We’ve been harping about Washington Avenue for over a decade, dreaming about its potential while lamenting just how much of that potential remains untapped. Don’t get us wrong – the corridor has come a long way over the course of those years, with several new mixed-use buildings rising and new businesses opening that are friendlier to neighbors than to contractors. While most properties on Washington Avenue have either turned over or remained stubbornly stuck in the light industrial past, things have actually gotten worse at the northwest corner of 16th & Washington. While at first glance you might think that this site is a single parcel, it’s actually two properties, 1601 Washington Ave. and 1600 Carpenter St., owned by two different entities.
If we turn back the clock to 2015, you may recall that there was a proposal for the superman-logo-shaped property at 1601 Washington Ave. for a mixed-use building with 35 units over commercial. This project entailed a 3 hour ZBA hearing (which we attended) before it finally received a variance. The owners of the supermarket at the adjacent Hoa Binh Plaza appealed the variance to the Court of Common Pleas and the court overturned the variance, effectively spiking the redevelopment of the property.
For the next few years, the Hoa Binh Plaza continued to operate without the visual obstruction of an apartment building on Washington Avenue. By 2019, we learned that Streamline Development had the shopping center under contract, with plans to demolish it in favor of residential redevelopment. Over the next few years, the developers’ plans continued to evolve, eventually including a consolidation with the property on Washington Avenue and the construction of a sizable apartment building on the site. Over four years after the first presentation to the community, there’s no sign of construction activity, and the former shopping center is shuttered and covered in graffiti.
As recently as this spring, Streamline had a tentative agreement to sell 1600 Carpenter St. to the owners of 1601 Washington Ave., with initial community group support for a consolidation and multi-family development. But Streamline has chosen to pivot to a different plan, and it’s profoundly disappointing. Instead of the next transformational mixed-use project for Washington Avenue, it appears we will instead get… pickleball. The developers are planning to keep the existing low-rise building and repurpose it as an indoor pickleball facility. Like the previous proposals, this will require a zoning variance or an ordinance from City Council, but the developers seem to think they’ll find an easier path for pickleball, compared to apartments.
The owners of the corner of 16th & Washington, meanwhile, are exploring their options but are likely to pursue a by-right development, with options severely limited by the property’s industrial zoning and an overlay on the corridor. A one-story pad site is the likeliest outcome, with a relocated Jefferson Methadone Clinic from 21st & Washington a possible tenant.
Now don’t get us wrong, we’re all for pickleball. It’s fun, it’s good for you, and it reminds us of 10th grade gym class (shoutout to Mr. Valore!). And if we were getting a pickleball concept at this location with six stories of apartments above, we’d be over the moon. But maintaining the existing building, with its horrible frontage on Carpenter Street and its dramatic underuse at a prominently location, is a disaster for Washington Avenue that’s on par with the storage facility at 23rd Street. With Lincoln Square well-established on the 1400 block and a giant mixed-use project on the 1300 block of Washington now well above ground, 16th & Washington should be the next step in the corridor’s evolution. Needless to say, the preservation of the existing building and the construction of a new one-story building is pretty much the worst possible outcome, locking in the persistent underuse of this property for decades to come.
If only there was something that could be done to avoid these sorts of ridiculous development/planning pratfalls. We just wish that we had the creativity to think of some way that the City could invigorate Washington Avenue, promote it as a mixed-use corridor. Oh wait, maybe the solution would be to remap Washington Avenue to allow for reasonably-sized mixed-use development, like we’ve been talking about for over a decade?
There! We did it. You’re welcome. A big thumbs up for sensible city planning and mixed-use proximate to downtown. And a colossal thumbs down to a decade of misfires at 16th & Washington leading us to something that could only be described as a giant sh*t sandwich.