commercial development

The momentum continues

Ridiculous light masts aside, the last few years have been very very good to North Broad Street. We've actually lost count of the number of buildings that have been repurposed as apartments, adding new residents and a vibrancy that had been missing here for decades. The lastest addition to the mix is Mural Lofts, a project from EB Realty which converted the former Thaddeus Stevens School of Practice into 59 apartments at Broad & Spring Garden. The name of the project comes from the awesome mural on the building's western wall, a mural you've probably noticed at some point when passing by on Broad Street.

Current view of the building
The mural, a few years back

As you can see, the building's architecture is wonderful, and we're fortunate that the developers were able to reuse the structure, built in 1926. Though the building was used more recently as an administration building, it retained many original details inside. Some of those features have been integrated into the apartments units.

Everyone's loss is our gain

We were so excited, over the summer, to share the news that a Gus's World Famous Fried Chicken franchise was planning to open on the southeast corner of 20th & Washington. The plans called for a restaurant with seating for 81 and a liquor license, and actually had the support of the community. The ZBA gave their approval at the end of June, but there's been no progress at the property.

Corner of 20th & Washington

The lack of progress is directly related to the fact that the franchisee never actually signed a lease for this location. Yes, they went to the trouble and expense of getting plans and renderings and then hired an attorney and went through the challenging zoning process for a project without an executed lease. A couple months ago, when the property owner was unable to move forward with the people from Gus's, they started showing the property to other prospective tenants. It wasn't long before a new tenant came forward, one that's much less exciting than a fried chicken place with booze. Funny story, it turns out OCF Realty will be moving from 21st & South to 20th & Washington at some point in 2016. This is probably a good time to mention that this blog is owned by OCF Realty, in case you weren't aware.

Plans have been there for years

Over the weekend, we changed things up a bit and eschewed the Melrose in favor of the Penrose Diner. On our way there, we noticed some construction fencing across the street that had previously escaped our attention.

Looking under the Schuylkill Expressway, we noticed a fence
Fenced-in area next to the Ramada

At 2001 Penrose Ave., next door to the hilariously named Ramada Philadelphia City Center, there's a vacant lot with a sign advertising a not-yet-built shopping center.

Such a missed opportunity

We've lost count of the number of churches that have been demolished by developers in recent years in favor of residential development. We've seen it in the Graduate Hospital neighborhood (repeatedly), West Poplar, Francisville, and may soon see it happen in Fishtown. Though it's surely happened, we can't recall a situation where a church has been torn down in favor or a purely commercial endeavor, but that's exactly what's happened at 40th & Sansom, just off Penn's campus. When we last visited the site, the handsome stone Methodist Episcopal Church had just come down.

In the past

At the time, we reminded you that P&A Associates, the guys that built the Murano, were planning a one-story commercial building for this site, with room for retailers like a pizza shop and a froyo place. We expressed disappointment that such a nice building was being swapped for a retail-only structure without any residential component. Especially with the Radian almost next door, some height for this location seems like a no-brainer. Alas, here's what we'll be stuck with for a couple of generations:

Quite a change over the last year

If you live in Philadelphia, it's our hope that you've had a chance to sample the tasty wares from Federal Donuts by now. Whether it's donuts or chicken or both that float your boat, this place has you covered. Since they opened their original location in Pennsport a couple of years ago, their legend and their footprint has grown, with additional locations appearing in Center City, West Philly, and Citizens Bank Park. This week, the newest addition opened its doors, at the corner of 7th & Fairmount. Remember, we told you this was going to happen last summer.

Architecturally, the transformation that's taken place is pretty spectacular.

In the past
Finished product almost looks like a rendering

The facade of the building has been opened up significantly, with big new windows trimmed in wood. We especially like the brick accents at the bottom of those windows. In addition, there's new awnings, new lighting, and a couple of new street trees. Inside, the space is pretty big, with seating for dozens of patrons. Quite a change from the original location, which is tight when more than ten people are inside.

Jobs in the neighborhood!

A reader tipped us off recently that there's some renovation work taking place on the southeast corner of 23rd & Christian. Don't quote us on this but we think it used to be a hair salon. According to the permits, the entire building will soon contain offices.

Getting renovated

The property was sold last fall, and the new owner's address tracks back to the property across the street which was subject to agonizing redevelopment discussions last year. The owners of the Senior Resource Group, an insurance business that's worked out that building for several years, are surely the owners of both properties. Remember, they wanted to demolish the eyesore we see today and replace it with a four-story building with seven apartments, second floor office space, and ground-floor commercial. They eventually amended their project to eliminate the office space and push up the number of apartments to eleven. In the face of inexplicably fierce neighborhood opposition, they withdrew their project and are currently considering their options for the corner.

A new Lebanese café is slated to open at 708 N. 2nd St. sometime this spring or summer. Members of the Northern Liberties Neighborhood Association (NLNA) zoning committee tentatively approved the café at their Feb. 25 meeting.

The space

The owners already operate two cafes, including Café Cleopatra in University City, a hookah bar that also sells coffee, tea and smoothies. That location has existed for a few years.

There's a certain charm in being afforded the opportunity of walking a block or two to the local coffee shop for your morning coffee, bagel, or tasty pastry. In our urban environment, cafes represent a detached sphere. They remain the same and are moved neither by the rites of spring nor the hounds of winter.

In Fairmount, neighbors will be privy to this opportunity in the spring when the Fairmount Coffee Company opens at 26th and Poplar. We wrote about the potential of a shop opening at this corner location last summer. Members of the Fairmount Civic Association are interested in adding another quality neighborhood corner café to their streets, and supported the desired variance to make it happen. When the shop opens, hopefully on May 1st, Fairmount Coffee Company will stand as liaison between the community and the arts, all while serving La Colombe coffee, sandwiches, bagels, desserts and dairy produced by local artisans and farms.

In the summer of 2011, a highly anticipated new Superfresh opened on the second floor of a large new building at the corner of 2nd & Girard. Just north of the Piazza, this new structure was not only supposed to give Northern Liberties its much-needed new supermarket, but also a collection of new and exciting retail options on 2nd Street and Girard Avenue. The results here have been mixed at best, with tenants like Family Dollar and TMobile bringing excitement to nobody, but one of the best state liquor stores providing the neighborhood with a significant upgrade over the previous incarnation a block away.

When American Sardine Bar opened on the corner of 18th & Federal a little over a year ago, it was considered a big deal by new and old Point Breeze residents alike. This neighborhood has seen more than its share of hard times in the past few decades, but has experienced considerable residential development in the past few years, as developers have seen new opportunities and buyers as well as renters have been priced out of Graduate Hospital. In spite of the number of new homes and rehabs, relatively few new businesses have opened in the neighborhood, at least until the Sardine Bar opened its doors in the shuttered space of the Wander Inn.