The Roberts Center for Pediatric Research has been under construction for the last several years, a dramatic addition to the western side of the largely residential Graduate Hospital neighborhood. The building has about half a million sqft of space dedicated to office space and research for CHOP, and will house over a thousand employees over the next several years. As we've told you before, this is the first of four planned towers for the Schuylkill Riverfront, but the timeline for future phases remains up in the air. Still, CHOP is putting the infrastructure in place for the future.
With the building now officially open and actively used by some employees, we figured it would be a nice idea to visit the property and see how well CHOP has done with the rest of the site. Remember, as part of this project, they agreed to build a bridge to an extended Schuylkill River Trail and they also indicated that there would be considerable landscaped space that's open to the public. On both counts, CHOP has come through.
The 100 block of W. Wildey Street in Northern Liberties is a bit of a mixed bag. Start at Front Street, and you'll see a recently renovated building that once housed a refridgeration company and now contains office space and a fried chicken place. Take a few more steps and veer to the left to follow the street, and you'll see another conversion, the former Boone School, which turned into an apartment building several years ago. Across the street, you'll see some homes. Moving along the block, there's a large vacant patch on the south side until you reach a new home next to a small dog park, and a relatively new parking garage on the north side. It's that large patch of vacant land that's of interest to us today.
If you've driven, biked, or walked over the South Street Bridge in the last year and a half or so, you've surely noticed the slow but steady pace of construction, as the first of four new CHOP buildings has risen on Schuylkill Avenue. And if you've traveled on the bridge in the last month or two, you've probably noticed that the parking garage and its newly functioning traffic light are already starting to snarl traffic, a phenomenon that will only get worse as CHOP's presence grows on this side of the river. But we digress.
You may recall, CHOP met with the community several times in advance of this project, both because they needed a variance to proceed with construction and because it's kinda the thing to do when building such a high impact project in a mostly residential neighborhood. The community worked with CHOP on a number of issues, notably pushing for a retail space on South Street as part of the project. And when we say a retail space on South Street, we actually mean a retail space on the South Street Bridge itself.
Parking sure is tough in Center City, and it could soon get tougher. You may recall, last month we told you that we had heard that developers were buying the parking garage on the 2000 block of Lombard Street and would close it by the end of the year. We predicted that this building would be demolished and replaced with town homes in a by-right project, as the property is zoned for multi-family use. Needless to say, this would result in the loss of a couple hundred parking spots for the neighborhood.
Garage on the 2000 block of Lombard
For those wringing their hands about this project, we've got more bad news. At the same time that this property was listed for sale, another property, 414 S. 16th St., was also listed just a few blocks away. And in case you're wondering, it's also a parking garage. While we'd heard about movement for the garage on Lombard Street, we hadn't heard much about the garage on 16th Street. But in the last couple days, we've heard rumblings that this garage is also under agreement. We have to imagine that this will mean it will also close its doors in the near future, with residential redevelopment a likely outcome.
The street simply called "Rittenhouse Square" is, as you'd expect, one of the more exclusive in town, running along the south side of the park of the same name. The street extends a block to the east, stretching to 17th Street, and a couple blocks to the west as well, running to 21st Street, curiously disappearing for a block, and extending again from 22nd to 23rd Street. In the interest of reducing confusion in the universe, we'd probably advocate for changing the name of the street, but we'd think that the people who live on Rittenhouse Sq. probably like the name of their street, thank you very much. With such a name, you'd think that these blocks would be well established and wouldn't see a whole lot of development activity. And yet we've been pulled to the 2000 block of Rittenhouse Sq. a couple times over the years, and now we find ourselves back on this ritzy block.
2012-14 Rittenhouse Sq., in the past
Until a few months ago, 2012-14 Rittenhouse Sq. was home to a pair of two-story homes from the early 1950s which were very well located but didn't have much else going for them. A little over a year ago, the two 2-story homes were listed for sale together, described as fixer-uppers that could either be renovated or demolished and replaced. The developer that ultimately bought them has opted for the latter. We passed by the property last week and found a relatively new hole in the ground.
Scoops is exactly the kind of business you wish you had around the corner from your house. It's got delicious ice cream and snacks, low prices, and the owners have been in the neighborhood forever. With their building at 812 E. Thompson St. selling last year though, it could be the end of the line for this neighborhood business.
The building sold because it's got a larger footprint than you might expect, with five parking garages located on the other side of the property. Though Scoops has become an important place in the neighborhood, it's easy to argue that the building is significantly underused and a three story structure would make much more sense here.
The 2000 block of Lombard Street is unlike any other in the city, with the Lombard Swim Club covering about half of the south side and a large parking garage taking up about a third of the north side of the block, and a bunch of homes filling things out. And while we don't imagine that the swim club will close or relocate in our lifetime, the clock could be ticking on the parking garage.
View of the garage
Lombard Swim Club across the street
At the end of last year, we got an email from MPN Realty, advertising that the parking garage at 2031 Lombard St. was available for sale. This seemed like an amazing investment opportunity, as the building sits on a quarter of an acre of land in Rittenhouse, runs street to street, and is zoned for multi-family use. A condo building would fit the bill for this spot, or a row of $1.5M to $2M homes would also make all kinds of sense on this block. After all, we've seen very successful high-end projects appear on the 1800 and 1900 blocks of Lombard Street, so a similar project on this block would seem like a slam dunk.
So much has changed at the western end of Penn's campus since 2001, when Fresh Grocer opened at the northwest corner of 40th & Walnut. The Radian sprouted on the 3900 block of Walnut, replacing some run down stores and a gross movie theater. A pair of Hub buildings have appeared at 40th & Chestnut, adding more high end apartments to the mix along with a Garces restaurant. So many buildings have been renovated to accommodate new student housing, and an extended stay hotel opened on the 4100 block of Walnut. And through it all, Fresh Grocer has remained a fixture, along with the hundreds of parking spaces in the garage above it.
Old City and Northern Liberties are both great places to live. The former has seen an explosion in high-price-point development, with dozens of mansions springing up on former surface parking lots. And let's not forget the long awaited and finally happening Bridge on Race Street project. The latter, meanwhile, had the "up and coming" label for years but we'd tell you that the neighborhood arrived quite some time ago. We've seen countless residential projects in Northern Liberties, along with steady improvement to the 2nd Street commercial corridor. These neighborhoods are adjacent to one another but it's rather unpleasant to walk between them because of the combination of the Vine Street Expressway overpass and the desolate stretch between Callowhill and Spring Garden Streets. A new project at 4th & Callowhill will seek to better knit these neighborhoods together.