Once upon a time, before COVID, there were places called casinos where you could go indoors and place wagers on card games or football games or mindlessly press a button on a slot machine for hours or minutes at a time. Some people thought casinos were fun, while other people considered them to be nuisance businesses. Many people in the former group were happy to visit casinos, but didn’t want to live near them. And for this reason and a host of others, casinos were traditionally restricted to certain places, like Nevada or Atlantic City.
Over the last forty years, however, the casino business has exploded, as numerous states, including our own, have passed laws legalizing casinos. When PA passed its legislation in 2004, Philadelphia was assigned two casino licenses. One of those licenses went to Sugarhouse, now known as Rivers Casino, which opened in 2010 on the Delaware Waterfront in Fishtown. The other license went to Foxwoods, which was planned for 1401 S. Columbus Blvd., in Pennsport. To make a long and exhausting story short, Foxwoods never happened and the license eventually went to a new concept, the Live! Casino, near the stadiums. Incidentally, that casino just soft opened as of a couple days ago.
The path for the old Foxwoods site has been circuitous since PA revoked the casino license, and the huge and prominently located property has continued to sit vacant as the years have rolled along. Now though, it appears that there’s finally some clarity and some momentum toward redevelopment. As we told you previously, Tower Investments bought the property in 2014 and had a plan to build a shopping center on the western portion of the property and townhomes on the eastern side. US Construction bought the eastern section in 2018, and we shared news of their plan to build 169 homes on the site.
About a year ago, the developers came to Civic Design Review with a notable change to the plan. They eliminated about half the homes, swapping in a mixed-use building on the south side of the property. That plan called for 92 homes and 356 apartments over retail and felt to us like a step in the right direction.
Here we are a year later, and we’re seeing yet another revision to the plan, with the townhomes now eliminated on the north side of the parcel as well. In their place, the new plan calls for another mixed-use building which will result in a total unit count of 855, a total parking spot count of 554, and almost 38K sqft of retail space between the two buildings. BLTa did the design work, which we can share from the new CDR packet.
Don’t get us wrong, we love a good town home development, but the latest iteration of the plan for this property is easily superior to any proposal that’s come along here in the last few years. All this density will effectively create a new neighborhood on the Delaware waterfront, adding a vibrancy that is often lacking on the city’s eastern edge. We’d argue that the mixed-use proposal is not only better than homes, but it’s also superior to a high rise approach, which we’ve seen have mixed results on the waterfront further to the north.
Will this be the final plan for this huge and important parcel? Will both buildings get built in the next few years? Will the project struggle because it’s between two shopping centers? We have no idea about the answers to any of these questions. What we can say now, comfortably, is that we hope that something resembling this plan does indeed move forward; and no matter what happens, most of Pennsport will surely agree that it’s a better outcome than Foxwoods.