tower investments

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.

We've got no idea

Girard Avenue, 2nd Street, and Germantown Avenue form a large triangle that's one of the more curiously underdeveloped properties in Northern Liberties. Collectively, all the properties here cover a little over an acre, but there are only two buildings on the site. One is paint store at the corner of Germantown & Girard, and the other is a vacant and blighted building at the corner of 2nd & Girard. Everything else is vacant land. It's worth noting, there were two old homes on this site until 2013, but they were demolished. At that time, we hoped this meant that this entire parcel would soon get redeveloped. Alas, that hasn't happened. But maybe soon?

View of the property from Germantown Avenue

Closer look

We wouldn't swear on it, but that sure looks like a drill rig doing geotechnical work on this site. For those that aren't familiar, developers retain geotech companies to test the soil on their properties to get a sense of what systems are required for foundations. This is an incredibly important step, one of the first, in the development process. This could be an indication that a new project could be on the horizon for this property.

This has been a long time coming

There are some projects that have been "coming soon" for so long that we just assume they're never going to happen. But every now and then, such a project does indeed happen and we have to pinch ourselves to make sure we're not experiencing some cruel dream. Thankfully, we aren't dreaming about the 1300 block of N. Howard Street these days, because a residential development that we first heard about in 2011 is finally happening.

We've been waiting for quite awhile

Over the last few years, we've watched as developers tore down an old warehouse and some old blighted buildings and replaced them with a project called the Townhomes at Liberties North. This project consists of 21 new homes, with about half fronting N. Hope Street and visible from under the El, and the others facing a large vacant lot on N. Howard Street. When we last checked in on this project over the summer, the Howard side looked finished and the Hope side was progressing nicely. Most of the homes on Howard were already sold, and many of the Hope Street homes were under agreement at list prices exceeding $400K.

Site has been dormant since 2011

It was at the end of 2011 that we first brought your attention to seven homes, then new, at the corner of Mascher & Master in South Kensington. A developer with ties to Tower Investments, or maybe just a subsidiary, had demolished an old warehouse and had plans to build dozens of additional homes at this location, wrapping around Master and Howard Streets. But since then, it's been mostly radio silence. In 2013, some heavy equipment on Howard Street suggested that this project might be ramping up, but it was just a false alarm. Now, finally, we're seeing some new progress.

Last week, a hole in the ground at Howard & Master

At the corner of Howard & Master, with views of a sweet South Kensington mural, a reader recently spotted a new hole. According to permits, three homes will soon rise here. We're getting some mixed messages as we search different public record sources, but we believe a new developer has purchased these lots, and this construction will have no direct bearing on the larger project planned for the block. But perhaps this small amount of construction, along with much more significant construction a few paces away, will inspire the developers to revisit this property.

This episode feels like a rerun

We were so excited to attend the Hawthorne Empowerment Coalition meeting last November where developer Bart Blatstein presented his plans for the long-vacant lot at the northeast corner of Broad & Washington. We can't say we expected the project would be in the ground by now, but we were at least hopeful. Alas, the property still sits vacant, as it has for so many years.

The crappy present

Project rendering

A refresher, the project four stories of retail, a parking garage with over 700 parking spots, and two residential towers, each with 500 to 800 units. Beyer Blinder Belle did the design work, and while we would think the project could benefit from some fine-tuning, it looks like a reasonable build considering the size and location of the property. But it appears the community isn't necessarily in love with the project. Recently, someone posted a flyer on Facebook indicating significant changes that the HEC board would like to see.

Tennis, anyone?

When we last checked in on the McIlhenny Mansion at 1914-16 Rittenhouse Square St., owner Bart Blatstein had gotten approvals from the Historical Commission to demolish a curved one-story facade at 1916 Rittenhouse Square and replace it with a four-story addition. The project also included the demolition of the actual mansion but the preservation of its historic facade. Looking at the property today, we can see that all of the demolition has indeed occurred. Since there's nothing behind the old facade, the steel supports are still in place.

Historic facade remains

Project rendering

If you take a closer look at the property in its current state, you can see the foundation work is done. And holy crap, is it ever a deep foundation.

Less ambitious than plans across the street

Though recent years have brought unprecedented growth and redevelopment to the neighborhoods surrounding Center City, some persistent vacancy remains. The biggest and best example sits at Broad & Washington, where two enormous parcels stare each other down on a daily basis, wondering which will be the first to make a move. Last fall, it seemed like the northeast corner would finally get redeveloped, with plans from Tower Investments for 1000-1600 apartments and gobs of retail. It's quite likely that this project is still moving forward even though we haven't heard much about it of late- big ticket development like this can take quite awhile to get off the ground.

Rendering of the project at the northeast corner

A recently posted listing on Loopnet for a project called Lincoln Square gives us an indication that planning for the northwest corner is happening as well. We've heard rumblings in recent months that Toll Brothers was working on something for this parcel, and the listing provides definitive evidence that someone is cooking something up here.

We don't know, but they're kicking the gym out of the building

When Tower Investments built the Piazza several years ago, they capped the northern end of the development with the Rialto building, a seven story commercial building with a restaurant on the ground floor. At the time we thought it was a swell idea, and we thought that commercial tenants would have major interest in taking space so close to this blossoming mixed-use project. Presently, we know of Darling's Diner on the first floor, the Training Station on the third floor, and a real estate office on the fifth floor. Tower also has offices in the building.

View from the north

Yesterday, we got an email from a reader that belongs to the gym in the Rialto, informing them that another business will be taking over the entire building. As a result, the Training Center needed to find a new home. In April, they'll be moving to a new space at 5th & Spring Garden, but they'll unfortunately be out of commission for about six weeks in between. In their place, either someone new is coming to the building or an existing tenant is expanding their footprint.

Lots of steel is required

The mansion at 1914-16 Rittenhouse Square St. sits in the southwest corner of Rittenhouse Square, objectively located in the most desirable spot in town. The main building was constructed in 1858 according to Hidden City, but Henry McIlhenny, the man for whom its commonly named, didn't move in until 1950. Amazingly, it's been vacant since his death in 1986. A buyer stepped forward in the late 1990s, getting Historical Commission approval to demolish the one-story section of the building to build a four-story addition, but neighborhood appeals held up the project, prompting the buyer to instead move to Delancey Street.

But when Bart Blatstein of Tower Investments came forward to purchase the property last year, we had little doubt that it would soon be occupied. Late last year, he got approvals from the Historical Commission for his plan to demolish the curved one-story facade at 1916 Rittenhouse Square and replace it with a four-story addition. He's also demolishing the four story home, but preserving the historic facade. As you can see, this is no small effort.