The Box Factory is a four-story apartment building at 21 E. Columbia Ave., located a few steps away from the El and a few more steps away in the other direction from Frankford Avenue. As the name suggests, the building was once home to a box factory, more specifically the Cardboard Novelty Company. Prior to its use as such, the building was home to a hosiery mill and before that a carpet mill. From what we can tell, the apartment conversion happened about 15 years ago, and interestingly it appears that the developers condoed out the building, which seems like a rather forward thinking move for this location at that time.

IMG_8996 2
Former box factory
IMG_8997 2
Seen from the other side of Front Street
IMG_8994 2
From another angle

The condo situation is no longer, however, as a single owner possesses all 20 units in the building, as well as the one-story building next door. The old factory is currently a rental property, while the building next door will soon meet the wrecking ball. The developers are pursuing a by-right development here and will soon break ground on an 8-story apartment building with 70 units, a small retail space on Front Street, and 10 parking spots. The project needs to go to Civic Design Review due to its size, so we have access to the project packet, providing a sneak peek at what we can expect here in the next couple years. Renderings are from Sitio Architecture.

Screen Shot 2021-05-13 At 10.25.14 AM
Project rendering
Screen Shot 2021-05-13 At 10.25.12 AM
Different angle on the new building
Screen Shot 2021-05-13 At 10.25.27 AM
Aerial view
Screen Shot 2021-05-13 At 10.25.22 AM
Courtyard for residents

As you might guess, we’re fans of this project. We appreciate the height and density, given the proximity to mass transit and the easy access to a major commercial corridor. As we’ve noted on many occasions, the best way for commercial corridors to thrive is to have lots of people living nearby, and this project will probably add somewhere in the neighborhood of a hundred new local customers for businesses on Frankford Avenue (not to mention Front Street). Certainly, this project will represent a step up in terms of being a higher and better use for this well located property, and we also appreciate the way that the architects are giving the old factory building some room to breathe, stepping up the new building as it moves closer to the El.

We should mention, we’ve heard from a couple of people living in the Box Factory building that are pretty upset that this project is moving forward. And we can certainly understand where they’re coming from, especially for the people living on the side of the building that faces the construction site and will now be subject to months of construction noise and then will lose much of their natural light as the building rises.

Given that the developer of the new building is also the landlord for the Box Factory, perhaps the frustrated tenants will be able to work out some kind of arrangement with the owners. As a bit of a silver lining, we don’t imagine that construction will start for a number of months, so at least there’s time to figure something out. Once things get moving though, we suspect it’ll be a bit tough to rent those units at their typical rent numbers for about a year, maybe more. It’ll be the cost of doing business for the developer, and surely things will work out for them in the end, from a financial perspective.