If you look just to the south of the Frank Furness building being slowly uncovered at 40th & Ludlow, just past a coffee shop and a Game of Thrones-themed dessert place, there’s a row of vacant two-story buildings that seem entirely out of place. This is incredible- Penn is just a block to the south, how could the northwest corner of 40th & Chestnut be sitting vacant? And this isn’t even a new situation- we wrote a story on these buildings way back in 2011, and pretty much nothing has changed since then.
When we wrote our previous story, we explained that the buildings were sitting vacant because they were previously marked for demolition, with plans to build a student housing tower at the corner. In 2005, the Hub was built on the opposite corner, and the developers of that project had a deal in place with Penn to build a second tower on the northwest corner. But those plans hit a snag when the economy sunk in 2008, and they never moved forward. As you’re probably aware, a second Hub tower was built a couple years ago, but it ended up getting built on the property to the east of the first Hub. We don’t know why.
Now there’s two Hubs on the northeast corner of this intersection, and the buildings are still sitting empty on the northwest corner. Back in 2011, we told you that the Hub developer’s land lease for the northwest corner had expired, but they were negotiating with Penn to renew it. Clearly, that didn’t happen. But a story from the Philadelphia Business Journal suggests that something could be happening here in the near future. The story (behind a paywall) says that a partnership between Stockton Real Estate Advisors and U3 Ventures will redevelop the corner, with plans to convert the corner building into a mix of retail and office space, to demolish the next building to the north to create a courtyard, and to convert the adjacent brownstone on Chestnut Street into a residential building.
Please forgive us if we’re a little underwhelmed. But we just don’t understand how this is the payoff after Penn has allowed these properties to sit fallow for a decade. Love them or hate them architecturally, the Hub buildings across the street make all kinds of sense in an increasingly vertical University City. Spending millions to refurbish the existing buildings when the alternative is a clean slate to build something of substance seems like a plan from the 1980s, not the present day. Hey, don’t get us wrong, we’ll be pleased as punch that this corner will finally be activated after so long, but no matter how well done the renovation, we suspect we’ll struggle to get past our visions of what could have and/or should have been.