Walking around Philadelphia in 2021, it’s difficult to remember just how different things were around here in the relatively recent past. These days, greater Center City extends from Washington Avenue in the south to Girard Avenue in the north, encompassing neighborhoods like Graduate Hospital, Northern Liberties, and Spring Garden. Go back to the late 1990s and even the early 2000s, and those neighborhoods were filled with vacant lots and blighted properties, and frankly it was nearly impossible to envision the scope of the revitalization to come for those neighborhoods. Over the last couple decades, just about all of the vacant lots in those neighborhoods and the rest of greater Center City have been redeveloped, but a few stubborn holdouts remain.

The northwest corner of 13th & Bainbridge is one of those remaining vacant lots. Just to put an exceptionally fine point on the changes to the immediate area, allow us to show you two aerial views, one from 2004 and another from 2020. You can see, other than that pesky lot at 13th & Bainbridge, all the vacant lots and surface parking lots have disappeared in favor of new construction.

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Aerial in 2004
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Aerial in 2020

Earlier this year, you may recall that we provided you some of the history for this property. In summary, PHA imploded four residential towers in Hawthorne in 1999, and a partnership between Pennrose and Universal was retained to construct a low-rise, mixed-income community in their place. This generally went swimmingly, with a new neighborhood of townhomes sprouting in Hawthorne, combining rentals managed by PHA with owner occupied units. For some reason, the 13th & Bainbridge property, owned by that partnership since the time of that first aerial photo, never got redeveloped with the rest of the neighborhood. Finally, about a year ago, PHDC pivoted and released an RFP for the redevelopment of the vacant lot, proposing a 99-year ground lease and stipulating an apartment building that requires that at least 30% of the units be categorized as affordable for people earning 60% or less of the Area Median Income.

Current view

We don’t know who won the RFP, but we’re pleased to say that last week, L+I issued a zoning permit on the property for a 46-unit building with a green roof. We imagine that this will be a four-story building with relatively small units, given the footprint of the lot and the fact that the project is being pursued as a matter of right. We imagine at that least 14 of the 46 units will be offered as affordable, which sounds great, considering the desirable location and the general lack of affordability proximate to Center City. Mostly though, we’re thrilled to learn that this parcel will finally get redeveloped. Over the course of the last fifteen years, it has gone from fitting in with numerous other vacant lots in the area, to its current situation, where it sticks out like a sore thumb. Soon enough, it’ll fit in once again, but for the better.