Last night at the Philadelphia School, representatives from Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and Cooper Robertson and Partners held a community meeting to discuss plans for CHOP’s significant project coming soon to Schuylkill Avenue. This presentation represented the fourth large community meeting regarding this development, and included some details that came to light for the very first time.
To review from the last time we covered this project almost a year ago, CHOP intends to construct a huge new facility just below the South Street Bridge on nine acres of land currently occupied by Springfield Beer Distributor and the former JFK Vocational High School. Built over four phases, the facility will mostly house clinical research and operations for the hospital, in a gross development area that will exceed two million square feet. Phase one, a twenty-six story 500K+ sqft building with 600 parking spots, will be completed by the middle of 2017.
But this project won’t just be about new buildings. It will also entail the creation of a considerable amount of new open space surrounding the facility. Representatives from Cooper Robertson, creators of the master plan for the site and also the firm behind the Plan for the Central Delaware, described in detail the numerous open spaces that will be integrated into the site.
Perhaps most exciting was the news that the Schuylkill River Trail will be extended all the way to Christian Street as a result of this development. CHOP and the Schuykill River Development Corporation have already come to an agreement on an easement for the trail behind the CHOP development, and SRDC is currently deep into negotiations with CSX and Peco for the same. According to Danielle Gray from the SRDC, this spur of the trail will have a much more natural feel than in Center City, with plans for large trees and more shady areas. Eventually, the extended trail will link up with the wonderful but underused Grays Ferry Crescent section.
In addition to the extended trail, plans also include a green plaza on South Street, at the same height as the bridge. This plaza will be used by CHOP employees to walk from the bridge to some of the buildings on the site, and sit above a parking garage. An extension of Bainbridge Street will also remain as open space, and provide access to the CHOP buildings as well as a stairway to the Schuylkill River Trail. Above the CSX tracks, there are plans to cantilever a promenade to give employees additional ways to enter various buildings and to provide non-employees with a view of the river from above. Lastly, the buildings will be set back from Schuylkill Avenue with a “green front door,” providing a drive aisle for cars and some distance between the tall buildings and the Naval Square homes.
One significant change from the last plan we covered relates to retail. Last we heard, there were plans for retail both on Schuylkill Avenue as well as the extension of Bainbridge Street. The thinking was that CHOP employees as well as neighbors would benefit from businesses on the site, especially with South Street West businesses being about half a dozen blocks away. At the meeting, the CHOP folks seemed very lukewarm to the idea, suggesting that retail didn’t matter to them either way. They suggested that they would be inclined to have some retail for the convenience of their employees, but wouldn’t try to compete with South Street and wouldn’t go out of their way to include a retail component. They did indicate, however, that they would be willing to discuss retail and that they might go along with including retail elements if the community desired it.
Neighbors were (as you can imagine) concerned with several issues, including the scale of the development, parking, time frame of construction, parking, impact of the demolition of the JFK school, and parking. In general though, the room seemed to be favorably inclined toward the project, properly understanding that this expansion will mean new jobs in the neighborhood as well as the dramatic improvement of a very dreary area that no one could argue is currently enjoying its highest and best use. The project will continue to get refined in the coming months, and with CHOP showing a willingness to cooperate and coordinate with the community, it seems likely that it will only improve.
It’s not clear when construction will begin, but with a hard deadline of 2017 for the completion of Phase One, we’d guess that it should be some time in 2014 or early 2015. As always, we’ll be on the lookout.