Church Property Pivoting to Student Housing in Mantua

Student housing will seemingly continue its inexorable march up into Mantua, as plans are coming down the pike for the redevelopment of a large site on the 3300 block of Fairmount Avenue. We can’t say it’s altogether shocking that such a project would be forthcoming, given the amount of new construction that’s been creeping further and further north from Drexel and Penn, but we’re still taken a little aback by something so large and so close to the railroad tracks that separate Mantua from the zoo.

The property in question is 3314 Fairmount Ave., a building that dates back to at least the 1940s, when it was used as a garage. Over the years it was used for manufacturing purposes, most prominently as a metal fabrication business from the 1950s through the 1990s. Since then, the building has operated as a house of worship, home to the Rehoboth Full Gospel Church. Unlike countless other church redevelopments, we’re at least pleased to say that the demolition of this building isn’t going to cause too many people to rend their garments in distress.

Current view

Developers purchased this property for $1.6M back in the spring of 2019 and have worked their way through permitting for a by-right mixed-use building. Their plans call for a six-story building with 90 apartments, 16 parking spaces, and 5,200 sqft of industrial space on Fairmount Avenue. This can and will likely be used for a more commercial than industrial purpose, but it’s got to be described as industrial in the zoning application in order for the project to proceed as a matter of right, given the IRMX zoning designation. Earlier this week, the project went to Civic Design Review, a necessary step even for large by-right projects, in order to receive their final zoning permit. We therefore have some renderings to share, crafted by KCA Design Associates.

Aerial renderings
Renderings, front and back
More renderings
Yet another rendering

The project was listed for sale up until about a month ago at a $2.9M price point, though the listing is now down. Part of the motivation for listing the property for sale is the fact that it sits in a Federal Opportunity Zone census tract, which will allow whoever develops the property to receive several tax benefits, assuming they invest capital gains in the deal. From everything we know, OZs are seen as ancillary benefits to developments, making good deals better, so it stands to reason that the project stands on its own and would still make sense for a buyer, even if they don’t go the OZ route.

We would be interested to know what the expected rents are for this project and whether the projections actually call for student housing or whether the units will be offered as more boilerplate market rate housing, without students in mind per se. The former would seem to make more sense, but perhaps the close proximity to the Philadelphia Zoo and the highway will draw tenants that aren’t necessarily looking to walk south every day. Time will tell, of course.

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