theater’s history and heritage.

3. Universal will have to do more fence-mending to bring skeptical near neighbors on board with its plans.

The meeting was the first of what will likely be a series of public meetings to inform the community and obtain feedback on Universal’s plans to demolish and redevelop much of the African-American cultural landmark and build on an adjacent lot as a mixed-use project that will include street-level retail on South Street, apartments above, and new townhouses on Kater Street.

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New Plans for Royal Theater: South Street Retail, 30 Rental Units

Royal-Theater-mural

The meeting about the fate of the Royal Theater, the historic property on South Street, is now in session. (Need a refresher? Go here and here.) We’ll have a full report tomorrow, but here’s what we know so far thanks to the Philadelphia Daily News’ David Gambacorta, whose live tweeting of this event is both informative and hilarious.

Universal Companies, which owns the property, has a new plan in place that includes:

1. Retention of the historic facade.
2. 7,000 square feet of ground-floor retail space fronting South Street
3. Roughly 30 rental units on upper floors
4. 13 parking spaces
5. 6 new townhomes with garages fronting Kater Street

Read more »

Is Kenny Gamble Becoming a Blightlord?

Part of one of Philadelphia’s most beloved cultural landmarks, the Royal Theater, may soon be demolished–despite the fact that it’s owned by Kenny Gamble, who professed he would pay tribute to its legendary history by transforming it into the anchor of a new South Street West entertainment mecca. That was 13 years ago, and the building–the first black-run theater in the city, and one that played host to acts like Bessie Smith and Fats Waller–has been in decline since then, with Gamble having done nothing to act on initial promises.

On July 9, the Daily News’ David Gambacorta wrote an article about the Royal that cast a critical light on Gamble’s stewardship of the building, and his current desire to tear it down for commercial development. Now the City Paper’s Ryan Briggs takes a look at much more of Gamble’s real estate portfolio as Universal Companies, which was co-founded with his wife, Faatimeh.

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Morning Headlines: NYT Profiles Philly’s 13th Street. Plus: Kenny Gamble, Firehouse Demo and Turtles

• Slideshow: A Philadelphia Street, Transformed [NYT]
South Philly firehouse headed for demolition? [Inquirer]
Collingswood restaurant is up for grabs [Insider]
Threatened turtles Ridley Park’s costly ‘hidden jewel’ [Inquirer]
Kenny Gamble’s stewardship of Royal Theater dragged area down, neighbors say
Read more »

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