development opportunity

Warehouse plus vacant lot

With all the recent action on Front Street in Northern Liberties, Fishtown, and South Kensington, it's no surprise that people who own properties on this long underperforming stretch are hoping to cash out. One particularly sizable example can be found at 1523 N. Front St., between Jefferson and Oxford Streets.

Lots and warehouse

The large building on the site has been home to James Scollon's Sons Building Construction & Repair, though we're pretty sure they've cleared out by now. The look of the building suggests it was once a church, and historical maps confirm that United Presbyterian Church once called this place home. Now, it's for sale for $2.1M along with a collection of surrounding vacant lots. According to the listing, it's almost 7,000 sqft of land combined.

View up Lee Street

This property would seem to be calling out for reuse into apartments, surrounded by new construction mixed-use. The existing building would especially work for residential use, considering it doesn't butt up against the El. Oxford Mills, the adaptive reuse project across the street, does come right up to the tracks but has tucked the residences further away. Instead, their space on Front Street is reserved for offices.

But it ain't cheap

For at least a decade and surely much longer, a pet store has held down the retail space at 27-29 S. 40th St., near Penn's campus. But over that last decade, there have been plenty of changes to the surrounding area with the most notable being the construction of the Hub on Chestnut just a few doors down. With the former home of the pet store now available for sale, it seems that more change could be on the horizon.

Building on the market

The property is currently listed for sale for $879K which seems like a high price at first glance. But when you consider the fact that the lot has a footprint of over 2,500 sqft and that it's zoned CMX-4, the asking price seems like it might be met. That particular zoning designation would allow for a seven story apartment building by right, which would seem like a wise choice considering the student housing boom in the general area. On the other hand, developers just a block to the south had a similarly zoned lot almost three times the size and instead opted for a disappointing one-story commercial-only building. So who knows what anyone would build here or what they'd pay.

Could be something interesting but probably not

Along the Schuylkill River banks, there's no shortage of interesting bridges, statues, lookouts, and so forth. There are also plenty of nice-looking buildings (Boathouse Row, anyone?). And then there are the buildings that aren't so nice looking, but have a nice view of the water. Heading into town from Chestnut Hill the other day, we came upon a pair of buildings that fit the latter description to a T.

View from Kelly Drive

We couldn't tell you when the two buildings at 4328-44 Ridge Ave. were constructed, or for what use. The architecture actually reminds us a little of hotels in the Catskills. In recent years, the buildings have been rented out for office space, with convenient walking access to downtown East Falls and driving access to the highway. The pair were on the market for $3.2M back in 2009, but eventually the property went to sheriff's sale, apparently selling for under $150K.

If you like old buildings and such

Everyone loves the NFL (willfully ignoring the world outside of the US). Everyone loves Big Brothers Big Sisters. In Philadelphia, we can look at both through the lens of a historic building.

Football is the most popular sport in America. One of the reasons this sport has grown in popularity and maintained its position on top of the proverbial heap is the work of the people at NFL Films. This company records football games, edits them down, sets the highlights to dramatic music, and adds narration to create an almost cinematic experience for viewers. They started doing their thing in 1965, a mere five years after the Eagles won their last championship. Back then, they were based at 230 N. 13th St., mere steps from the not-yet Vine Street Expressway.

The building

By the 1980s, NFL Films moved to South Jersey and Big Brothers Big Sisters purchased the building. For years, it served as the national headquarters for this wonderful organization, which connects children with adults who want to make a difference in their lives. Last year, Big Brothers Big Sisters made the decision to move their national office to Texas, which means their old home is now available for sale.

Any engineers have some thoughts?

In March, we told you about 733 S. 3rd St., a fixer-upper if there ever was one. The building, laid out as a duplex, had wonderful bones, but was missing a couple of crucial details. Like, you know, windows.

A few months back

As that time, the building had just been purchased for $300K and was instantly put back onto the market for $400K. We were pessimistic that that building would sell at that price without some improvements and to their credit, the property owners have been actively fixing up the property. New windows have been installed. The corner space which was home to a business many moons ago has been painted. And some bricks have been removed in a way we've not seen before.

