If you’re relatively new to Philadelphia, and by that we mean if you’ve been here for less than 20 years, you might not have an appreciation for the history of the Hawthorne neighborhood. So please allow us to fill in some blanks for you. From the 1960s through the late 1990s, Hawthorne was dominated by four residential towers, collectively known as MLK Plaza and operated by the Philadelphia Housing Authority. These towers were built to a poor construction standard, like many similar affordable housing projects of the era, and were a source of blight and crime for the area. In 1999, the towers were imploded, with plans to construct a low-rise, mixed-income community in their place, with a partnership between Pennrose and Universal responsible for the development.

This development was largely considered a success, as the neighborhood is now objectively much safer and more stable than it was when the towers were around. The new homes are a mixed of rentals managed by PHA and owner occupied units, and the new units are designed in such a way that the neighborhood makes holistic sense, architecturally. Catharine Park, which opened at 12th and Catharine in the last half dozen years, is a wonderful outdoor space, and a rare example of a new public space in greater Center City.

Some MLK homes

For some reason though, there’s been one property which has stubbornly remained undeveloped through all of this. At the northwest corner of 13th & Bainbridge, there’s a vacant lot that measures over 10K sqft and is owned by the development partnership that built the rest of the MLK homes in the neighborhood. For context, we’re pretty sure that all the other vacant land in MLK project has been developed- and there are several other privately owned lots where we’ve seen projects rise in the last decade. So the corner of 13th & Bainbridge sticks out like a sore thumb… but that shouldn’t be the case for much longer.

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Vacant lot at 13th & Bainbridge
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Newer homes to the east
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Formerly vacant lot at 13th & South

With the Universal/Pennrose partnership seemingly unable to move forward at 13th & Bainbridge, PHDC released an RFP for the redevelopment of the vacant lot at the end of last year. Unlike many RFPs we’ve seen over the years, this one isn’t an effort to sell the property, but instead proposes a 99-year ground lease for the developer of the site, reducing the up-front cost basis but creating a long term obligation for whoever takes on the project. The RFP stipulates that the winning developer will propose an apartment building and requires that at least 30% of the units be categorized as affordable for people earning 60% or less of the Area Median Income. In addition, the RFP requires that any applicants fulfill a public art requirement and engage and include certified minority, women, and disabled business enterprises.

The requirements of the RFP give us the sense that the developer that’s ultimately chosen for this project will be an established affordable housing developer that has the experience to meet the necessary benchmarks. And we’ll find out soon enough if we’re right about that, as the submission deadline was earlier this week. So it won’t be long until we find out exactly who will be developing this long vacant parcel and filling in the last piece of the puzzle which was started two decades ago. Certainly, neighbors new and old will appreciate the elimination of this lot and the long awaited conclusion of the MLK project.