A little more than two years ago, we told you that Health Center No. 1 would be moving out of its digs at 500 S. Broad St. after roughly six decades, and that the City planned to sell off the 40K sqft parcel to the highest bidder. This was huge news, as parcels of this size and at such a prime location don’t exactly fall out of the sky. And when large, desirable parcels trade, this typically portends sizable and meaningful projects in the near future, given the amount of money involved.
A proverbial fly landed in the proverbial ointment just a month later, as we learned that the building was nominated to the Philadelphia Historic Register. While we can appreciate the desire to keep this unique and interesting Mid-Century Modern building from being torn down, we were also quite frustrated that the historic nomination would necessarily depress the purchase price of the property, keeping millions of dollars from the City’s coffers. As we’ve pointed out on numerous occasions, historic designation doesn’t make a site impossible to redevelop, it just makes it more complicated and more expensive, generally devaluing the historic building as a result. And so we asked whether the value of preservation outweighed the value of the extra millions of dollars going back to the City. Alas, it’s just a rhetorical question, as the building was indeed designated and we don’t know how much more potential developers would have paid if they could have torn down the building.
Despite the historic designation, several developers were of course interested in purchasing the former health center. Ultimately, as the Inquirer reported a few days ago, the City selected the Goldenberg Group to purchase the property, just as we predicted would happen. This felt like an easy prediction, since Goldenberg owns the former World Communications Charter building at the corner of Broad & South and has a partnership in place with E-Z Park Inc., owner of the parking lot at 15th & South. Combined with the old health center, this partnership, which also includes the Badger Group, will control a site that covers about two and a half acres of prime Center City real estate.
According to Plan Philly, the development will cover two phases. The first phase will seemingly only include the health center parcel, with plans to renovate the existing building and construct a residential tower on the north side of the property, which was previously a surface parking lot. The Inquirer has reported that the renovated building will house stores and also theater space for University of the Arts, with the apartment building targeting UArts students. Chicago based Skidmore, Owings, & Merrill has been retained to do the architecture work for the project, and this rendering at least gives a sense of what’s to come for the site.
With only limited information available at this point, we don’t know whether this project will move forward by-right or whether it’ll need a zoning variance. If it does indeed require a variance (perhaps for height or parking), we can see a world in which there’s a real fight over the plan, especially because there’s a sliver of the city block not controlled by the development group that consists of a dozen three-story town homes and apartment buildings. Even if there’s a zoning battle, we have to think that this thing will start moving forward sometime in the next year and a half to two years, given the size of the investment and the prominent location. And we’ll be thrilled to see it happen, while maintaining a healthy curiosity about plans for the rest of the property. All in due time, of course, but waiting ain’t easy with these types of parcels.