The project pitted developers who envision a vibrant “destination” on a long-abandoned plot against Old City residents concerned that people could pour out of a “35,000-foot nightclub” onto their streets at 2 a.m. and urban-blight activists worried a garish digital billboard would distract drivers on the Ben Franklin Bridge.
With little fanfare, City Council unanimously approved zoning-map changes on Thursday that green-lit a commercial-and-retail space including a hotel near 4th and Race streets. Though the controversial billboard was nixed, and liquor licenses on the property reduced from three to two, a member of the Old City Civic Association said the approval “just became a blank check.”
Joe Schaivo of the OCCA wasn’t notified of the vote so, “we thought we’d have a final opportunity to address in City Council, so we feel a little disenfranchised.” OCCA was concerned that the project’s height was raised 10 feet recently, wondering whether billboards were being secretly included.
Arc Properties CEO and founder Robert Ambrosi, who deemed “One Franklin Square” will be a “link between Independence Mall and Old City,” refrained from speaking publicly during the testy back-and-forth debate. He said “wild assumptions” leveled by critics aggravated him like the 10-foot increase, some of which he said was needed for the top of the elevator shaft.
Construction could start by year’s end. He’s negotiating with a restaurant to join the site with a 120-room Starwood Aloft Hotel and hopes to bring a 14,000 square-foot “gourmet food store.” The neighborhood side will be “quiet” in keeping with the surrounding blocks.