Vastly Superior Plan Emerges For Mantua Supermarket

Several months ago, we directed your attention to the 3600 block of Haverford Avenue, where we spied some heavy machinery moving dirt around. At the time, we took the opportunity to remind you about the recent history of the block. For those not in the know that don’t feel like clicking through, there was a plan back in 2013 to build a supermarket in Mantua which would have spanned four city blocks between 36th and 38th Streets, Haverford Avenue and Mount Vernon Street. The plan was generally awful, and would have amounted to a suburban-style shopping center being dropped in the middle of a residential area. To assemble the necessary land for the project, the City the took numerous privately owned properties by eminent domain. Artist James Dupree, whose workshop is in an old warehouse on the 3600 block of Haverford, stood up to the City and refused to give up his building. It was his effort that ultimately submarined the entire project.

36th & Haverford, a few months ago
The studio that's the only building left on the block
An old version of the supermarket plan

As we told you a few months ago, the City took a couple years to reevaluate their plans and last year generated an RFP that invited potential developers to present plans to redevelop the two eastern blocks of the supermarket site, not including James Dupree’s studio. The RFP specifically did not prescribe what should be built on the site and only provided vague guidance, indicating that the project should have a focus on social impact, be “beneficial to the community,” and be “financially viable under current market conditions.” The lack of specific guidance must have made it rather tough for interested parties to handicap their odds of success, but we know that at least one development team made a pitch for the site.

We know this because of a story from Inga Saffron on Philly.com, which details the plan now being pitched by the team representing a joint venture between Lomax Real Estate Partners, Fuchs Realty Partners and the Mount Vernon Manor Community Development Corporation. The plan is a dramatic improvement over the previous project, as it takes a decidedly urban approach to the redevelopment of these properties. The first phase will include a 72-unit rental apartment building at the corner of 37th & Haverford, with a roughly 15K sqft supermarket on the first floor. 20% of the units in the building will be reserved for families earning under the city’s median income level, while the balance, we imagine, will target students. Here’s a rendering and a site plan for the project, with a hat tip to KSK for the design work.

Apartment building rendering. Image from Philly.com.
Current site plan. Image from Philly.com.

The northwest quadrant of the site will include a parking lot for the supermarket, while the future phases on the eastern side of the project will include a number of small residential buildings, a little bit more parking, a small commercial space, and a public plaza that centers on James Dupree’s studio. The project still needs to go before the Mantua Civic Association this week and will ultimately need to go to the ZBA before it can move forward. We don’t know the nitty gritty details of neighborhood politics in this part of Mantua, so we can’t be sure how the community will receive the project. But we hope that they’re willing to embrace the framework and work with the developers to improve it on the margins, as it seems like a winning project for an area that’s been a food desert for generations. Perhaps most importantly, it seems that Mr. Dupree is on board, and that can only mean good things for the likelihood of this project moving forward.