Developer Seeks to Build the Anti-Cheesecake Factory in the Italian Market

Midwood Investment and Development, who recently built the Center City Cheesecake Factory, plans a 5-story building with apartments, local vendors, high design and plenty of parking.


Here is a look at the conceptual designs.

Community members (and reporters) packed a church hall in South Philly Tuesday evening to hear an information-only presentation for a project at the long-vacant lot at 9th and Washington. If realized, it could have a major impact on the future of the Italian Market.

Midwood Investment & Development owns the roughly 32,000-square-foot parcel, which includes the building that houses Anastasi’s Seafood (more on that later). They are seeking to build a 5-story mixed-use structure with 150 spots on two levels of underground parking, roughly 18,000-square-feet of retail and 70 market rate apartments above it.

In order to keep with the context and scale of the eastern edge of the site, Midwood is proposing to build eight new Trinity homes on Darien Street. Site plans suggest they would be between 590- and 600-square-feet and feature rear gardens.

While tensions usually run from medium-to-high at these meetings, Jared Klein, chair of the Passyunk Crossing Civic Association zoning committee, attempted to cut things off at a head prior to the start of the presentation, announcing to the crowd that “this project will include parking.”

The crowd laughed, and that pretty much set the tone for a meeting that seemed largely free of controversy.

“It’s one of the jewels of the Italian Market,” said John Usdan, Midwood’s president, referring to the long-vacant lot. The company’s development portfolio most recently includes the glossy Cheesecake Factory at 15th and Walnut. While people have been impressed with the overall design of that building, the fact that it’s a glorified chain restaurant and big box cell phone store didn’t seem lost on Usdan, who explained the vision for this project is to have smaller, local vendors in the retail spaces (and possibly on the street) along 9th Street and Washington Avenue to reinvigorate.

“We view this project as the anti-Cheescake [Factory] project,” he told the crowd.

Oddly enough, that activation sort of begins with the placement of the parking. The market that the vast majority of the retail would front 9th Street and wrap the building to activate and engage Washington Avenue. The public parking garage, which would also be used as an interior loading dock for the businesses, would have an entrance and exit at the southern tip of the project on 9th Street. According to Usdan, the placement of the garage will almost force people up to 9th Street and walk along the storefronts of the Italian Market. “We want a building that’s going to be alive.”

Traffic studies conducted by the development team concluded that the smaller, one-way 9th Street would make for easier access, as opposed to what would amount to mess of illegal left hand turns and congestion if it were to be located on Washington Avenue. One person referred to the latter scenario as a “traffic nightmare.”

Though no deal has been made with the seafood monger, or any other retailer, at this point, Usdan mentioned that the hope is to “temporarily relocate” Anastasi’s Seafood with the goal of inviting them back into the fold once he new building is complete.

Much like with the Cheesecake Factory building, it doesn’t look like the developers will skimp on the design. Midwood has brought in Morris Adjmi to create the 5-story building with an undulating brick facade, metal cornices and metal awnings that stretch over the sidewalk to, as he put it, “embrace the whole character of the Italian Market.”

Adjmi is based in New York, but he has been putting his stamp on some projects in Philadelphia recently, including ROOST apartment hotel in the Packard Building, the re-skinning of the former Family Court building at the East Market project and the proposed boutique hotel in on Frankford Avenue in Fishtown.

As for a timeline, Peter Kelsen, attorney for the developers, explained that they are going to seek zoning legislation through Councilman Mark Squilla‘s office in order to have the property up-zoned from CMX-2 to CMX-3, which would allow for the project to stretch to 62-feet at the roof line, underground parking and more density. They hope to have the legislation introduced by City Council’s last session in the fall. If it’s passed by December, Kelsen explained that the project would be 6 months to a year from starting construction and 18 months to complete it.