Photo courtesy of Bob Bruhin

The old Frankford Chocolate Factory on 2101 Washington Avenue (you know, the one with the massive banner of Tran Dinh Truong written in English and Vietnamese) is going to become a combination commercial and residential center (sounds okay so far, right?). The Factory was bought by the Alphonse Hotel Corporation (owned by Truong) in 2007 for more than $5.5M, and for three years no one really put up a fight about this, probably because no one knew Truong’s past. And here is where the story gets good.

Truong came to America with literal briefcases full of gold and a plan to buy NYC hotels and give the rooms to welfare families and homeless with nowhere else to go (sounds sweet, but all Truong was concerned with were the accountant’s numbers; the city was paying as much as $2K a month for each homeless family that lived at the hotel, according to The New York Times). Prodigal Truong cut security (among other things) to keep the costs down for these homeless-ridden hotels.

Truong’s absence and greed coupled with slackened management and vagrant tenants enabled the hotels to eventually become uninhabitable drug-trafficking locales and Hotel Carter specifically, according to the F.B.I., became “a virtual supermarket for crack cocaine.” A quick Google search of the Alphonse Hotel Corporation will give you a plethora of legal documents and case proceedings concerning most of the hotels, and you can read about tenants testifying in court about the inhumane conditions Truong had let the places get to: the hallways were used as bathrooms, roaches often outnumbered humans and many suicide attempts (and successes) from various tenants took place. Fatal beatings and body bags lit up the headlines. Truong has evaded jail and currently owes back taxes, mortgage payments and other bills to various city departments, yet, according to bankruptcy court, there were several large payments made to relatives and friends of Truong.

At the SOSNA zoning hearing for the Vietnamese Center on Wednesday, there was absolutely no opposition. We suppose no one had really looked into who would be running this massive piece of real estate, so close to the neighborhoods we are struggling to clean up. On the positive side, if Truong is just a distant owner and someone else will be managing the business here, perhaps residents of the area will finally have someone who will clean up the building and maintain the exterior sidewalks on Kimball and 21st and 22nd. The zoning notice lists the specifics of the low-rent, no-security-deposit-needed Vietnamese Center: up to eight doctor’s offices, up to three take-out restaurants, 21 outdoor parking spots, an indoor 80-spot parking lot and 30 residential units.

Low-rent? No security deposit? Truong? This sounds like the makings for a possibly horribly managed building, right at the crux of a part of town that could go bad or good very easily. The last thing Philly needs are more headlines about crime and dirt. Let’s hope we are proved wrong in our trepidation and suspicion.

UPDATE: We know that some really great people are involved in this project, and so we’re lead to believe Truong is just a distant horror story for this address. James Campbell of Campbell Thomas & Co. will be the architect on the project (he is involved with LEED projects, which is great) but no one will tell us much more than that.