commercial development

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.

Two summers ago, Olive Restaurant opened its doors at 518 S. 3rd St., a space that housed Ava for some time. Earlier this year, the Mediterranean BYO closed its doors for good, and the property went on the market, originally for an asking price that approached $500K.

The building

You can't argue with the property's location, in the thick of the Society Hill neighborhood and just a half a block off of South Street. And with a large second floor kitchen, a dining area that hovered around 1,000 sqft, and a parking spot, we can understand why the building could have been attractive to a restauranteur seeking a space to call their own. On the other hand, with a dining room looking ripe for an episode of Restaurant Impossible, we can understand why potential buyers balked at the price.

Almost a whole year ago, we updated you on the construction progress of a new construction home on the corner of 31st & Baltz, which at the time was across the street from a vacant lot that would supposedly someday become a supermarket. At the time, we also mentioned that a run-down mixed-use property with some lovely bones, located immediately to the south, had recently gone before the ZBA with a proposal to open a cafe.

In the past

Now, here we stand, a year later. The home on the northeast corner is finished. A giant orange pig sits on the roof of a newly opened Bottom Dollar. And iMunch, the cafe that we told you about way back when, looks like it should be opening sometime soon. Aside from the name and the tagline 'Imbibe, Imagine, Inspire,' we don't know much about this new establishment.