It seems like once a year or so, the old Frankford Chocolate Factory at 2101 Washington Ave. creeps into our consciousness for a minute and then recedes back to the status of "we wonder what's happening with that place." For a detailed history of the building, we suggest you read this story from Hidden City. To summarize, much of the structure was built in the 1860s for a wallpaper factory. Later, it housed the American Can Company and for more than half of the 20th century it was used as a warehouse for John Wanamaker. Frankford Candy, known for their production of chocolate rabbits, came onto the scene in the 1970s and actively used the building until a little less than ten years ago.
Since then, the building has sat vacant.
Developer Tran Dinh Truong bought the property in 2007 and came up with a redevelopment plan in 2009 which the ZBA shot down. Another effort to redevelop the property, this time in cooperation with architects Campbell Thomas, got approval in 2012. But Truong passed away only a couple months later, and the project didn't move forward without him.
Almost exactly a year ago, we shared the news that the building was available for sale thanks to a court order to liquidate Truong's assets. And this week, reports came out that the property has new owners. According to the Philadelphia Business Journal, 2101 Washington Avenue Associates purchased the property for $8.5M, well below the $10M to $15M predicted a year ago.
We don't know anything about these developers aside from the name Anthony Nguyen, which was mentioned in a Philly.com story. We're aware of several well known developers that had interest in the property over the past year, but zoning uncertainty on Washington Avenue discouraged them from moving forward. Remember, two significant projects on Washington Avenue got approval from the ZBA but are now under appeal while a by-right storage facility rises on the 2300 block. Perhaps the introduction of remapping on Washington Avenue might resolve some of those issues but it seems we can't even repaint the street at this point so expeditious remapping is surely a pipe dream.
Zoning risk notwithstanding, there are many options for this huge parcel. We could imagine a reuse of the property, something like the rendering above with a combination of residential, commercial, and parking. Alternately, there's always a chance that the developers could tear down some or all of the existing structure and replace it with a new mixed-use development. Or given its size, a new shopping center is certainly a possible outcome as well.
This side of Washington Avenue is poised to take a dramatic step forward. If something good ever happens here, it could become the crown jewel of the corridor. Perhaps this purchase is the first step toward that outcome. Perhaps not. With any luck, it won't be another year before we come back to this property and when we do, it will be with great news of an exciting project that's good for Washington Avenue and the neighborhoods on either side.