Years Later, Renovation and Reuse at 23rd & South

In their 1963 song “South Street,” when the Orlons referred to the “hippest street in town,” they were unquestionably referring to South Street on the eastern side of Broad. We don’t remember quite that far back, but according to our memory, South Street East has always dominated South Street West in terms of energy, pedestrian traffic, and the sheer number of businesses. And that will probably continue to be the case in the future, though South Street West has slowly but surely transformed over the last decade into a commercial corridor that draws people from all over town. From new restaurants and businesses, to new buildings replacing vacant lots, to the vibrant reclaimed public space at the Grays Ferry Triangles, South Street West has improved by leaps and bounds.

But there’s still room for the corridor to continue to improve! The biggest fish on South Street West is the Royal Theater on the 1500 block, a historic building which has been sitting vacant since the early 1970s. Though its facade has been preserved, the Royal building was demoed last year and work is now starting on a new mixed-use building in its place. Another big opportunity exists at 2300 South St., right next to the Grays Ferry Triangles park. You may recall, several years ago, the owner of this property proposed a five-story building with 24 units and ground floor commercial. After some back and forth with neighbors, the project was whittled down to a four-story building with 18 units and retail on the first floor. Ultimately though, many neighbors still objected to the project and it got denied at the ZBA. After that, nothing happened with the property for a few years, aside from a Green Drop location at the corner.

Rendering of scuttled project

But if you visit this corner now, perhaps in search of some delicious Igloo froyo, you’ll notice there’s some construction taking place. Rather than demolition and new construction though, we see that the existing building on the site is being renovated. The building is being fixed up for commercial use, but at this point we don’t know anything about the retail plans for the property. We’ve heard rumblings about a yoga studio in part of the building, but there’s going to be roughly 10K sqft of space between two levels, so there’s surely room for additional tenants. Unfortunately, the surface parking lot at the corner will remain as a part of this plan.

View on Grays Ferry
View at the corner
Building on South Street

We were disappointed back in 2014 when the plan for a new building got nixed at the ZBA, commenting that this seemed like a missed opportunity for the corridor. Today, it’s a big plus that something is happening here at last, and the reuse of the existing building will create more architectural interest than a rather boring new construction mixed-use building. On the other hand, the fact that the space at the corner will remain vacant is a negative from an urbanist perspective, as the retail tenants of this building will lack ideal frontage at the corner. For now, we’ll reserve ultimate judgement until we learn about the main tenant for the building- if it’s something really cool, maybe we won’t be quite as concerned about the space at the corner. If the tenant proves to be on the less exciting side though, we reserve the right to kvetch. As do near neighbors, we suppose.

  • Jayfar

    I don’t see this building in the 1910 Bromley Atlas, BUT in Atlas of the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 30th Wards of the City of Philadelphia, 1917 (via philageohistory dot org), it is shown as Owl Theatre, so it was built sometime between 1910 & 1917.

  • bem

    Need more surface parking.

  • CH^2D

    Wait so the lot at the corner will remain parking? Sounds like a huge waste of space…

    • Jayfar

      Yes, according to the plans, 6 parking spaces, plus a bike rack. They are also adding an entrance and a large display window, with a canopy above, on the side of the South St leg of the building facing the parking.

      You can find a pdf of the plan online. Go to atlas dot phila dot gov, search for 2300 South St, click on the Licenses & Inspections tab, then under Zoning Permit Documents, click on the link for ID 27-316764.

  • James Goodwin

    Problem was you can’t satisfy the zoning crazies.

  • Two notes…

    “Ultimately though, many neighbors still objected to the project”
    Specifically, Barb Failer’s SSWCA objected, and that objection lead to the ouster of their entire board a few weeks later.

    If you look up the zoning docs, the proposed use for “space 1” (the largest space), says “storage of products for sale and delivery, to also include customer pickup of previously-purchased items”.

    So it could be an Amazon pickup (a la Amazon@Penn) or an Amazon Fresh pickup.