Sometimes, the projects we cover make all the sense in the world, with understandable steps leading to a concept that one would reasonably expect. And then there are projects that…don’t. For a range of reasons, real estate transactions and development can be difficult to parse out, especially with limited available information. But that won’t stop us from charging into the unknown, where 1615-31 N. Delaware Ave. greets us as we peer into the real estate beyond. This property currently sits behind a fence off of the Delaware Ave. Raceway, about equidistant to both Northbank to the north and The Battery to the south.

The blue outline highlights the borders of 1615-31 N. Delaware Ave.

This is where things start to get especially intriguing. This property was owned by LMM Associates for many years, though we can find little on what the company actually did. Back in 2020, a nomination for the property was presented to the Historical Commission, as the site was once home to Bradlee & Co.’s Empire Chain Works. However, the site was drastically altered, leaving just a small sliver of the original industrial structure remaining on the north end of the property.

An aerial view of the property, with the remaining historic structure in the foreground

The owners of the building were nonplussed with the nomination, writing to the Commission that due to the alterations and current conditions, the site should not be considered for historic designation. This response is not surprising from an ownership perspective, as a designation puts additional requirements and scrutiny on any future plans for the property. But despite the pleas and the, umm, less than ideal state of the current building, the Historical Commission approved the designation in late 2020.

So, one would assume that this designation might put a damper on a potential transaction or any future development, right? Logic was tossed aside like Embiid shedding help defenders, with the property not only selling in 2022, but selling for $6.5 million for this ~47K sqft property. An entity called 1617 Delaware LLC purchased the property, and they share an address with Kawa Trading Company, a food wholesaler just a block to the north.

Oh, OK, so a nearby company purchased the property at a bit of a mark-up to consolidate their operations, that makes sense. But no, that’s not at all what’s planned. A portion of the space that we highlighted above (the yellow outline within the blue one) is a tallish warehouse, though certainly not one that you would call remarkable. That space was recently listed for lease, allowing us a look inside this newly acquired gem.

A warehouse unlike any we've ever seen
Tall ceilings and a brick wall in the utilitarian space
Peering from the inside out

And as for the plans? *Drum roll commences* A zoning permit was issued last week not for food storage or a demolition to make way for something bigger; instead, this permit indicates that “first floor culttural [sic] exhibition space in the same building with an arts organization.” If you had that on your bingo card, congratulations! While this area is changing rapidly as it reconnects to the rest of the city, we still have questions.

If we’re understanding this correctly, a food wholesaler spent $6.5 million on a historically protected property close to their operations in hopes they can lease out a ground-floor cultural center in an area that is as walkable as the Philadelphia International Airport runways. Perhaps this is a typo, perhaps the historic space will be turned into a glorious museum that transforms how we think about this area near the I-95 Aramingo exit, but something seems…off. Hopefully we’ll get some more clarity on this one in the future, but in the meantime, we’ll bask in the intrigue as the we continue to recover from the city’s first snow day in years. And don’t forget your booties ’cause it’s cooooold out there today.