Toll Brothers: “We Want A Project That’s Appropriate” for Jewelers Row

The developer says it wants to meet with stakeholders and preservationists to produce a building everyone can live with.

The three buildings at left in this photo are the ones Toll Brothers has acquired in connection with its plan to build a mixed-use residential-retail structure in the heart of Jewelers Row. | Photo: Oscar Beisert

The three buildings at left in this photo are the ones Toll Brothers has acquired in connection with its plan to build a mixed-use residential-retail structure in the heart of Jewelers Row. | Photo by Oscar Beisert

Toll Brothers City Living, the company that plans to replace a row of commercial structures in the heart of Jewelers Row with a mixed-use residential/commercial project, wants to build a building everyone concerned can support, division Vice President Brian Emmons said in an exclusive interview.

Including the preservationists.

“It’s our intention to meet with the stakeholders to design a project appropriate to the neighborhood,” he said. 

Emmons said that no design work had been done on the project and that it would begin only now that Toll Brothers had the permits it needed to carry it out in hand.

In terms of appearance, Emmons said the proposed residential building would respect the street wall and that the retail spaces would be geared toward the needs of the jewelry industry. “We will maintain the cornice line along Sansom Street,” he said. “We will have smaller retail spaces,” which, he stated, are more in line with the needs of the retail and wholesale traders that make up Jewelers Row.

He also said that the building’s architecture would fit in with the appearance of the 700 block of Sansom Street: “Our intent is to have a project that, from the perspective of someone who hasn’t seen it before, looks like it was always there.”

Whether something that “looks like it was always there” is as good as what’s there already is an open question, said Paul Steinke, executive director of the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia, but he added that the door isn’t shut on working with Toll Brothers to come up with a project acceptable to both the builder and the denizens of Jewelers Row.

“We are interested in engaging in a conversation like that,” he said. “We’re not against development; we’re against the destruction of the historic fabric. If we can find a way to square that circle, I’m all for it.”

As for the jewelers, development and management firm PRDC Properties President David Pearlman said that they were doing all right despite hard times and could work with Toll Brothers to make sure its new project contributed to the overall health of the street. PRDC owns and has its offices in the Jewelers’ Trade Building, located at the west end of the side of the 700 block of Sansom on which Toll plans to build.

“Business has been tough,” he said. “I don’t think people are earning the same money they were when everyone was buying expensive jewelry, but they’re making a living.” He noted that his building has had no trouble filling spaces with new tenants when existing ones leave, and that save for his firm, all the tenants remain in the jewelry trade.

His main concern is preserving the convenience that gives Jewelers Row its competitive advantage. “When people come here to do their business, whether it’s wholesale or retail, it’s one-stop shopping,” he said. “They can get repairs done here, they can buy jewelry and watches here, they can get expensive diamonds here.

“I don’t know whether what goes on above will change things,” Pearlman said. “But as long as the street frontage on Sansom remains jewelry, it can’t hurt. Having more people on the street can’t hurt business there.”

The buildings Toll Brothers has acquired in connection with its planned development are currently occupied. Pearlman said that “we have had and will have the opportunity” to place some of the tenants in whatever takes their place.

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