By all accounts, the Delaware River waterfront should be one of the most attractive parts of Philadelphia. And yet, for a host of reasons, that ain’t the case. We’d contend that I-95 has been the primary limiting factor for development along the waterfront over the last several decades, cutting the water off from the rest of the city. Barring an unexpected “Big Dig” level infrastructure project (please don’t hold your breath), this won’t be changing any time soon, unfortunately. Even so, developers have started to pay more attention to the Delaware waterfront, and thanks to the work of local advocates, there’s been a push for projects that fit into a civic vision for the future. And by that we mean more apartment buildings and fewer shopping centers and gas stations.
Progress has been slow. The barrier of the highway seals the waterfront off from adjacent neighborhoods, essentially creating a separate neighborhood along the river. And creating a neighborhood isn’t so easy. Throw in the engineering challenges of building so close to the water and that further limits the pool of developers willing to work over here. Another issue is the fact that many of the properties adjacent to the water are large in size, often necessitating deep pockets to get involved in waterfront projects. Fortunately, we’re at a point in the development cycle where numerous developers with means are looking for deals to build sizable projects. And soon, we’ll be seeing something quite significant at the corner of Delaware Ave. and Fairmount.
The property at 700 N. Delaware Ave. covers some serious square footage, and for decades, most of the property has been used as a bus storage depot. This generally made sense for most of that time, but in 2020, this is a dramatic underuse for a property that’s loaded with potential. Not only is this parcel near the river, but it’s also two blocks from the 2nd Street commercial corridor in Northern Liberties, and within a few more blocks of Fishtown. Though the majority of the property is used for buses, a row of historic circa-1830s buildings also sit on the site, which we actually covered back in 2014, when they were listed for sale.
The buses will soon disappear from this site, though the historic homes are gonna stick around. According to the Inquirer, developer Sean McGovern will be buying the property and he has some bold plans for the site. The developer is planning a collection of apartment buildings here, with a total of 482 apartments and 147 parking spaces, with some retail mixed in as well. JKRP Architects has done the design work for the project, which the developer presented to the community last month.
We want to say that this project will be a game changer for the area, as a few hundred units will represent a dramatic improvement over a bus depot. But this isn’t really the first shoe to drop here- instead, we’d point to the 1 Brown Apartments, which were renovated a little less than a decade ago from a dilapidated auto storage facility, along with the slightly older Waterfront Square. Both of these projects showed that people would sign up for luxury living along the waterfront in this part of town. And as those projects portended this one (which still has a long way to go before it’s in the ground), this one will surely herald others. After all, there’s still plenty of underused land on the waterfront, and every new project makes those other lots ever more attractive for redevelopment.