Tremendous Commercial Development Coming to Italian Market, But Could It Be Better?

Mr. Fox

A couple of weeks ago, the Philadelphia Business Journal reported on a proposed retail project for the southeast corner of 9th & Washington, a mostly vacant lot that formerly contained a warehouse structure for the American Ice Company. Part of this warehouse was torn down years ago and replaced by a building that currently contains Anastasi Seafood. The rest of the building remained until its demolition in 2008. For more information about the building and what went on inside, click here or here.

In 1915
In 2007. Photo credit Ghost Sign Project.

The warehouse spent its final days as a blighted hulk, weighing down the southern end of the Italian Market. For years we saw this building as a key factor in the underdevelopment of 9th Street, south of Washington Avenue. Since its demolition, its lot has been fenced in, with a plywood fence occasionally featuring some murals. And prospects have improved some for businesses on this stretch.

Looking north on 9th St.
Plywood fence, with some murals. Anastasi's in the background
View of the corner

Now, Midwood Investments & Development have come up with a plan to redevelop this corner. The concept, entitled The Italian Marketplace, involved a one story commercial development with about 30,000 sqft of retail space, along with an underground parking lot with spaces for 70 cars. Take a look at the preliminary site plan and rendering, which we imagine are very much subject to change.

Three retail spaces
Reminds us of Xfinity Live!

The current proposal would strike Anastasi's and replace it with the new construction building pictured above. Three retail spaces are planned, with a 12K sqft space on the corner, a 6K sqft space in the middle of the building going south, and another 12K sqft space on the southern end of the building. Entrance to the parking garage would be on Washington Avenue.

We have little doubt that this concept, if executed correctly, will succeed. Provided the rent numbers are within reason, the demographics of the surrounding neighborhood in addition to the tourist business in the Italian Market would provide retailers with plenty of customers. We can see this development further spurring the entirety of the Italian Market, and even perhaps encouraging the Esposito family to build something on their unfortunate vacant lot on the 1000 block.

But... is this really, truly, honestly the very best use for this corner? We remember, when the Ice House building was still standing, dreaming of adaptive reuse, with three floors of apartments on top of retail storefronts. Plenty of Italian Market stores have apartments above, why not these? Wouldn't the retailers appreciate the additional customers that upstairs neighbors would provide? C'mon, it's a city, let's get some density here!

While this is a decent proposal and certainly better than a vacant lot, it just seems like a missed opportunity. What do you think? Is single-story commercial appropriate here? Or would adding a couple of stories of apartments be the way to go?