Intercultural Family Services is a non-profit organization which provides critical services in the local community. They provide Family Empowerment Services, serve as a behavioral health provider for children, assist participants with money management, and pursue truancy prevention with children, among other things. The organization is based out of a couple buildings on the 4200 block of Chestnut Street, with their main office located on the north side of the street, and a behavioral health center in a pair of converted twins on the south side of the street. Also on the south side of the street is a sizable surface parking lot that’s owned by the organization.
When Intercultural was founded in 1979, things were very different in this part of West Philadelphia. Penn’s campus expanded across 38th Street in the early 1970s with the construction of three high rise dorms, and off-campus student housing was generally limited to the blocks immediately adjacent to the recently expanded campus. This remained more or less the case for the decades that followed, but it’s not at all the situation anymore. New housing has exploded in West Philadelphia in the areas near and far from Penn, Drexel, and University of the Sciences, with properties closer to those higher learning institutions in very high demand. As we’ve documented, Chestnut Street is especially seeing a ton of new development, with hundreds of units in the works in the coming years.
Intercultural is taking a very interesting approach to this situation, and is looking to take advantage of the remarkable increase in the value of their properties. From what we understand, the non-profit is selling their real estate to a developer – but part of the deal is that they are remaining in their current location, in a newly constructed consolidated space. Coming next month to Civic Design Review will be a seven-story building at 4240 Chestnut St. which has two floors of office and medical space for Intercultural Family Services and five floors of apartments, with 128 units planned. The non-profit will work out of the Chestnut Street side of the building, while apartment access will come from Sansom Street. The building, designed by DAS Architects, will also include parking on a basement level that services both Intercultural and the apartments.
This project will replace a surface parking lot in a highly desirable location, and that’s objectively awesome. In addition, it will cover an area on the east side of the lot that’s been sitting vacant for about fifteen years which has occasionally been used for parking but it otherwise just vacant land. The unfortunate piece of news is that we’ll lose the twins on the western side of the property which are really nice looking buildings but don’t seem to check any boxes that they would be deemed historic. That’s probably the only downer in this situation, as the project will transition an underused property to something closely resembling its highest and best use while maintaining and upgrading the longtime presence of a local non-profit doing great work in the community.
As for Intercultural’s building on the north side of the street at 4225 Chestnut St., we have to think that it too will be redeveloped in the coming years. Figure on another 6 or 7 story building to come after the organization moves into their new digs across the street, but it’ll probably be a couple years before we get any concrete information on those plans.