Toll Brothers to Build Apartments on Society Hill Playhouse Site

The revised Toll Brothers projects on 8th Street. Rendering | JKRP Architects for Toll Brothers

The revised Toll Brothers projects on 8th Street. Rendering | JKRP Architects for Toll Brothers

What was to have been a double-barreled Toll Brothers condominium development on the site of the Society Hill Playhouse and a garage across 8th Street from it in Washington Square West is going to be rental apartments instead. Along with that change comes the disappearance not only of the 19th-century playhouse and the garage but of all the parking on the site as well.

If the residents of Lombard Mews, Rodman Street and Bradford Alley in the vicinity of the Society Hill Playhouse find themselves complaining that it’s even harder to find a place to park a year or two from now, they will have no one but themselves to blame, for their opposition to Toll’s project led the company to replace it with one that can be built by right. As a result, the first-floor garages planned in both buildings were removed to bring the new structures under the block’s height limit, which stand at 38 feet.

“We had met with the neighbors in Lombard Mews and on Bradford Alley, and with the WSWCA Zoning Committee,” said Shawn Frawley, senior project manager at Toll Brothers’ City Living division, which owns the two parcels.

What Toll Brothers had wanted to build on these lots were luxury condominiums: 24 on the site of the garage and 22 on the site of the Society Hill Playhouse and the parking lot to its south. Both structures would have had indoor garage parking.

But it seems that the neighbors had issues with the height of the resulting buildings. “We were having some decent conversations until some neighbors said, ‘Whatever you do, we’ll oppose it,'” said Frawley. In addition, “the Civic Association said it wouldn’t approve anything without the approval of the neighbors,” Frawley said.

Judith Appelbaum, chair of the Washington Square West Civic Association‘s governmental affairs committee, presided over the meeting where Toll made an informational presentation to neighborhood residents. (Zoning Committee Chair Jon Broh works for project architect JKRP Architects and thus recused himself.) “Toll Brothers never came to the RCO with a formal proposal for the project,” she said. “We had informational meetings where the project was presented to the Zoning Committee and neighbors for discussion. We gave them feedback and indicated that we were willing to continue talking with them.

“Toll also had several groups of meetings with neighbors to negotiate details of the project, and at some point, the negotiations broke down. At some point, they came to the conclusion that they were never going to get anywhere with the neighbors. So Toll ended the discussions and decided to do the by-right project, and once you go by right, the RCO isn’t involved.”

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Parker Spruce Hotel Owner Presents Plans for “Boutique” Fairfield Inn; Neighbors Air Grievances

Parker Spruce

The Parker Spruce Hotel | Photos: James Jennings

The Washington Square West Civic Association held a public meeting last Tuesday night regarding the redevelopment of the Parker Spruce Hotel at 13th and Spruce Street.

The room at Bluemle Hall on Thomas Jefferson University’s campus was packed with people waiting in anticipation to not only hear about the news plans for a hotel billed as a new three-and-a-half, four star establishment, but also to have their voices heard by the presenters, The Wankawala Organization, regarding the Parker Spruce’s traumatic past and damaging present taking place during interior demolition.

The information-only session became heated, but all in attendance were in agreement that something needed to change at this corner.

The Plan: Fairfield Inn and Suites by Marriott

The meeting started out swell. Owner Mihir Wankawala provided a taste of his personal background, mainly about how he moved to America from India at age 11, later went to Drexel, worked for Verizon and bought his first hotel property in Carlisle, Pennsylvania in 2005. That’s the CliffsNotes version of how The Wankawala Organization came to be and now it employs hundreds of people spread over 10 brand name hotels in the Mid-Atlantic region. Wonderful.

A small fire on October 20, 2014 ultimately led to the closure of the building and, after four years of managing the property, The Wankawala Organization announced in April that they had officially acquired the hotel.

Given its history, Wankawala explained why the property remained in its seedy state: “I know a lot of you are upset with what we did after we took over in terms of the management, but again we just took the property under control because we couldn’t get the financing at that time … We are a well-run, well-experienced, professional organization who doesn’t have a record in running a property like this. So it was very hard to find people to run a property like this. Given that, that’s history, that’s past. I want to focus on [its] future and how we can make this a great success.”

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Could the End Be Near for the Lincoln Apartment Building?

lincoln-buildingEver since a July 2006 fire caused it to partially collapse, the Lincoln, an apartment building in the 1200 block of Locust Street in Washington Square West that was in the process of being converted to condos when the fire struck, has sat as a boarded-up hulk and occasional vagrant magnet while feuding owners debated the building’s fate — and ultimately lost it at a Federal marshal’s sale.

A recent note in the minutes of a Washington Square West Civic Association (WSWCA) board meeting raises the prospect that the rest of the building may disappear soon as well.

At the WSWCA’s Feb. 21 board meeting, the Intergovernmental Affairs committee reported that “the Lincoln’s new owners are interviewing demolition companies and are expected to 
close on financing and commencing work in the next 30 days.”

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Market8 Gets Thumbs Up From Wash West Civic Association

Rendering of Market8.

Rendering of Market8.

One of the remaining bidders for Philadelphia’s casino license just got some local support in addition to its last endorsements: a blessing from the Washington Square West Civic Association. A recent tally among the organization’s board of directors resulted in a unanimous vote in favor of the project.

The association’s zoning chair Jonathan Broh cited the project’s goals as encouraging growth and revitalization on the East Market Street and Chesnut Street:

“MARKET8’s numerous restaurants, concert venue, and casino will bring much-needed activity to Market Street,” Broh said. “This project, along with plans to extend the casino’s Rewards Program into the business community, will complement other planned developments in the area and catalyze positive growth.”

Part of what swayed the civic association to Market8’s side is the project’s promise of a yearly $1 million investment into the community. According to the press release, these funds would go to general neighborhood upkeep and enrichment:

maintain and upgrade services, make physical enhancements and promote the economic vitality of small businesses on and around East Market Street.