Current view
Missing bricks

We don't claim to be engineers, but something looks a little off here. Any construction experts care to chime in on what's going on here? As in why the owners are doing this and what exactly they're doing? We have to assume it's safe as it doesn't appear as though the site has been shut down, but it sure looks weird. Any additional insight would be much appreciated.

In the meantime, the property is still on the market for $400K. And if they continue working on the property, it might soon be worth that much.

What a waste

Remember last summer, when we told you that a 7-11 had closed at 38th & Chestnut, and expressed surprise because those places never seem to close? At the time, we wondered what would replace the convenience store, speculating that the building would be demolished and replaced by a new apartment building, or maybe a mixed-use building.

Last summer

Shortly after we wrote about it, someone reached out with a rumor that a bank would be taking over for 7-11 at this location. And now that seems to be exactly what's happening.

Now under construction

In the coming months, perhaps even before the fall semester begins, a Santander bank branch will open here. Not only is this objectively worse than a place that sells Slurpees, but it's a real missed opportunity for a taller and more interesting building. Seems like a no brainer, right in the heart of Penn's campus. But hey, what do we know?

Now's your chance

A little less than a year ago, the cash-strapped Philadelphia School District closed a number of public schools to the chagrin of thousands of parents. With the children who once roamed their halls spending their weekdays someplace else, the vast majority of shuttered school buildings have sat vacant this year, with an unclear future. Finally, the district has retained PIDC to help them sell off a number of closed school buildings via a useful website called PHLschoolsales.com. Twenty buildings are currently offered for sale on the website. In the coming days, we'll be profiling a few of those schools which we consider to be interesting development opportunities.

Today, we look at the former Walter Smith School, located at the corner of 19th & Wharton.

Never thought this day would come

Remember two summers back when we wondered about the vacant lot on the northeast corner of 9th & Wharton, across the street from Pat's? At the time, we gave you a little history lesson, explaining that the lot was formerly home to St. John Nepomucene Catholic Church, which closed in the 1970s and was demolished some time in the 1980s. At some point, a mini golf course appeared here, but it's been gone for decades. Today, some halfway decent murals barely draw attention away from the fact that a big vacant lot is across the street from one of Philadelphia's most popular eating establishments. Hilariously, the lot has been owned since the mid-1990s by Anna Olivieri, a relative of the owners of Pat's.

The vacant lot

Aside from the photo looking super dark due to the rain, you may also notice something new on the site. A 'For Sale' sign! Looking next door at the blighted vacant building that's owned by the same person, we saw a similar sign.

Please someone fix up these properties

As we've covered extensively, there's been a ton of development on Front Street in Northern Liberties of late. This is happening despite the fact that Front Street is more or less pinned between I-95 and Columbus Blvd., and is a testament to just how much people want to live in this neighborhood. Most recently, we looked at four homes that just broke ground at Front & Fairmount, just south of the bulk of the Front Street development. Across the street from that project, another possibility looms.

Row of old buildings
Closer look

It's certain that the buildings at 81-95 Fairmount Ave. predate the highway, and it seems likely that they're older than most of the other buildings in the neighborhood. If we had to guess, we'd imagine that these buildings were built to house workers from a nearby sawmill, or a coal yard, or some other kind of warehouse or factory. Most recently, it seems they were used as offices. These days, they seem vacant and blighted.

But there's (sort of) good news! The properties are currently for sale, along with three properties around the corner on Front Street.

Sometimes we give good advice!

It's been quite a roller coaster year for the Saint Rita of Cascia Shrine. In January, we told you about the demolition of the former Saint Rita's school at Broad & Ellsworth. This was notable not only because a large building was being demolished, but also because it was a clear nail in the coffin for the building's reuse. For several years prior, the shrine had plans to build a small addition onto the old school and convert the building into the Cascia Center, a place for "healing, reflection, and assistance for all people."

Earlier this year, a new plan emerged that would have entailed the construction of a one-story building on the corner of Broad & Ellsworth, with a surface parking lot in the rear. We were, to say the least, unimpressed.

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