The Frankford Chocolate Factory at 2101 Washington Ave. is proof positive that even a neighborhood with homes selling for seven figures can enjoy the occasional white elephant. This building has a fascinating recent history, but has sat vacant for over a decade, leaving neighbors wondering if and when it will finally get redeveloped. The current owners bought the property for $7.8M about two years ago, and once that purchase went through, we figured that a project would soon come down the pike. After all, we don’t usually see developers throw around that kind of money without a plan to move forward. It took a little longer than expected, but we finally saw some progress over the summer.
A few months ago, the developers collaborated with SOSNA to organize a community meeting to discuss the property and ostensibly figure out what the neighborhood would support for the site. They brought their development partner, U3 Ventures, and their architect, Cecil Baker, along for the ride, and they collectively ran a community meeting which was attended by over a hundred people. At the meeting, the neighbors split into groups, discussing subjects like Washington Avenue, Parking & Mobility, Amenities, Types of Housing, and Preservation vs. New Construction. Afterward, we wondered how the developers would integrate the feedback from the neighborhood into a coherent project. Last night, at a followup community meeting, we learned about their first effort to do just that.
We told you before, the former factory covers almost the entire parcel, but different sections of the building were constructed at different times. The developers are aiming to preserve the most historic elements of the property, like the four story structure in the middle of the parcel and some of the little buildings on Washington Avenue, and demolish the newer sections of the building. On the northern side of the property, the plan calls for the demolition of the existing building and the construction of twenty town homes on Kimball Street. All of these homes will have parking, but only eight will have frontage on Kimball. To the south of the homes will be a sizable open area, with views of the restored factory building.
As for the factory building, it will be converted into residential use, with plans calling for about 150 apartments. Those units will generally be of the two-bedroom variety, with roughly 1,200 sqft of living space. Initially, at least, the units will be rentals. It’s possible that developers will break through the roof of the building to add a small fifth floor, with additional living space and roof deck access for residents on the fourth floor. There will also be a parking lot underground, with space for 104 cars, accessed from 22nd Street. On Washington Avenue, the plans call for three retail spaces, including a restaurant in the smokestack building at the corner of 22nd & Washington. There will also be a small green space and a small surface parking lot, ostensibly to service the businesses.
Not surprisingly, because different neighbors want different things, the reaction to this project was decidedly mixed. Feedback included a desire for less housing and more retail, parking concerns, questions about affordability, and issues with the interaction of the town homes on Kimball Street with the existing streetscape. On the other hand, many people were excited by the reuse of the existing building and the reactivation of a long vacant building. Suffice to say, the developers have their work cut out for them.
There will be another meeting in the next month or two, at which we believe the developers will present a revised plan that tries to take some of the community feedback into account. At this meeting, they will make a final pitch for community support before moving forward in the ordinance process. And we wish them all the luck in the world, and hope they’re successful in bringing this great property back to life. Residential density on Washington Avenue and a few new businesses, all wrapped in the restored facade of an amazing old building, would be a fabulous step forward for a corridor that finally seems to be finding its stride. Stay tuned for the next chapter, coming very soon.