dranoff properties

It's finally happening after years of rumors

Every now and again, a large piece of prime real estate becomes available in Center City, and all the big developers surely take notice. Such is surely the case with 500-510 S. Broad St., the 40K sqft parcel that's been home to Health Center No. 1 for the last few decades. Earlier today, we received an email informing us about a recently released RFQ from the PIDC, seeking parties interested in purchasing and redeveloping this significant parcel on Avenue of the Arts.

Will end vacancy that dates back to the 1970s

The Royal Theater, located at 1524 South St., should be a sparkling gem in the middle of the continually improving South Street West commercial corridor. Instead, the building has been a millstone for the 1500 block of South Street, as it has been sitting vacant for decades. Some history: the building was designed by Frank E. Hahn and was constructed around 1919. The theater targeted African American audiences, featuring movies with black stars and performances by prominent black entertainers. In 1970 though, the theater closed its doors, meeting a similar fate to many great movie houses of the day.

View of the building around the time it closed

Then, as we said, the building sat vacant for decades. Michael Singer bought the building in 1973 but did nothing with the property in the years that followed. The Preservation Alliance bought the building in 1998 and sold it to Universal Companies two years later for $300K. Included in that sale were the surrounding lots on South and Kater Street, all of which were sitting vacant. Over time, Universal came up with a few different plans for the property, most recently in 2011, but it wasn't until they partnered with Dranoff Properties in 2014 that redevelopment seemed like a realistic possibility.

When's the last time this happened?

Crossing the South Street Bridge last week, it dawned on us that we could see three huge projects from our vantage point on the bridge. Well, it's actually four if you count the Comcast Innovation and Technology Center, but today we'll just look at the three big projects that are happening along the waterfront. Those projects, in case you haven't noticed them, include the FMC Tower west of the river on Walnut Street, One Riverside east of the river on Locust Street, and the first of four CHOP buildings east of the river, on Schuylkill Avenue.

Looking north from the bridge

The FMC Tower at Cira Centre South is the furthest along of the three, with glass now covering 80% of the building. We last checked in on this project a little over half a year ago when Cira Green opened, and the progress since then is pretty remarkable. We were surprised to learn that FMC Corporation moved into their office space last month, even though large sections of the building are still under heavy construction. A reminder, the rest of the 49 story building will contain apartments.

Condo building still has a ways to go

Today of all days would be a lousy day to visit Schuylkill River Park, but it's been a mild enough winter that perhaps you've found yourself over there at some point in the last couple of months. And if you have indeed ended up there, you've probably noticed that the One Riverside condo building is slowly rising at 25th & Locust on the northern end of the park, next to the community garden.

Buildings will be replaced by Dranoff's SLS building

Back at the end of 2013, we attended an event that served as the kickoff for a new project from Dranoff Properties at the corner of Broad & Spruce. In the five seasons that have passed since then, it's been pretty much status quo at this corner, the former home of Philadelphia International Records. A couple of months ago, we spied demolition notices on the property. And when we passed by yesterday, we discovered a demolition effort that's well underway.

But you'll get the idea

Our last Royal Theater update came in September, when we told you that Dranoff Properties was partnering with Universal to redevelop this longstanding blight on the 1500 block of South Street. The plan, designed by JDavis Architects, would mean the demolition of the historic building but the preservation of its facade. Incorporating the vacant lots on either side, the new building would have 45 luxury rental units, 7,600 sqft of retail space, and 20 parking spots underground. Last night, the developers presented the project again at a special SOSNA community meeting. The special meeting was necessary because the project is being introduced through an ordinance in City Council, and not the through the typical ZBA process.

Current view

The project has gone through some changes over the last few months thanks to meetings with near neighbors and the SOSNA Architectural Review Committee, but the main details remain the same. Some materials have changed on the facade, some planters have been added on Kater Street, and some of the one-bedroom units have become two-bedroom units. Also trash loading will happen on South Street.

Homes nixed on Kater Street

The Royal Theater was built almost a hundred years ago at 1524 South St. and in its heyday was a center for African American culture in Philadelphia. Since 1970 though, it's been vacant and slowly wasting away. Plans have come and gone over the years to bring the theater back to life, with the most recent coming to light last fall. At a large community meeting, Universal, which has owned the building since 2000, presented a preliminary plan to demolish the building, maintain the facade, create thirty rental apartments in a new building on South Street, and build six homes on Kater Street. Reactions were mixed at the time.

Fancy new restaurant coming soon

We last checked in on Southstar Lofts in November, when most of the facade was up but lots of details remained unfinished. Yesterday, developer Dranoff Properties celebrated the building's grand opening, and shared some big news about the anchor retail tenant.

Pretty much finished

Broad Street side

This seven story mixed-use building has replaced a large community garden at the important intersection of Broad & South. While we're generally in favor of public green space, we don't think that such a use is appropriate at such a crucial corner. Now, there are 85 luxury rental apartments here, within walking distance to everything in Center City and with easy access to the Broad Street line. At the grand opening yesterday, Carl Dranoff announced that the corner commercial tenant will be owned by Top Chef winner Kevin Sbraga, according to Michael Klein. The restaurant will be Sbraga's third in a Dranoff property and his second on South Broad Street.

We're hearing something different

A lousy poem:

Oh Broad and Washington!

Great white whale of Philadelphia development;

Embarrassing vacancies at the intersection of two arteries; 

The rumor mill churns, but no butter is made;

Oh Broad and Washington!

Broad and Washington today

Almost a decade ago, there were plans for a large mixed-use project on the northeast corner of this intersection. The company who proposed that project went bust. When the Phillies won the World Series, a giant pinata lived here. He's gone to a better place. Two years ago, we heard rumblings that Dranoff Properties had legitimate interest in the property. Nothing came of it. Now it's relatively common knowledge that Tower Investments has plans to redevelop this parcel into a large commercial hub. Last week, Metro Commercial produced a retail packet that not only detailed different leasing opportunities but also provided the most insight to date into the concept Tower will propose.

Philly's Next Skyline Addition

About a month ago, we first shared the news that Dranoff Properties has its sights set on a new development at the corner of Broad & Spruce. Today, we attended the official announcement event for this project, which has been dubbed SLS International Hotel & Residences. The name pays tribute to the building's previous use as the home of Philadelphia International Records and also includes the name of the project's hotel partner.

At the event, Carl Dranoff went through all the project specs with the assistance of Gene Kohn of Kohn Pederson Fox. The building will be the tallest ever built in Pennsylvania exclusively for residential use, rising 560 feet and reaching 47 stories. There will be 149 hotel rooms on the lower floors, and 125 condo units starting at the 20th floor. The residential units will all have 10' ceilings and balconies,  and will share amenities with the hotel. There are plans for a large landscaped terrace, a fitness center, meeting rooms, banquet facilities, and an 85' swimming pool.