When did Philly suddenly become a boom town? Less than a decade ago, in the wake of the real estate crisis, construction ground to a halt, with planned projects languishing for years, some never to be completed.
Recently, though, something happened, first in emerging neighborhoods like Northern Liberties, where low prices and mortgage defaults presented opportunities to developers who gobbled up tear-downs and vacant lots in preparation for new — often luxury — buildings. Then, in the blink of an eye, development projects were everywhere. Some were high-profile renovations like the former Divine Lorraine Hotel — once an empty eyesore on North Broad, now a swank new apartment building. Others, such as the hotly-contested Jewelers Row tower; a $19 million plan for Yards’ Brewery in Spring Garden; and a proposed complex around North Philly’s Amtrak Station still have a lot of hurdles to clear before being realized. The fast and furious pace makes it hard to keep track of the players, so here’s your scorecard.
Across from The Gallery (itself under renovation), most of a city block was razed to make way for a new mixed-use development. East Market — between Market, Chestnut, 11th and 12th streets — will feature three buildings, including two new residential towers atop a retail base, as well as office space in the renovated Family Court Building. Announced tenants include Mom’s Organic Market, Iron Hill Brewery and Design Within Reach. Ludlow and Clover streets, formerly service corridors, will be open to traffic, and a mid-block pedestrian street will run between Market and Chestnut. Peter Angelides, a principal with Econsult Solutions Inc. who also teaches urban infrastructure at UPenn’s Fels Institute of Government, calls the project exciting. “It gets all the urban design fundamentals right. It’s got mixed use, ground floor retail, pedestrian orientation, small blocks and underground parking,” he says.
Other notable projects underway in the area include a residential high rise at 1213 Walnut St., nicknamed Fergie Tower in honor of the adjacent pub; and Brook Lenfest’s W/Element hotel project at 15th and Chestnut.
This winter, builders broke ground on Lincoln Square at the northwest corner of Broad and Washington. Hyped by Alterra Property Group — which is developing the property with MIS Capital LLC — as a southern anchor for the Avenue of the Arts, Lincoln Square could very well be transformative for the surrounding neighborhood. The mixed-use development will feature 322 apartments, a two-story retail space and more than 450 parking spots. The design incorporates a historic train depot — where President Lincoln’s body once laid in state — now housing a supermarket. The project received rave reviews from neighbors, who had universally panned plans for developer Bart Blatstein’s competing project across the street (since, apparently abandoned). Completion is expected in late 2018.
Developer Roland Kassis, whose Domani Developers LLC helped change the face of Fishtown with Frankford Hall and La Colombe’s flagship location, is at it again. He’s building a boutique hotel at 1220 Frankford Ave. designed by architect Morris Adjmi, and a new rendering shows a rooftop pool with an overhang. “It’s completely different than anything else in the city,” says Keith Adams, associate broker with Elfant Wissahickon Realtors – Adams Group. According to Adams, the scorching-hot neighborhood is buzzing with new development, including another new hotel, this one from trendy restaurant Wm. Mulherin’s Sons at 1355 Front St.
“Front Street’s changing,” he says. “It used to be blighted,” but now residential properties are joining the businesses along this still gritty corridor. Adams cites two condos — boasting bridge and skyline views — which are expected to be listed soon, the first new residential properties to be sold on the street best known for the El that runs along it. Adams says the El is “a positive for people who like city living and the busy New York-like vibe of the area.” He also reveals that one of the last large parcels of land in Fishtown on the corner of Marlborough and Wildey streets is being developed. Marlborough Development LLC will soon break ground on Fishtown Village, a gated community featuring 3-4 bedroom/3.5 bath townhouses with roof decks and parking. Prices are expected to start at $650,000-700,000.
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In neighboring East Kensington, a building boom is also underway. A partnership between United Makers and Philly Home Girls is developing SuiteRow, 25 homes along East Cumberland and Jasper streets. Jeanne Whipple, team leader with Philly Home Girls at Coldwell Banker Preferred, says the development has been popular with buyers. “Its well-thought-out interior layouts that focus on occupants’ use, lifestyle and enjoyment over the long-term. The houses aren't just pretty to look at, they incorporate light, air, technology, energy conservation, telecommuting and family expansion,” Whipple adds.
Another interesting project in the neighborhood is a gated townhouse community, Avenue 30, being developed by Riverwards Group on the 2600 blocks of Amber and Collins streets. Designed by KJO Architects, each home comes with off-street parking and a full-footprint roof deck, reports Riverwards’ managing partner, Mo Rushdy. Phase one construction will be complete by the end of 2017, and the pre-sale pricing of $339,000-$369,000 is slated to see a 10-15 percent upward adjustment in April. Rushdy and co-managing partner Larry McKnight are looking to keep buyers’ mortgage payments around an affordable $1,500 per month, something that’s assisted by a 10-year tax abatement. Nearby at 2621 Frankford Ave., the former Woods Brothers Building Materials site is slated to become a massive mixed-use development, Woods Square, with retail and 178 residential rental units. Rushdy says the Frankford Corridor is changing fast: “Over the coming 12 months, this area will be completely transformed.”